Whisky Tastes Different Depending On Where You Drink It: Can Wooden Walls Make Jim Beam Taste Like Macallan?

on October 14, 2013 6:28 PM EDT

oxford whisky
Whisky tastes different depending on where you are when you drink it, a new study finds. (Photo: Flickr: brunoderegge)

The ambience of a room can affect how a sip of whisky tastes, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University. 441 lucky study participants were given sips of Singleton Single Malt Scotch Whisky in a London "sensorium" made up of three rooms with different designs, sounds and smells. The result? Whisky tastes best in a wood-lined room smelling of cedar, with piped-in sounds of dry leaves crinkling underfoot.

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Researcher Charles Spence told NPR that the idea came from the way people tend to enjoy food more when they're on vacation. In a warm and sunny environment, food may taste very good, but that same food may not taste as good in your drab living room   

"All those cues about the warmth of the sun on your back, that's all actually transferring some kind of meaning and some value to that which we are eating and drinking," said Spence. "That's what's lost when you bring it home on a cold winter's night, and it was that that we wanted to try and capture with this experiment."

The study participants were led through the three different rooms, which each had differing light and aromas. In each room, the participant took a sip of whisky from his glass. The first room smelled like freshly cut grass and had a turf floor and the sounds of sheep. The second room was filled with a red light, smelled sweetly and had tinkling sounds because, as Spence told NPR, "we know those convey the notion of sweetness," Spence says. The third room with the winner, with its wooden walls and cedar smell.

"We asked them, after they'd spent a few moments in each room, to think about how intense was the grassiness on the nose, how sweet the taste of the whisky in the mouth, and how rich was the textured woody aftertaste of the drink," Spence said.

Surprisingly, even though the participants knew they were drinking the same whisky from the same glass, they reported on their scoring cards the whisky tasting different in each room.

Spence told LiveScience that the taste of whisky, or food in general, "is going to be some combination of the best ingredients combined with the atmosphere." He addded, "Having one without the other, you get something that is never going to be as much as if you combine all the elements."

The study, "Assessing the influence of the multisensory environment on the whisky drinking experience," was published in the journal Flavour.

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