The Story of Cognitive Beer

As a craft beer enthusiast and dedicated home brewer, I get struck with some of the craziest ideas you could imagine (beer wise, that is). Just a few months ago you could find me in the middle of a freezing night knee deep in the mud, because I thought putting seaweed in a beer sounded like the most sane plan on earth. Recently it happened again. I was just enjoying my lunch in our atrium at the IBM Client Innovation Center (CIC) in Groningen, like it was any other regular Friday, and there it was: What if we could take our culture and put it inside a beer bottle? The idea of a cognitive beer was born!

 Surprisingly, it was way easier than even I would have expected. With the help of Watson Personality Insights. With Personality Insights, Watson can uncover a deeper understanding of people’s personality characteristics, needs and values. Watson analyzes text and extracts a spectrum of personality attributes out of it, including Big Five, the most widely used model for describing how a person engages with the world.

I was not really sure beer would qualify as being a person, but I decided to give it a try. I soon discovered there is a problem with beer: It doesn’t talk, it doesn’t write. It just sits there, waiting for you to devour it. There was no way I would get any words out of them, let alone the 3.500 needed to achieve meaningful results. Thankfully, there are a lot of craft beer lovers out there, who would never let a chance slip by to tell other enthusiasts what they think of the beer they just enjoyed. And they write wordy, imagery reviews full of emotions. It was the perfect source for Watson. I let Watson extract the personality characteristics of a beer based on the collective personality of everyone that liked it. Together, all the taste notes gave me the personality treats of that specific beer. And with that, I could find the beers that match the culture in our CIC Groningen.

At the CIC Groningen we are enthusiastic, optimistic and joyful. In other words: We experience a range of positive feelings. But we also have a drive to be recognized as successful. We work hard to achieve excellence and we have an urge to achieve, to succeed and to take on challenges and a strong desire to discover new things, to find out how everything work and to grow, both ourselves and the center as a whole. What we value most is helping each other. This center would not have been where it is now if it wasn’t for every single one of us stepping up and together contribute to the general knowledge and skills of the center. So a cognitive beer that matches our culture would have to score high on cheerfulness and achievement striving. The needs in our beer should focus around challenge and curiosity, with helping others as our core value.

After analyzing the results Watson Personality Insights returned to me, I selected the five highest scoring beers per characteristic that was selected as fitting to our culture. At this moment, I still wasn’t sure it would all work out, so the results positively surprised me. All of the five highest scoring beers on the characteristic Achievement striving are dark, strong beers of at least 10% ABV. They also had flaked oats as an ingredient. All five of them. And it appears that Amarillo is a really happy, joyful hop variety, because the beers that scored highest on Cheerfulness were all hopped with Amarillo. Chinook and Simcoe hops were also part of the outcome, to symbolize helping others and curiosity. And if you feel the need for a challenge, drink an India Pale Ale, because the top five beers that had a need for challenge were all IPA’s.

With the ingredients selected and the recipe designed, it was time to spark up the burners and fill the kettles. Theory is nice and all, but this cognitive beer had to be brewed. And it had to be brewed on the balcony at our office in Groningen. Armed with ingredients and brew gear, we crushed the malts and started mashing. When it was time to filter the wort and start cooking, a lot of colleagues were curious as to what was going on. It must have been the Simcoe hop I added around that same time that sparked their curiosity.

How did we do it?

I asked myself if Watson could come up with a craft beer recipe that can hold itself in the ever growing and demanding world of craft beer. I got my answer: It definitely can. But how did I do it?

Keep in mind that this was a proof of concept, I just wanted to see if it could be done. So the answer is pretty simple: with a lot of manual labor. I went to Ratebeer.com and copied a lot of beer tasting notes. And by a lot I mean a lot. I spend nights doing nothing more than copy and paste until I had the required 6.000 words per beer. After that I put all the results and the ingredients per beer in a database and crosschecked it against the culture of the CIC Groningen (or at least, the personality treats that the employees of the CIC groningen imputed to our culture. This resulted in 5 ingredients and a beer style. Out of these ingredients I made the recipe and brewed the beer.

cognitive beer

So, how do we go from here?

 The proof of concept proved to be working, so now we need to make it work on a bigger scale. Let’s upscale it to cities, municipalities, or even countries. To make this happen, we need to partner up with cities and local brewers. The idea is simple: IBM will use Watson to create a beer recipe based upon the collective talks about that city. A local brewer will then fine-tune the recipe and brew it. The result: Not just a beer that has been brewed in the city, but a beer that contains the very soul of the city. A beer that IS the city.

We can use the knowledge of our IBM Watson teams in Amsterdam and the US, and our brand new Dev Ops Garage to build an application based on IBM Bluemix. With  Watson Personality Insights we can automatically get the personality treats of all tweets with a certain hashtag (e.g.  ‘#Groningen’). All the Tweets together will be the source for the personality of the city. Next step is to crosscheck this against a huge database of ingredients, beer styles and alcohol by volume (ABV) and their personality score in Personality Insights. Selecting the ingredients, beer style and ABV that match with the personality of the city. With the outcome, we will sit together with the local brewer and design a recipe that will be brewed.

Introducing: the cognitive beer!

Cognitive Beer Powered by Watson

The ultimate goal: Every city inside a bottle. You’ll not only be drinking a beer from your city.  You’ll be drinking the city itself through a cognitive beer.

Enjoyed this post about cognitive beer?

Welcome to the era of cognitive business! Start your cognitive business journey by learning more about cognitive solutions like Watson and the IBM Cloud platform that supports cognitive workloads.  Meet Watson – the platform for cognitive business.


Location Leader Client Innovation Center Groningen / HR Partner CiC BNL, IBM Global Business Services

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