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Ability to distinguish whisky (uisge beatha) from brandy (cognac)

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 24 December 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1686
  1. E J Moran Campbella,
  2. Diana M E Campbella,
  3. Robin S Roberts, professora
  1. Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  2. a 208 Governor's Road, Dundas, Ontario L9H 3K1, Canada
  1. Correspondence to: Dr E J M Campbell.


    Objective: To assess ability to distinguish between first rate malt whisky and brandy and between different brands of each.

    Design: Crossover with two sessions of 12 blindfold tastings of two whiskies and two brandies before and after supper, repeated not more than seven days later.

    Setting: Dundas, Ontario. Participants—4 volunteers aged 50-68 years, all moderate drinkers of alcohol and members of a wine club.

    Main outcome measures: Proportion of samples correctly identified (whisky v brandy) and, of those, the proportion of brands correctly identified.

    Results: Only one participant produced irrefutable statistical evidence (P<0.0001) of being able to distinguish between whisky and brandy, correctly identifying 50/51 (98%) samples. Two participants achieved some success in identification (72%, P=0.0031 and 65% P=0.031). The fourth participant's responses reflected pure guesswork. Brandy was no easier to identify than whisky (P=0.84). The participant who was best able to distinguish between whisky and brandy was also best able to identify correctly the brand of whisky (100%, P<0.0001).

    Conclusion: Despite the fact that not all participants completed the full number of tastings the results show that some participants could distinguish neither between malt whisky and brandy nor between different brands of whisky and brandy. However, the success of one participant shows that “it can be done” and that his whisky specific ability is acquired not innate.

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