And how does that effect which cocktails we like?

Molecular Matchmaking from Jigger Beaker Glass looks in micro detail at the rational methods of mixing drinks to get you the most accurate results alongside the macro concept of matchmaking. The complements, contrasts or juxtaposes that makes a drink elicit emotions. From pairing food and drinks, blending flavours in a cocktail, matching mood to the atmosphere, turning expectations into effects, myth-busting misconceptions, social bonding, team building, or combining creative flair and critical thinking: the list is endless.

Flavour is both a science and a way to build a unique customer experience. Ultimately, all hospitality venues serving food or drinks are attempting to build a business on the foundations of flavour. Chasing that perfect moment of lip-smacking savouring from our guest makes us strive for advancement, creates friendly competition that motivates us, and ultimately pays our bills.

Why Do We Want Delicious Drinks?

Inherent flavours are not only useful for food identification. They provide hedonic value to our senses.

Flavours are units of pleasure that influence our motivation to consume, elevate our mood, evoke spontaneous emotions like surprise, nostalgia or joy, and when served in the right environment, are fodder for mentally stimulating conversation.

Why Are Some Drinks Tastier Than Others?

Taste helps us both decide what to eat and influences how we digest.

Loosely, bitter helps us avoid toxins, sweet allows us to consume high-energy calories, umami helps us get energy from minerals and proteins, sours help us avoid decomposing foods, and salt affects the balance of osmosis. A new body of scientists is pushing to include fat as a flavour as it elicits a response in the brain seeking fatty acid-based nutrients. Fat also affects texture, flavour release and thermal properties.

Therefore, generally, people who's brains are geared towards an appetite response — the desire for nourishment — will prefer sweet, fatty, umami and salty cocktails. Those who's brains like to live on the edge of danger will get a thrill from sour or bitter flavours. That's one reason why fatty, salty, savoury or sweet drinks make us feel comfort, whereas sour or bitter flavours make us feel alert. But that’s a simplistic overview.

Both genetics and evolutionary factors affect our preferred flavour profiles too. Our DNA profile will determine how to turn the taste and smell messages sent to your brain into a decision on what we think is delicious or disgusting. Whereas familiarity can cause an emotional response ranging from contempt to contentment.

Our age affects how we taste too. We both lose nerve sensitivity in our taste receptors because they shrink, and fewer of them regenerate the older we get.

What Journey Does Flavour Take To Our Brains?

Scent

Our sense of taste is initially stimulated when nutrients or other chemical compounds activate receptor cells in our nose, mouth and throats. We can detect up to 1-trillion airborne olfactory odours. These cues allow our subconscious to glean hazards, pheromones, and the emotional states of others. Our conscious mind will notice appetite cues, memories and the emotional responses we have. Smell is not our most dominant sense, but it is usually the first point of perception. That's why coffee roasters and bread makers waft cooking smells onto bustling pavements. It's the first hook in a sale.

Sight

When you combine scent and visual cues, your body starts preparing for digestion. You might begin to salivate or have a gag-reflex ready before a drink even touches your mouth. Vision is our primary sense. Extrinsic factors like colour and intrinsic factors like viscosity will drive acceptance or rejection. With just these initial two senses, we have built up an expectation of flavour that will make us either refuse or order a cocktail.

Touch

Naturally, you'd think taste comes next, but we actually perceive texture first. Grainy, slimy, sticky or thin, a drink's mouthfeel is the next to flag up a refusal reflex. Even if something tastes palatable, a gross texture or offbeat temperature will immediately make us question the admittance of a gulp into our sacred bodies.

Sound

According to a growing body of research, acoustic atmosphere can affect the way we taste. For example, noise over 100 decibels can affect the intensity of sweet or salt perception. A study on an aeroplane — where ambient sound is around 85 decibels — intensified passenger's umami response. Another study showed that moods of music affected wine drinkers description of the flavour profile. So when the music was mellow and soft, so was the wine.

Taste

Our tongues help us to identify toxins, maintain nutrition, regulate appetite, create immune responses, and metabolise what we ingest via a sense of taste. A cocktail is essentially a toolbox of ingredients that, when balanced together, can affect any one of these responses in numerous different ways.

