Good whisky takes a while to make. It doesn’t seem that complicated on the surface (grain, water, yeast, voilà) until you consider just how many different types of grains can affect the whisky’s taste. It’s why master blenders take months, if not years, messing with the ingredients in their mashbills—and that’s all before they begin to age the distillate.
Scotch whisky, for example, must sit in oak casks for at least three years. It’s during that maturation process where the magic really happens, as the right kind of wood can completely transform the whisky’s flavors, smell, and color. If you really love a particular blend, it’s probably because of the barrel in which it was aged.
So master blenders face a mighty tall task of consistently coming up with distinct, high-quality whiskies that satisfy people’s palettes (and shareholders’ wallets). These grain gurus could, quite literally, spend their whole careers tasting, testing, and torturing themselves in pursuit of the perfect recipe.
Unless, of course, they had a few trusty robots to help them out.
Today, Mackmyra, a 20-year-old Swedish distillery, has announced a partnership with Microsoft and Fourkind, a Finnish technology consultancy, to create the world’s very first whisky developed with artificial intelligence. The production of the whisky, which drops this fall, marks the first time that machine learning has helped generate a complex consumer product recipe.
Though details on the actual process itself are still scant, this is the general gist: Mackmyra feeds the machine learning models, which run on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and AI cognitive services, with raw data including the distillery’s legacy recipes, sales numbers, and customer preferences. Algorithms then spit out more than 70 million recipes that are likely to be well-received and, more importantly, tasty. The goal of these algorithms? To sift through all that information and come up with new combinations that humans simply could never consider.
But all parties involved stress that robots, which don’t have senses to understand whisky’s complexities, aren’t taking people’s jobs anytime soon.
“While the whisky recipe is created by AI,” says Mackmyra master blender Angela D’Orazio in a press statement, “we still benefit from a person’s expertise and knowledge. We believe that the whisky is AI-generated, but human-curated. Ultimately, the decision is made by a person.”
For this first go-around, the machines evidently poured over infinite iterations to help Mackmyra create AI Whisky, a golden yellow single-malt with herbal notes of aniseed, ginger, and white pepper and a citrusy, spicy mouth with a dry finish.
While Mackmyra and Microsoft have firmly planted their flag in the AI whisky space, several other breweries have already beaten them to the punch: IntelligentX, Carlsberg, and Champion Brewing have all experimented with machine learning to produce new beers or improve upon their existing products.
A Microsoft spokesperson acknowledges those attempts, but says “large-scale adoption is still lagging behind.” Still, the Rubicon has been crossed, and before long, your favorite booze may very well come from a bot.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics