Aroma therapy: Perfuming in cocktails

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Location: Europe

From working with perfume houses to creating scented hand cream garnishes, adding fragrant aromas to your cocktails can massively enhance the customer’s enjoyment of a drink. Christopher Osburn looks at scents and scentability


Much has been said about the importance of aroma in a cocktail. Bartenders have plenty of techniques to amplify a drink’s scent for a customer: flexing lemon oils on the top of a drink to lift it, or placing mint next to a straw so you get that cooling herbal smell as you sip.

However bartenders across the globe are now going a step further; delving deeper into the world of fragrance and perfume. They are encouraging customers to follow their nose to their cocktail choice, rather than providing menus with long lists of ingredients to read.

Fragrances Bar at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Berlin

For example, Green Bar at London’s Hotel Café Royal recently collaborated with Parfums Givenchy to create cocktails based on the L’Atelier de Givenchy fragrance collection. Bar manager Derren King worked with the perfume brand to create 10 unique cocktails.

‘Highlighting the strong link between scent and taste, the new Givenchy fragrances were kept behind the bar for guests to experience before choosing their cocktail from the list,’ explains King.

The cocktails played off the combination of the unique fragrances of the perfume company, as well as King’s enthusiasm for fresh botanicals.

To make the experience even more immersive for guests, bartenders would spend a few minutes explaining the intricacies of the different fragrances. They also provided special scented buttons to be paired with the cocktails, giving drinkers a completely unique journey of the senses.

A bar for perfuming
Over in Berlin, Fragrances bar in the Ritz-Carlton plays on similar ideas, without being limited to one perfume house. Bar manager Arnd Henning Heissen wants guests to be completely immersed in all of their senses, with taste and smell being the most important.

Aziyade by Parfum d’Empire

The secret, according to Heissen, is to use the same ingredients in the drink that are also being used in perfumes. ‘Through this technique you can reproduce the atmosphere of the perfume which carries all the way to the taste of the cocktail,’ he says.

‘When creating new drinks and choosing new perfumes, we work closely with our [perfume]partners to find the right ingredients for the cocktail. However, we also try to discover the base ingredients ourselves simply through smelling,’ he explains. ‘For Vaara, a perfume by Penhaligon’s, we identified saffron, quince, coriander, pear, tonka bean, vanilla and carrot seeds, and formed the cocktail out of these ingredients.’

The resulting drink draws on a number of these elements, combining Bulleit Bourbon with saffron-infused Zacapa 23yo, lime juice, pear purée, coriander brandy and a syrup made from vanilla, tonka bean, honey and magnolia.

Spray misty for me
Perfume can be used to highlight a single flavour and accentuate it. ‘Aroma can also be used as the grand finale – the closing statement of a beautiful composition,’ according to Estanislado Orono, bartender at Raven & Rose in Portland, Oregon.

Orono used perfuming to create his winning cocktail for the Portland regional heat of the 2016 Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. He worked with master perfume designer, Eva-Marie Lind of EM Arome Studios, to create a fragrance of frankincense, orris root, dried bergamot, orange flower extract and Bombay Sapphire gin, which was misted over his drink.

According to Orono, there are many different combinations when pairing a scent with a flavour. These include lavender and bergamot, rosemary and mint, ylang ylang and vanilla, and patchouli and frankincense.

Igor Zukowiec, consultant mixologist and founder of Alchemiq Catering in New York has been perfuming cocktails for the last six years. Over this time, he’s discovered some winning combinations: ‘Cocktails with berries are great when perfumed with floral mists. Refreshing gin cocktails work with anise-based mists, while cobblers are amazing with herbal perfumes. There’s just no end to it.’

Dream creams
Playing with aroma and perfuming can go beyond aromatised spray. For the recent Diageo World Class UK final Aidan Bowie was tasked with making his own cocktail bitters and then pairing it with a cocktail.

Vaara by Penhaligon’s

He created vetiver bitters and made a Martini-style drink, the Vetiver Woodland Martini, to showcase them. But instead of using a classic garnish, such as a lemon twist, he used a scented hand cream. ‘This worked in a couple of different ways,’ explains Bowie. ‘First of all the guests used the hand cream, which is relaxing.

It meant they smelled the drink before they had tasted it.’

It also meant that guests were still smelling the drink an hour after they’d tasted it – a lasting reminder of the Vetiver Woodland Martini.

Bowie also made a sun cream for the World Class global competition in Miami last summer. ‘Sun tan lotion was invented in Miami, so it was a nice point of relevance,’ he says. ‘I made a lotion using a coconut oil base and then scented it with ylang-ylang and lime essential oils. It was easy to make, I found a recipe online, just added the ingredients and mixed it well.’

Again, the lingering aroma of the lotion reminds the drinker of the cocktail. ‘Using aroma creatively can give your guests a completely different experience and make it much more personal,’ adds Bowie.

However you choose to do it, it’s clear that considering perfume as a separate, but complementary, factor of a cocktail can add a fascinating extra dimension
to the world of drinks creation.

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Imbibe Editorial

With a core team that includes Chris Losh, Julie Sheppard, Holly Motion, Laura Foster, Isabella Sullivan, Sonja van Praag, Simon White and Mark de Wesselow, and an impressive roster of columnist bartenders, sommeliers and specialist journalists, Imbibe collectively boasts hundreds of years of on-trade drinks industry experience and knowledge.

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