What Happens When We Remove A Sense from This Journey?

What happens when we handicap just one of the senses? Does it affect our perception, enjoyment and capacity to identify flavours within a drink? Let's see what happens to the Bacardi Ambassador team's tastebuds when they are blindfolded…

Are You There, Inspiration? It's Me; Everybody

The world of hospitality has changed. The uneven landscape in the wake of the pandemic has forced many in the industry to look inward and appraise their core tenets in the face of this disruption. How far outside of the box do we need to think to stay relevant? Has the world changed so much that if we don't evolve, we run the risk of being left behind? Is a conceptual and imaginative approach to menu development enough to stay fresh? Or will a tried and true practices like an efficient and succinct approach to drinks design keep us above water? Perhaps time will tell, so for now, let's see what we can learn from recent history.

Innovative Technology

Before the pandemic hit, creative technologies were on the horizon. Sure, the internet is a double-edged sword, and globalisation is scary, but there is a smorgasbord of exciting opportunities available to us because of that fickle monster, technology.

Take the 'Mirage by City Social' Menu from 2017, the world's first augmented reality menu. An insane visual feast, paired with great drinks, presented in a way so futuristic it is guaranteed to frighten anyone's Grandparents. This was only made possible by modern technology.

As people become more used to daily computer interaction, this kind of experimental style will indeed become par for the course. Creativity knows no technological bounds. However, you can attain similar creative strides with a bit of imagination.

Playing with Expectations

Remy Savage's evocative menu for Little Red Door, Paris, in 2016 was an exquisite concept, executed masterfully. Taking an idea that pertains to the guest experience — like taste — and pairing all the usual expectations back to purify that experience is a complicated ploy to carry off. In this case, Remy removed words from the menu. Words paint images in our minds, preparing us for what's to come, so by taking them away, you're left to trust the experience of the senses alone. As if the placards in a gallery have been removed so that you only judge the artwork on its own merit, or the flatpack furniture you ordered doesn't include instructions, and you have to play and experiment with putting it together. So instead of reading a menu description, the customers we asked to order based on which image they relate to most.

"The question is, do we react the same way to the same flavours? If we don't, is there a way that we can communicate the flavour without using words? The only obvious choice for menus up to now has been using words – I wanted to see if we could find a way to use our logic to communicate those flavours." - Remy in The Cocktail Lovers Interview.

However, it should be noted that to run philosophical experiments like this with your clientele requires an expert level of understanding of the art-forms necessary to execute them. But if you can, you will both evolve your guest experience and raise your bartending game.

Retaining your individuality while trying to evolve is one of the more difficult tasks as a bartender, made more difficult because of the recent paradigm shift caused by the various lockdowns.

Reaction and Action

The 'new normal' is quite literally a paradigmatic change. Lockdown was a catalyst for the service process to become digitalised, with in-app ordering and QR codes becoming necessary in most bars. Bars have been forced to work with a whole new set of tools to stay ahead of the curve. Naturally, things like zoom tastings and masterclasses have become regular fixtures and are a great way to integrate bartenders from all over the country in a snap. Canned cocktails and RTDs (Ready To Drink) for delivery have become far more prevalent, with delicious offerings from some of the industry's leading venues. Solutions that will kick around long after the doors have reopened on a more permanent basis.

It'll be interesting to see how bars use hyper-modern concepts like video-driven media and augmented reality. Ideas born out of necessity have gained real traction, and it will be interesting to see what sticks, and as they are normalised, which concepts will evolve even further.

The spirit of the entrepreneur burns bright within every bartender worth his salt, and the truth is that without people to form these ideas, technology can't survive. The age-old tenet of creativity outside-the-box thinking is still imperative to success. We stand on the brink of a new and exciting frontier, and if we can brave the initial storm, a wild and bright world will be ours for the taking.

FLAVOUR EXTRACTION

Using technology to Make Homemade Cocktail Ingredients

The discovery of homemade ingredients is a pretty transformative time in a bartenders career. The realisation that shop-bought products aren't the only thing on offer is a gateway to an ever-changing garden of creativity and flavour. With any great power, however, comes a certain degree of responsibility. Extracting flavour can lead to some exciting possibilities, but the best intentions in the world can often lead to an underwhelming end product. Knowing a bit about specific techniques is a significant first step into creating something worth drinking.

