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Class: Using Aroma in Cocktails with Dave Arnold & Audrey Saunder


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There is a very interesting class coming up at Astor Center tomorrow about using aromas in cocktails as part of the Alchemy of Taste and Smell programs they're running right now.

In Audrey and Dave's class, they're going to focus on techniques and uses of infusion, aromatic distillation and essential oils in the mixological arts. This should be a very important and informative session, and really it's hard to imagine a better pair to give this class : Dave's full on technological geekery in these areas is known to many, but what fewer people may know is the extent to which Audrey has immersed herself in the science and art of aroma over the past several years. And so I expect the class to increase our understanding of the impact that aroma can have on a cocktail and to feature both high and low tech ways to explore and push the envelope of deliberately using aroma in cocktails.

Meanwhile, check out the calendar at Astor Center for other Alchemy of Taste and Smell events coming up this weekend.


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Very interested to read your report. I read somewhere -- NY Times? Imbibe? -- a quotation of Audrey's about the importance of water to aroma. I wasn't sure how to understand that in relation to proof; the quotation seemed to imply that adding water, whatever the initial proof, promoted greater aromatic intensity, a bit like the drops of water one adds to neat scotch. What's going on there? I mean, does adding water create some reaction of import besides dilution?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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That would probably be this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/dining/28curious.html

How can water reduce one sensation and amplify another? Both alcohol and aroma molecules are volatile, meaning they evaporate from foods and drinks and are carried by the air to the odor receptors high up in the nasal cavity.

Aroma molecules are also more chemically similar to alcohol molecules than they are to water, so they tend to cling to alcohol, and are quicker to evaporate out of a drink when there’s less alcohol to cling to.

This means that the more alcoholic a drink is, the more it cloisters its aroma molecules, and the less aroma it releases into the air. Add water and there’s less alcohol to irritate and burn, and more aroma release.

The same principle explains why stiff martinis and Manhattans can be less aromatic than lower-proof cocktails, as many bartenders know. Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club in New York told me that realizing this led her to develop a series of what she calls “inverted drinks,” in which spirits play a supporting role to vermouth or other low-alcohol ingredients.


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I think Sam is the one best suited to explain this, but as far as I know, when you add water, it breaks the bounds between the aroma molecules and the ethanol molecules, thus releasing the pleasant smells for our olfactory pleasure

Paulo Freitas

Bartender @ Bar do Copa (Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro - Brazil)


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My chemistry is rusty (ok, seized up tight), but isn't the vapor pressure of one molecule independent of others in solution? I'm entirely willing to accept the conclusion, but the explanation makes me :blink:

In an ideal world.

When different substances in solution act completely independently it is called ideal mixing. But alcohol and water don't mix ideally and the aromatic chemicals won't behave ideally in the mixture. Ethanol is more polar than water, if I remember correctly. So polar aroma compounds will have a greater affinity for alcohol.

The other thing is that the vapor pressure is an equilibrium effect - it is the measure of air saturated with the compound. With the drink, you are dealing with the kinetic effect of how fast the compound is released to air. That is typically related to the vapor pressure with high vapor pressure compounds volatilizing more rapidly but it isn't necessarily a simple relationship.

One thing that struck me about the NY Times article is the reverse cocktails. I can see the point of them for adding complexity to the flavor but maybe the Aperol and vermouth people put the appropriate amount of alcohol in their product and drinking it straight is not a bad idea.

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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i'm really curious to hear a summary of what they are going to be talking about. it is a really exciting topic and people are finally starting to fully explain what was once only received wisdom.

some of the concepts though are hard to put to use. the idea of diluting an alcoholic solution with water to increase the available-to-perceive aroma is a chemistry trick and rather interesting, but its hard to integrate into a multi sensory flavor. now that you've diluted your manhattan with water you may have increased the aroma, but you changed all the other tensions that also create the emotional content of the drink... its very hard to use in a "beautiful" context.

