of a whiskey in terms of appearance, flavor, and even potentially extending to package type (canned whiskey anyone?). Blending 100 percent whiskeys together will also yield a 100 percent whiskey as a blend, but once components that are not 100 percent whiskey are added then the result moves closer to the edges of the 100 percent whiskey “plateau” (Fig. 1). This might seem counter-intuitive, as the weighted mean of m criteria of 100 percent and n criteria of (100-x) percent is necessarily less than 100 percent, but if we again consider the consumer context, then the addition of, say, a few drops of water does not necessarily mean that a whiskey is perceived as anything less than 100 percent! Again we run into the fuzziness of a sensory-based classification. So if we are to recast whiskey classification in this light, perhaps the closest example to date is that put forward by professional statistician and Scotch whisky aficionado David Wishart, in his underappreciated book Whisky Classified (Wishart, 2006).2 Here he defines three tiers of clusters with varying degrees of granularity for Scotch whiskies based on their sensory attributes or, more precisely, their flavor attributes. Although we have used whiskey as an example, if we take a “helicopter” view and zoom out to the whole alcoholic drink sector, we can of course identify some major categories such as beers,
wines, spirits, ciders, meads, etc. Many of these products will classify unambiguously (ie 100 percent membership), but many traditional products do not. Fortified wines are perhaps one of the most venerable spirit hybrids and classify partly as spirits and partly as wine. Alternatively, we can establish a fortified wine product category, but this is, we contend, less useful as we will need to define wine/spirits hybrids anyway. As alluded to above, some part products can be made up of non-alcoholic ingredients, such as water, ice and mixers, pushing the limits of traditional category definitions. So we are working right now on a clustering approach to the classification of alcoholic drinks, using fuzzy cluster analysis. This approach is tried-andtested in the realm of social sciences, exemplified by the work of Ragin (2008).3 Ultimately we aim is to use this clustering approach to define potentially novel product domains, aiding the acceleration of product innovation. Watch this space!
Paul Hughes, Ph.D. is assistant professor of food science and technology at Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR. For more information visit www.oregonstate.edu or call (541) 737-4595.
2 Wishart, D., Whisky Classified, Pavilion Books, 2006. 3 Ragin, C.C., Redesigning Social Enquiry: Fuzzy Seta and Beyond, University of Chicago Press, 2008.
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