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How is seeing tasting?

In the first two editions of Tasting Whisky, we looked at how smell and sound affect the way we experience flavor. Here’s an examination of the role sight plays in the process:

As the saying goes, ‘eye appeal is half the meal’ and as highly visual beings, it is second nature for people to make quick assessments based on what we see. This is why our first characterisation of a liquid tends to be its color.

Synaesthesia, an involuntary and automatic experience, links color to a related bank of flavors we’ve built a mental association with, based on our personal experiences.

As an experiment, prepare two glasses of different colored whisky – one that’s heavily sherried and another that’s a light bourbon cask number. One may carry a richer, more mahogany hue and the other, a lighter golden shade. Consider the way they look and your immediate reaction.

Without tasting the liquids, the things you’ve heard or read before may cause you to perceive the darker liquid to be ‘better’ or ‘older’, a stereotype that we all know to be untrue.

It is also useful to acknowledge that the color of whisky can be perceived differently, so we will all have a different assessment of flavor based on the color we see. When we throw life experiences and memories into the mix, the significance of a shade of brilliant gold for example will be entirely personal. One person’s Cartier could be another’s Bvlgari.

Furthermore, the power of association could mean that one’s ‘labelling’ of color could affect what one smells. Identify a color with white peach and nine times out of ten, you’ll smell peach.

Even the choice of glassware will determine which notes are enhanced. In 1971, Ernst Dichter reported that consumers matched rounded shapes to sweet beverages and angular shapes to bitter flavor profiles. San Pellegrino’s star-shaped logo for instance could be said to reflect consumers’ expectations of the bottle’s contents – a carbonated beverage.

This is how glassware is another factor that impacts perceived flavor. A square glass could emphasise the bitterness and astringency that’s perhaps linked to a sherry cask or an older whisky and a rounded glass will enhance the sweet vanilla, toffee, or caramel notes of a dram.

This article series above was originally presented at the WED talks: Whisky inspired TED Talks at Tales of the Cocktail 2013.

Read the full series here:

Georgie Bell is Diageo’s Luxury Global Malts Ambassador, with a specific focus on Mortlach. An established speaker, trainer and personality in the whisky industry, Georgie recently won the prestigious Worshipful Company of Distillers Award for a Diploma in Distillation.

Follow Georgie’s adventures on Twitter & Instagram @Belleswhisky