What Happens To Your Brain When You Drink Cognac?

anadol hennessy cognac art

For cognac lovers, the range of words to describe the sensation and flavours of their favourite drink don’t always come easy, what may be harder to express is the actual effect that the drink has on the human brain.

Refik Anadol, world renowned media artist and director, was invited by Hennessy to observe it’s famous tasting committee at work, and he decided to capture the effects of cognac inside the minds of drinkers. 

In an exercise that was the first time Hennessy had invited an outsider into their secretive process, Anadol would join the tasting committee every day to capture data and turn his findings into a contemporary art piece that celebrated the new iconic Hennessy VSOP Privilège blend.

Anadol used a specialised electroencephalogram (EEG), typically reserved for laboratory research to capture sensorial data as each member of the Tasting Committee tasted a selection of eaux-de-vie specially made for VSOP Privilège. With sensors fixed onto their heads, the committee carried out their ritual, with their every move, feeling and sensation recorded and collected as data.

Anadol explained the process:

“We had sensors to get the EEG signals from their brains, and special sensors on the wrists that got their body temperature, skin conductivity, and blood pressure. We also took video recordings to be sure what exactly happens when each moment happens. 

“There are many things going on in their minds when they are sensing, especially for Renaud. His brain activities were on fire!!”

The result was a three-dimensional data sculpture masterpiece named Sense of Heritage as the design of the Limited Edition bottle, which was also turned into an immersive audio-visual installation, which was revealed last month in Shanghai.

According to Anadol, he took almost six months to analyse all the data he collected, and another year to figure out what to do with it.

“The amount of information I collected from the four of them in one day was HUGE, up to terabytes of data!” he said. “Normally, neuroscientists collect just a couple of minutes of EEG data to get what they need. I recorded almost one hour for each of the four members!”

With that much data to process, Anadol had to use artificial intelligence (AI) in order to pinpoint the exact moment that the particular member was sensing the eaux-de-vie.

“Once we found it, we had to visualise that moment in order to make the sculpture, bottle and the installation. That took a lot of time!” he said, adding that the pandemic helped a bit, because life slowed down enough for him to do a deeper dive into understanding what he could do with the data.

For the installation, Anadol wanted to see if we could step inside someone’s senses. “I wanted to capture the feeling of being inside someone’s sensory environment. This was one way of translating someone’s senses into a living sculpture, ” he said.

Ultimately, the combination of Anadol’s high-tech artistic methods and Hennessy’s centuries-old heritage was an inspiring one. “I’m an artist who works using technology, AI and code. But here, what was inspiring is finding out what happens when heritage meets technology, ” Anadol said, adding that it was fascinating how the Tasting Committee uses its collective memories to plan for the future of its cognacs.

“The Tasting Committee is the source of memory, dreaming about the future, ” he explained. “When you see the data, it’s an amazing journey. The ingredients and ideas are the same, but the projection is the future. They are reinventing the same feeling by looking to the future. I like to think of it as remembering the future!”

For more information on the collaborative cognac, head over to Hennessy’s official website.