They say there’s no accounting for taste, and that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Chivas Regal has recently proven just how subjective and flawed our taste buds can be with a simple blind taste test.
It’s widely acknowledged that our expectations and preconceived notions will affect our perception. Conversely, blind-testing often reveals its limits. There’s the coat hanger experiment, for instance, which famously showed how a group of audiophiles couldn’t reliably distinguish between expensive speaker cables and a jerry-rigged one made with coat hanger wires. It has since been repeated multiple times with varying results. The conclusion? Expensive “hi-fi” cables do not conclusively affect a speaker’s output to cause any perceptible differences to its sounds.
In the same vein of things, Chivas Regal was keen to find out the public’s perception of whisky – sans any bias from preconceived notions about the brand and/or its products. To that end, it conducted a three-part blind-tasting session for over a hundred people, either singly or in pairs.
For the first part of the blind taste test, each participant was presented with two unmarked glasses of whisky and asked to identify the blended whisky from the single malt. Somewhat surprisingly, 70 per cent of them mistook the blended whisky, a Chivas Regal 12, for the single malt.
The participants were then presented with a second pair of unmarked glasses and tasked to distinguish the Scotch from the Japanese whisky. Once again, a majority got it wrong, with 60 per cent of them incorrectly identifying the Chivas Mizunara as a Japanese whisky.
For the final part of the blind-tasting session, the participants were given a fizzy, citrusy cocktail in a highball glass. Most of them enjoyed it, and nearly all of them could taste the whisky used (a few had thought it was gin). The surprise came when the drink was revealed to be the Chivas Sonic, which we detailed here, and the whisky used the Chivas Regal 12.
The Power of Perception
Chivas Regal’s experiment may lack scientific rigour, but it did spotlight the issue of a common – and unfounded – bias when it comes to whiskies. It’s not difficult to see how knowing the brand (or blend) of a whisky could induce a placebo effect in its drinker. All bets are off once the label is removed though, so if you profess an inclination towards certain whiskies, you may want to revisit your preferences.