Velasco et al., from the university's Department of Experimental Psychology, explain that the alcohol industry – including the world of whisky – has recently taken a much greater interest in designing multisensory experiences that add to customer enjoyment.
The profit motive here is clear (especially for upmarket, high margin products such as super premium spirits) and the researchers also suggest future research looking at the role of glass shape in people’s perception of whisky, as well as other “product extrinsic cues”.
Introducing their study published in the journal Flavour, Velasco et al. explain that flavor perception depends “not only on the multi-sensory inputs associated with the food or drink itself, but also on the multisensory attributes (or atmosphere) of the environment in which the food/drink is tasted”.
‘Grassy’, ‘sweet’ and ‘woody’ rooms
At a whisky-tasting in London, 441 subjects (165 female, 250 male, 26 of unspecified gender) rated 60ml of the same whisky (The Singleton, 12 years old) in a flat-bottomed glass for nose, taste (flavour) and aftertaste in three rooms with very different atmospheres.
“Participants’ ratings of the smell, taste and/or flavour of the whisky changed by about 10% to 20% as a function of the room in which they happened to be tasting the whisky,” Valesco et al. say
“These results are all the more remarkable given that…what they were drinking was actually always the same drink (tasted from the same glass) in each of the three rooms they visited,” they write.
Specifically, whisky was rated as significantly more grassy in the (1) Nose (‘grassy’) room significantly sweeter in the (2) Taste (‘sweet’) room and with a significantly woodier aftertaste in the (3) Finish or ‘woody’ room, where overall subjects preferred the whisky in this last room.
The Nose room (above) had turf laid on the floor, green-leafed plants, green lights pointed at white walls, while there was a croquet set on the ground and deckchairs; galbanum and violet leaf were used to evoke an aroma of fresh cut grass, while a soundscape featured sounds from a summer meadow.
Roundness linked with sweetness
The Taste room (left) had padded chairs, red globes hanging from the ceiling and a bowl of fruit in the centre of the room on a round table. Nothing there was angular, since previous research has shown that people generally associate sweetness with roundness rather than angularity.
Prunol and aldehydes evoked a sweet fragrance and drinkers could hear tubular bells.
Finally, the dimly lit Finish room (below) featured exposed wood panels, stacked wooden boxes, wooden chairs and a wooden bench. Clocks were hung on the wall, while a cedarwood and tonka bean fragrance evoked woodiness, and there were creaking timber and crackling fire sounds.
Velasco et al. said that study limitations include the fact that most participants experienced the rooms in the order outlined above, while there was some degree of ‘priming’ from guides escorting the subjects and explaining the purpose of the event.
Title: 'Assessing the multisensory environment on the whisky drinking experience'
Authors: Velasco, C., Jones, R., King, S., Spence, C.
Source: Flavour 2013, 2:23, doi:10.1186/2044-7248-2-23