Your environment - what you see, hear, and smell - can trick you into believing that the taste and flavour of a glass of alcohol has changed, a new study has found. In an experiment researchers found that participants' ratings of the smell, taste and flavour of a whisky changed by ten to twenty per cent depending on the environment they were drinking it in. Manipulating people's senses with environmental triggers can have a significant effect on the taste of whisky, they concluded. Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, and sound designers Condiment Junkie, conducted an experiment that examined how changing what people saw, heard, and smelled affected how they tasted whisky. During a whisky tasting event, participants were asked to sample a whisky in three different rooms. Each room had a unique visual appearance, soundscape, fragrance, and feel which was designed to emphasise a different attribute of the whisky; its grassiness, sweetness, or woodiness. The experiment assessed how these different environments influenced the participant's perceptions of these different attributes. The room that was designed to emphasise the 'grassiness' of the whisky had a turf floor and a soundscape recorded in a summer meadow (which included sheep 'baa-ing' in the background). This contrasted to the other rooms, such as the one that was designed to emphasis 'woodiness', which had a fragrance of cedarwood and tonka bean and a soundscape that included the sound of creaking timbers, log fires, and wood instruments. The results showed that participants perceived the whisky as significantly 'grassier' in the 'grassy' room, sweeter in the 'sweet' room and having a woodier aftertaste in the 'woody' room.
Ratings changed by as much as twenty per cent between rooms. "These results suggest that, even under realistic and noisy conditions, a change of the multisensory environment in which people drink can give rise to a very real change in their experience," said Spence, co-author of the paper. "They help to highlight the potential opportunity that may be associated with the design multisensory environments for complex food or drink products," Spence added. The study was published in BioMed Central's journal Flavour.