Yet another “big data whisky”

A long time back I had used a primitive version of my Single Malt recommendation app to determine that I’d like Ardbeg. Presently, the wife was travelling to India from abroad, and she got me a bottle. We loved it.

And so I had screenshots from my app stored on my phone all the time, to be used while at duty frees, so I would know what whiskies to buy.

And then about a year back, we started planning a visit to Scotland. If you remember, we were living in London then, and my wife’s cousin and her family were going to visit us over Christmas. And the plan was to go to the Scottish Highlands for a few days. And that had to include a distillery tour.

Out came my app again, to determine which distillery to visit. I had made a scatter plot (which I have unfortunately lost since) with the distance from Inverness (where we were going to be based) on one axis, and the likelihood of my wife and I liking a whisky (based on my app) on the other (by this time, Ardbeg was firmly in the “calibration set”).

The clear winner was Clynelish – it was barely 100 kilometers away from Inverness, promised a nice drive there, and had a very high similarity score to the stuff that we liked. I presently called them to make a booking for a distillery tour. The only problem was that it’s a Diageo distillery, and Diageo distillery doesn’t allow kids inside (we were travelling with three of them).

I was proud of having planned my vacation “using data science”. I had made up a blog post in my head that I was going to write after the vacation. I was basically picturing “turning around to the umpire and shouting ‘howzzat'”. And then my hopes were dashed.

A week after I had made the booking, I got a call back from the distillery informing me that it was unfortunately going to be closed during our vacation, and so we couldn’t visit. My heart sank. We finally had to make do with two distilleries that were pretty close to Inverness, but which didn’t rate highly according to my app.

My cousin-in-law-in-law and I first visited Glen Ord, another Diageo distillery, leaving our wives and kids back in the hotel. The tour was nice, but the whisky at the distillery was rather underwhelming. The high point was the fact that Glen Ord also supplies highly peated malt to other Diageo distilleries such as Clynelish (which we couldn’t visit) and Talisker (one of my early favourites).

A day later, we went to the more family friendly Tomatin distillery, to the south of Inverness (so we could carry my daughter along for the tour. She seemed to enjoy it. The other kids were asleep in the car with their dad). The tour seemed better there, but their flagship whisky seemed flat. And then came Cu Bocan, a highly peated whisky that they produce in very limited quantities and distribute in a limited fashion.

Initially we didn’t feel anything, but then the “smoke hit from the back”. Basically the initial taste of the whisky was smooth, but as you swallowed it, the peat would hit you. It was incredibly surreal stuff. We sat at the distillery’s bar for a while downing glasses full of Cu Bocan.

The cousin-in-law-in-law quickly bought a bottle to take back to Singapore. We dithered, reasoning we could “use Amazon to deliver it to our home in London”. The muhurta for the latter never arrived, and a few months later we were on our way to India. Travelling with six suitcases and six handbags and a kid meant that we were never going to buy duty free stuff on our way home (not that Cu Bocan was available in duty free).

In any case, Clynelish is also not widely available in duty free shops, so we couldn’t have that as well for a long time. And then we found an incredibly well stocked duty free shop in Maldives, on our way back from our vacation there in August. A bottle was duly bought.

And today the auspicious event arrived for the bottle to be opened. And it’s spectacular. A very different kind of peat than Lagavulin (a bottle of which we just finished yesterday). This one hits the mouth from both the front and the back.

And I would like to call Clynelish the “new big data whisky”, having discovered it through my app, almost going there for a distillery tour, and finally tasting it a year later.

Highly recommended! And I’d highly recommend my app as well!

Cheers!

Single Malt Recommendation App

Life is too short to drink whisky you don’t like.

How often have you found yourself in a duty free shop in an airport, wondering which whisky to take back home? Unless you are a pro at this already, you might want something you haven’t tried before, but don’t want to end up buying something you may not like. The names are all grand, as Scottish names usually are. The region might offer some clue, but not so much.

So I started on this work a few years back, when I first discovered this whisky database. I had come up with a set of tables to recommend what whisky is similar to what, and which single malts are the “most unique”. Based on this, I discovered that I might like Ardbeg. And I ended up absolutely loving it.

And ever since, I’ve carried a couple of tables in my Evernote to make sure I have some recommendations handy when I’m at a whisky shop and need to make a decision. But then the tables are not user friendly, and don’t typically tell you what you should buy, and what your next choice should be and so on .

To make things more user-friendly, I have built this app where all you need to enter is your favourite set of single malts, and it gives you a list of other single malts that you might like.

The data set is the same. I once again use cosine similarity to find the similarity of different whiskies. Except that this time I take the average of your favourite whiskies, and then look for the whiskies that are closest to that.

In terms of technologies, I’ve used this R package called Shiny to build the app. It took not more than half an hour of programming effort to build, and most of that was in actually building the logic, not the UI stuff.

So take it for a spin, and let me know what you think.

 

The most unique single malt

There might have been a time in life when you would’ve had some Single Malt whisky and thought that it “doesn’t taste like any other”. In fact, you might have noticed that some single malt whiskies are more distinct than others. It is possible you might want to go on a quest to find the most unique single malts, but given that single malts are expensive and not easily available, some data analysis might help.

There is this dataset of 86 single malts that has been floating about the interwebs for a while now, and there is some simple yet interesting analysis related to that data Рfor example, check out this simple analysis with a K-means clustering of various single malts. They use the dataset (which scores each of the 86 malts on 12 different axis) in order to cluster the malts, and analyze which whiskies belong to similar  groups.

Continue reading “The most unique single malt”

On Hating Talisker

I must thank Mohits Senior and Junior for introducing me to the wonderful world of Single Malts in general, and to Talisker in particular. If I remember right, this was at a meeting of a certain secret society in Senior’s house, where Junior had procured the said substance. I remember being floored by it, and thinking I’d never thought liquor could taste so good. And till yesterday I used to think no one can ever hate this drink.

The first time I got down to buying a bottle of it (though I’d had it by the glass a couple of times outside) was in a duty free shop on my way back from my honeymoon last winter. The wife, as I’d expected, took a huge liking for it. In fact, it seemed like she liked it much more than I did. I must also mention here that for a very long time, that bottle of Talisker was the only liquor available at home.

So whenever we would fight (in our early days of marriage it was quite often, I must admit) the wife would want to distract herself and cool off by “lightening” herself. And would gulp down some Talisker straight from the bottle, as I stood aside, aghast. The subject matter of the fight would be ¬†quickly forgotten, with my foremost thought being “what a waste of such fine booze”, and she being distracted by the contents of the said booze.

That first bottle of Talisker didn’t last too long.

So on our way back from Italy and Greece this summer, I bought another bottle of Talisker. And even before I got it billed, I told the wife that it wasn’t for gulping down, and especially not she was angry. I’ll keep a bottle of cheap whisky at home, I said, for her to drink when angry, and the Talisker should be accessed only when we’re looking to savour our drink.

So last night, on the occasion of her birthday, we decided we want to savour some drink, and down came the bottle of Talisker. She had hardly taken a couple of sips, when she handed the glass back to me. “I can’t take this any more”, she said. “Now, every time I drink Talisker, I get reminded of those times when I was angry and we would be fighting. I don’t want this any more’. So finally there exists a person who hates Talisker, for whatever reason!

For the record, I finished the rest of her drink last night.