Sweden-based Mackmyra Whisky worked with Finnish tech company Fourkind and Microsoft to create the world’s first whisky developed with artificial intelligence (AI).
Whiskies aren’t just differentiated by their different ingredients, but also by the charred wooden casks they’re stored in. Rather than mere containers, the casks themselves play a vital role in giving each blend its unique flavour.
When whisky is first distilled, it’s a clear liquid that can have an elegant or a smoky character. To get the rich aroma, flavour and colour we’re used to seeing, this clear form, known as new make, needs to spend at least three years (usually much longer,) in wooden casks. This is the maturation phase, where the all-important flavour infusion takes place.
Over time, whiskies slowly begin to take on the colour, aroma and flavours from the casks in which they’re stored, which also includes the flavours and aromas of their previous contents, such as bourbon, sherry, wine or other spirits. “From these casks, we can generate hundreds of thousands of different whiskies,” states Angela D’Orazio, Master Blender at Mackmyra.
Master Distillers can spend their whole lives meticulously tasting, tweaking and experimenting to create the best flavours possible, turning acts of chemistry into a form of art – and this is where Mackmyra wants AI to work its magic.
“We always strive to challenge the traditions in the very traditional whisky trade, and that’s something we can really do now with the help of AI. We see AI as a part of our digital development, and it is really exciting to let AI be a complement to the craft of producing a high-quality whisky. For me as a Master Blender, it is a great achievement to be able to say that I’m now also a mentor for the first ever created AI whisky in the world“, says D’Orazio.
This is the first time that AI has been used to augment and automate the most time-consuming process of whisky creation. According to D’Orazio: “It’s much more complex than models used to create beer, due to the sheer number of combinations available, and the fact that whisky recipe generation is more art than engineering.”
Currently, the distillery’s machine learning models, powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and Azure cognitive services, are fed with Mackmyra’s existing recipes, sales data, and customer preferences. With this dataset the AI can generate more than 70 million recipes that it predicts will be popular, and of the highest quality based on what kind of cask types there are in the warehouse.
This is not only faster than a person carrying out the process manually, but thanks to the algorithm’s ability to sift through and calculate a vast amount of data, new and innovative combinations that would otherwise never have been considered, can be found. It’s important to stress, however, that this AI solution is not designed to replace a Master Blender.
Mackmyra’s AI-generated whisky will be available from Autumn 2019.