Would you drink a whisky made by a computer? The question isn’t theoretical: Mackmyra Distillery in Sweden is releasing a single malt whose recipe was designed using AI technology from Finnish tech firm Fourkind. The first batch of 5,000 bottles will be available to European customers through the distillery’s online shop this fall.
The process isn’t as complicated as it might seem, although it took about six months to carry out. Mackmyra master blender Angela D’Orazio and other employees started by inputting all the recipes of the distillery’s past releases, including cask type, size, age, and warehouse location. They also input data like awards, scores, and reviews for each recipe. Then, the software provided 50 new recipes, each comprised of what it perceived as the best components to create a great whisky.
Except that the AI didn’t yet understand how the different components of a blend hang together, and ended up creating disparate combinations. “It’s like if you take someone who doesn’t know how to cook into a kitchen, but the person is only knowledgeable about reading recipes,” D’Orazio explains. “So that person [would take] the top ten ingredients—like truffle, and Russian caviar, and Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese, and other things—and put them together. That would not be the best dish you could do, [and the ingredients] probably won’t match because they’re so dominant. It’s a waste having all those ten together. That’s how the first 50 recipes were—many weird ingredients together.”
So D’Orazio and her team fed parameters to the software, designating qualities like a small amount of smoke and eliminating impossible criteria, such as the use of casks that Mackmyra no longer had. Eventually, they whittled down the contenders to five recipes, and D’Orazio put together a test batch of each one. “We tried them, and they were all quite interesting,” she says. “Out of those, we chose the one that we could do a bit more of [in the future], if this was an interesting product that people liked.”
D’Orazio notes that the whisky isn’t very outside the box for Mackmyra, incorporating the same elements of many of its other blends, like the use of Swedish oak. While she isn’t planning to use the software for future recipes at the moment, she sees the potential for it to become more useful as it learns more about Mackmyra’s aging stocks and whisky character. But she’s not worried that the software could replace her or other whisky blenders.
“[Blending] whisky is mainly about the knowledge that you have about your own warehouses—what you have in those and keeping it together—and the nose is super important in the end,” she says, noting that while a computer program can learn which cask types go together, it can’t assess the intrinsic flavors of different individual casks the way a blender can. “[A blender] can change the casks [in the recipe] and get it fantastic, or move part of the blend, and it becomes magical instead of good. That’s something that the computer program can never do…It’s still the nose, in the end, that really gets the match right.”