In collaboration with Microsoft and Finnish tech consultancy Fourkind, a Swedish distillery is attempting to create the perfect whiskey blend using AI.

An AI algorithm run from Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and AI cognitive services receives raw data, including information about the distillery’s legacy recipes, customer preferences and sales numbers, from the Mackmyra Distillery in Sweden. Using that data, the algorithm develops new combinations of techniques and ingredients, generating as many as 70 million different recipes.

Critical to the whiskey-making process is aging, where the grain, water and yeast used to make whiskey are combined and then matured in timber barrels. Impacting the taste of whiskey is the age, location and type of wood used to create the barrels as well as the length of time the whiskey is held in the barrel. Whiskey makers often spend their entire lives attempting to perfect the recipe, and collaborators on the project believe that machine learning will potentially hasten that process. However, the collaborators are also quick to assert that automating the process will not likely eliminate human jobs as whiskey-making still requires human senses, particularly the sense of smell — something that robots do not possess, for now.

Said Jarno Kartela, machine learning partner at Fourkind: “Algorithms don't have senses, so we need another take on how to understand something so complex as whisky. Although lacking human expertise, we can teach machines to understand what elements previous recipes and products are made of and how they are perceived and ranked by customers and experts. With this as a raw data asset, we can leverage a combination of explorative algorithms to generate endless new recipes and products and then use a set of discriminative algorithms to understand which of them might be great, repeating until better recipes are not found. This requires a lot from the computation side, as we need millions of iterations while keeping track of what worked and what did not before reaching a solid guess of a good new whisky."

The first AI-generated whiskey, which is a single-malt with herbal notes of aniseed, white pepper and ginger, will be available in the fall.

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