the coolest ways to increase aroma, i think, are tricks of perception that work in the brain. for example, different tastants (sugar and salt are the big ones) can increase the threshold of perception of an aroma. this is why certain tastants are known as "flavor enhancers". when more than one sense worth of data goes down a path in the brain the effect becomes an amplification of the signal.

adding texture can further increase the signal. this is why the fruit left over from your infusions can seem so much more alcoholic than they really are. texture amplification can also work on aroma. but again its hard to use in a beautiful context. whatever is amplified often gets out of control.

de-amplification is seen when you juice a strawberry and rob the fruit of its texture. the whole strawberry tastes so real and the juiced strawberry tastes so bland. you can't make the juice taste real again until you add other amplifying tastants like more acid and more sugar.

i've been trying to make a "trigeminal cocktail" by leaching out the aroma from black berries so i can have "blackberry skeletons" to reinfuse with a familiar classic so people can see the amplification effects of texture. i had done it once before to make "maraschino blackberries" which were blackberries infused with distilled blackberry eau de vie and mace. you can drink the blackberry-mace brandy but you can't eat a blackberry without spitting it up because the aromas are so overly amplified. its difficult to use the trick in a beautiful context.

texture has another ill effect on aroma which is texture distraction. when engaging in multi sensory perception your attention span does not give equal weight to the senses. our attention span gravitates towards texture then towards gustation and only finally to olfaction. texture distraction is why manhattans are best stirred if the goal is showing off the aroma. simplified texture gives your attention span a shot at actually perceiving the nuances of the aromas. the manhattan might also simplify gustation for the sake of your attention span, because there is no distracting gustatory tensions like sweet + bitter or sweet + acidic.

this flavor stuff is tricky business, but what is great is that when you unravel the nitty gritty of the mechanics of flavor you can take one theory from cocktail making and move it to understanding wine or to understanding food. right now people's understanding of the culinary disciplines seems too separate. i think all the walls are starting to come down and the cocktail is the great illustrative teaching tool.

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes


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My incomplete notes:

Tea service @ Ritz in London + UK love of gin inspired Audrey to put Earl Grey tea foam on a gin sour, but it collapsed, and looked like "puke," so she kept trying. The next thing she tried was egg whites for support. Egg whites are a good way to get aroma onto the surface a cocktail without something sinking to the bottom, but her experience was that after 8 minutes, egg whites "smelled like wet dog." Hence the addition of a tincture or twist to counterbalance the "wet dog smell." She was inspired by Jerry Thomas' recipe of a tincture of cloves. One example of this they do at Pegu Club is to add a cardamom tincture to a finished Ramos Gin Fizz.

Dry ice is another way to add aroma. Put a pellet in a tea ball (for safety so you don't end up chewing on dry ice), add a few drops of a tincture, then drop into your cocktail. It will bubble, too. She tried doing this in a tiki mug but then switched to a wine glass and added water, so the class could see the bubbling effort. The aroma was quickly distributed into the air and I could smell it from a few feet away. She noted that it's difficult to do this effect in a snifter type glass because it's too concentrated. And one could be careful of patrons who can't breathe due to the dry ice.

Champagne or anything else bubbly also delivers aroma. Try adding a tincture to a sugar cube in a champagne cocktail instead of Angostura bitters. Rose, cardamom, ginger, etc. You can also add something scented to a jar of sugar cubes to flavor them and then use those sugar cubes as an aroma delivery device.

She also touched briefly on atomizers used to spray something onto the surface of a drink.

Then Dave Arnold explained how a rotovac worked, added some dry ice, and tried to (unsuccessfully due to technical difficulties) distill cognac and frankincense. While we waited, he passed around some distillations to try: dry roasted peanut & bourbon (amazing), chocolate (very good), habanero (not spicy at all thanks to the distillation process, but a bit one note), cilantro & orange aged 1.5 yrs (apparently it's really good right out of the rotovac for a few hours then turns into "swampy herbs" until it's aged long enough to taste good again), blue cheese & cognac (to me the cheese was only on the finish, left a weird aftertaste, yuck).

After drinking all of those distillations, things get fuzzy for me.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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