Groningen Pale Ale: made by supercomputer Watson and Martinus Brewery

What started as a spontaneous idea, became a full fledged official beer that represents the character of Groningen, ironically, but aptly named Sober (Nuchter in Dutch). During the Let’s Gro innovation festival last week, Martinus Brewery and IBM presented the fermented fruits (actually yeast and grains) of their labor in style.

Martijn Fokken is a developer at IBM and avid beer brewing hobbyist. He thought it would be a cool idea to brew a beer just for his colleagues, using IBM’s own supercomputer Watson. Word of this tasty beverage quickly got out and the Groningen Municipal Government thought it would be a great idea to use Watson for a beer that characterizes the spirit of Groningen. Martinus Brewery jumped in, and in just two short months, the two companies came up with and produced the very first Groningen Pale Ale.

Distilling 200.000 words into one beer

So how do you use Watson to come up with a list of ingredients? By feeding it 200.000 words. “We gave Watson Personality Insights articles about the past, present and future of the city”, Fokken explains. “And by analyzing that input, Watson came up with 42 different characteristics, like self discipline and trust for the past, rebelliousness and result driven for the present, and artistry for the future.”

But those characteristics needed to be turned into ingredients of course, which Fokken initially thought would be a big challenge. “But fortunately for us however, craft beer brewers and fanatics are far from silent when it comes to describing beers on the internet, to put it mildly”, he adds jokingly. With those eloquent and wordy descriptions of flavor, from brewers, enthusiasts and hipsters from around the world, Watson was able to turn those 42 characteristics into 6 different ingredients.

Not an inbred hipster IPA

Oat became synonymous with self discipline, Cara malt with trust and being result driven and so on. According to Martijn Zwierstra, one of Martinus’ brewers, it wasn’t an easy task craft a beer with those ingredients. “Oat is something you have to look out for for, because it has a really strong flavor. It’s all about balancing those ingredients in a way that it still tastes great, but also unique and somewhat creative. You don’t want to brew yet another inbred hipster IPA”, he adds jokingly.

During the official presentation, Zwierstra also mentions that this cool initiative from Groningen will also soon be adopted by the city of London, who are also interested in using Watson to craft their own beer.

So what does Groningen taste like? To give it the highest praise in true Groningen fashion: “Could be worse!”

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