The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to reexamine the ways they interact with consumers. And whiskey-tasting, like any other libation-centered public event, was no exception.
I've always felt curious about guided tasting. To me, a drink is best had by buying a glass, downing it over good conversation and music, and calling it a day. But I wanted to understand the cultural appeal of a tasting session nonetheless. Because I couldn't go to an in-person guided tasting event due to the pandemic, I decided to give Wild Turkey's virtual, smart speaker-powered, AI-run guided tasting a shot. And I did not regret a second of it (even if whiskey tastes like baby tears).
A virtual escape to the south — During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wild Turkey master distillers Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie Russell, have sought the help of AI-powered assistants like Alexa to run their tasting sessions. All I had to do was ask Alexa to "open Wild Turkey tasting."
In seconds, I got to listen to father Russell explain the different drinks in rich Kentucky baritone with the occasional and amusing quips from none other than Matthew McConaughey. For a moment, I felt as if I had been transported to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, without ever moving an inch from my apartment in Los Angeles, California.
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While it isn't exactly like sitting in an old barn in the south while a legendary master distiller and his son explain the caramel, smokey, vanilla notes in your glass, it is undoubtedly entertaining to ask Alexa — for several years now, Amazon claims it's using neural networks to make her sound more natural — for fun facts about whiskey, how it's made, the vernacular that surrounds this type of drink, whether you can add ice or water to your spirit, and other details while your guides share anecdotes and wisdom about whiskey craftsmanship.
With bluegrass playing on my Macbook and a drink in my hand, the virtual tasting session changed its content and elements based on my questions and comments — which is always appreciated by someone like me who hasn't really dived deep into whiskey. It's also affordable since a virtual tasting session like this doesn't require buying a ticket, waiting, and traveling — which sounds exhausting and unsafe to do right now.
By the end of the session, I was pleasantly surprised by how good of a time I had while sipping Longbranch by my patio, listening to the Russells' twang fill my apartment. It was a surprisingly warm and almost personal experience — with the right kind of melody, aroma, and pace — that let me take in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail without compromising anyone's health. Including McConaughey's. I was also pleasantly surprised by how affable Alexa was, especially when you remember that this is just a $40 voice assistant.
What's better is that, if I want to, I can schedule a tasting session for my friends without having to buy tickets to Kentucky. A socially distant virtual tasting session in open air like this over fried chicken and a banjo alongside Alexa as our amicable host? That's a great time, if you ask me.