Inspired by this post I found about clustering analysis over a dataset of Scotch tasting notes, I decided to try my hand at writing a recommender that works with the same dataset. The dataset conveniently rates each whisky on a scale from 0 to 4 in each of 12 flavor categories.

The user simply lists a few whiskies they like, the script gets a general idea of what kind of flavor they enjoy, and then spits out a list of drams they might want to try. On the inside, the process works like this:

  • Determine each whisky to be either above average or below average in each flavor category, assigning a “flavor rank” of +1 or -1 respectively.
  • Determine the user’s flavor profile: For each flavor category, find the mean and variance of the corresponding flavor ranks of the whiskies listed by the user.
  • Compute a score for each whisky: First, multiply each of the whisky’s flavor ranks by the corresponding mean from the user’s flavor profile. Then, compute the average over all the flavors, weighed inversely by the variances.
  • Sort the whiskies by score, and show the user the highest ranked ones.

I implemented this algorithm in Python. The code is available on Github. You’ll need to download the file whiskies.txt from the above dataset link. Here is an example of running the script:

$ python3 --like Laphroig --like Lagavulin
We have detected your flavor preferences as:
- Tobacco (weight 1.00)
- Winey (weight 1.00)
- Medicinal (weight 1.00)
- Body (weight 1.00)
- Smoky (weight 1.00)
- Sweetness (weight -1.00)
- Floral (weight -1.00)
- Fruity (weight -1.00)
- Honey (weight -1.00)
- Spicy (weight -1.00)
- Malty (weight -1.00)
- Nutty (weight -1.00)

Our recommendations: 
- Clynelish (weight 6.00)
- Caol Ila (weight 6.00)
- Dalmore (weight 4.00)
- Isle of Jura (weight 4.00)
- GlenDeveronMacduff (weight 4.00)
- GlenScotia (weight 4.00)
- Highland Park (weight 4.00)
- Ardbeg (weight 4.00)

Note that the misspelling of “Laphroaig” is not my fault – the error is present in the original dataset.

The script can easily be adapted to recommend anything with similar-looking data (i.e., where each instance is assigned scores over some set of attributes). There is nothing specific to whisky about the algorithm, just change some of the strings. ;)