The Willat Effect — named for Carl Willat, whose limoncello comparison tasting made me notice it — may happen when you experience two similar versions of one thing close together. (For example, sip one limoncello and then sip another.) The differences between them become clearer, of course. The Willat Effect is the less obvious hedonic change: suddenly the differences matter. Suddenly one version is more pleasant, the other less pleasant. The hedonic changes are large enough to change how I spend money (I buy the better version more, the worse version less). I believe this effect turns people into connoisseurs.
I recently noticed the Willat Effect with gin. As part of a project to buy every type of not-too-expensive alcohol in a nearby liquor store, I bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin. I neither like nor dislike gin, it was just something they sold I hadn’t tried. It was medium-priced (about $20). I liked it okay.
I returned to the liquor store. This time I bought two brands of London dry gin: Tanqueray (about $20) and Greenall’s Special (about $15). At home I tasted them side by side. The Tanqueray was much better, I noticed right away. It was softer, more rounded, and had floral overtones absent from the Greenall’s. Where was the Bombay Sapphire gin on these dimensions? Did it have floral overtones? I had no idea. Now I was curious. One close comparison shifted my buying habits in two ways: (a) I want to make more of these comparisons. I want to try every brand of gin in the liquor store to see if the cheaper brands tasted worse. (b) Apart from these comparisons, I will never buy inferior gin again.
The Willat Effect happens only if the two things being compared are neither too similar nor too dissimilar. Perhaps differently-priced versions of London dry gin are roughly the right distance apart and are a convenient way to demonstrate the effect. It’s easy to get different versions of London dry gin.
The effect interests me because it is (a) practical (a source of enjoyment), (b) a subtle comment on intellectuals (who complain about our “consumerist” society) and economics (I look forward to an economist’s explanation of connoisseurship), and (c) it supports my theory of human evolution, which says connoisseurs came to exist because they promote technological innovation. Connoisseurs make it easier for the most skilled craftsmen — the ones most likely to innovate — to make a living.