The Scent of a Barman

This morning I attended a very interesting workshop with Mixologist extraordinaire Tony Conigliaro at the Boutique Bar Show near London Bridge. Thought billed as a Molecular Mixology workshop the event actually focused much more on the infinitely interesting subject of aroma. As many barmen, sommeliers and rubbish collectors know their is nothing more essential to the human condition as aroma–especially when it comes to taste. Indeed so much of what we actually think is taste ends up being a perception of what we are smelling (and if you doubt that just try tasting anything the next time you have a cold–onions and apples couldn’t be closer in texture without the pungent smell that the latter puts off.) Indeed, my absolute favourite place in the world when I’m in NYC is to go to my friend Christopher’s CB I Hate Perfume–a veritable PLAYGROUND of scents with colognes created to smell like everything from Wet Pavement, to Porcelain to Rubber Cement.

What struck me the most about the workshop was Tony’s concepts that a cocktail (and indeed I feel ALL gastronomic endevours) should really send a message to the brain of a ‘scene’. Case in point is some of the work Audrey Saunders is doing to create a stage for classic tropical cocktails by enhancing the aromas of a drink with beach smells or perfumed fresh indigenous Thai flowers and Ginger Blossoms, or my attempts at using fresh Jasmine flower and Soy scents with Eastern cocktails based on sake, lotus root and the essence of a Tokyo subway.
In discussing his by-now-famous Tobacco and Leather Old Fashioned, Congiliaro made the point that the hydrosols of tobacco and leather he used to give the essence of a large old chair didn’t in fact control the cocktail but rather enhanced the flavours of the bitters, bourbon (he didn’t specify which was used), sugar and orange zest. In some ways I may agree that there are so many opportunities to help customers come across smells within their cocktails in a new way, yet in some ways (as I brought up today) I feel that it is downplaying the essence of a perfectly crated (and for my purposes NATURAL) spirit. My favourite bourbons don’t need to be perfumed with tobacco, leather, vanilla, or musty cedar box scents because it’s all there and for the seeking drinker can be explored in every sip so long as the spirit is presented in such a way to assure the mixers don’t get in the way. I’m excited to play more with molecules of scent and will no doubt be a convert in the next 6 months but as I discussed with my Dynamic Wines rep today following the conference, “it’s like spraying ‘fresh cut grass’ perfume into a less-than-perfect Sancerre–why??”.
I hope my cocktails create the ‘scene’ on their own. I hope one can close their eyes and just by virtue of the mix alone have enough happy or nostalgic memories to order 1-2-3-7 more! That’s the point in my eyes.

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