Given the sheer variety of ingredients available, it should come as no surprise that they don't all behave in the same way. As such, the best results require careful planning and experimentation, though there are a few rules of thumb to bear in mind when choosing the right technique for you.

Maceration

One of the more common methods of flavour extraction, maceration (or simply putting a thing in a thing and leaving it), is one of the first techniques you'll learn and one you've likely used. Soaking ingredients over time in sugar or alcohol is an excellent way of gently pulling flavour from your ingredients. Maceration works well with juicy fruits (raspberries, pineapple, oranges) or fragile ingredients like basil. Basil is an ingredient that can lead to some quite stewed tasting syrups when overheated, so gentle maceration is the way to go. Oleo saccharum (‘oil-sugar’) is a traditional bar ingredient that is making a comeback. Macerating spent citrus peels in a sugar solution results in a bitter-sweet cocktail ingredient with a longer shelf life.

Rotovap

If you've been allowed near a rotovap (rotary evaporator), then odds are you've either emerged victorious and made something delicious or missed the mark and ended up with a big bottle of disappointment. Essentially a pressure adjustable still, the rotovap lowers the boiling points of the liquid inside and allows for a broader spectrum of flavour to be extracted. Again using basil as an example, reducing the boiling point of the spirit inside would cause it to evaporate without heating the basil too much so that the final product would showcase the brighter notes of the herb, as opposed to the over-stewed, bitter notes that can come from overcooking. Extracting fleshy fruits through the rotovap yields light, bright juice on the one side and the concentrated pulpy remains of the fresh fruit on the other side, perfect for freezing and using as a hyper-intense ingredient. A complex process but absolutely worth looking into if you have the means.

Sous Vide

For maximum consistency, sous vide might be the way you want to go. By vacuum sealing your ingredients, you allow for complete surface contact. The super controlled nature of the heated water bath will allow for consistent, highly flavoursome syrups and spirits every time.

Emerging Technology and Techniques

This is by no means a complete list of methods, with some of the more unusual ones having great applications.
Try an ultrasonic bath for infusing spirits with usually insoluble elements like lemon oil. This process homogenises ingredients, effecting the mouthfeel as well as the flavour of your cocktail. Go experimental like Dave Arnold and his nitro muddling. By pouring liquid nitrogen onto a fresh, solid ingredient to instantly freeze it, before muddling it with liquid ingredients. This reduces the amount of bruised ‘bits’ floating in the resulting cocktail.

The flash infusion technique quickly couples flavouring agents, such as herbs, spices or fruit, with liquids such as alcohol, oil, water, or vinegar using a cream charger. Applying pressure from a nitrous oxide canister forces the alcohol into the cells of the solid ingredients. When it's depressurised again, the alcohol rushes back out, carrying the flavour with it.

A Note On Infusing Alcohol

If you're aiming to showcase a particular flavour, consider what you're going to infuse carefully. The different techniques stated will not only add flavour, they may change or strip the flavours of your base spirit too. For example, if you put whiskey through a rotovap, you will strip away many of its more complex flavours (along with its colour). Using a neutral white spirit in this instance would allow your chosen infusion to shine through without muddying the waters.

Proper flavour extraction can equip you with some fresh infusions that can elevate your cocktail game. However, we advise caution when it comes to creating for the sake of it (take a look at our equipment blog <link text to equipment blog> on the subject). The goal is always to make something unique and delicious, so recreating something that already stands out on the market can be an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, the potential for variety is so high that you shouldn't be dissuaded from attempting bold new flavours.

When it comes to extracting flavour, your only limit is your imagination. Be weird, be bold, and don't let a dusty, dud of improperly extracted basil syrup get you down. For techniques, advice and strategies on flavour extraction, follow us on Instagram, where we interview talented bartenders and show clips from our advocacy training program.

    OH HEY, FOR BEST VIEWING, YOU'LL NEED TO TURN YOUR PHONE