How important are aromas

When I first started the Art of the Pair, my overall goal was to teach about how to enjoy beverages.  Especially the link between beverages and food.  In order to do this, I have to dive into what I consider to be the most important and hardest subject to teach and that’s related to aromas.  I’ve touched on it a few times already:

Today I wish to hopefully explain one of the key aspects in understanding aromas in beverages.  I’m starting off with some scenarios.

Scenario 1) The Drive

I’m starting off our journey with a recent experience.  I picked up some groceries and on the way home, I’m relaxed enjoying the Michigan warm sunny day.  And then, my nose was abruptly invaded.  My level of enjoyment and relaxation was in a second smashed by one thing.  Creeping into the car’s ventilation system was the smell we all dread:

The unmistakable horrible stench of a skunk!! 

Now, as soon as you read that statement above, every one of you had the exact same reaction of EWWWWW!!  We all know it’s arguably one of the worst smells ever and when it hits you, you immediately recognize it.   Let’s try to get something better to think about.

Scenario 2) Prepared Food

One of the reasons why I love Instagram is that I’m linked with a number of chefs and mixologists.  This week, I watched someone make candied beef bacon.  This is similar to what I used to call ‘crack bacon’.  This is where you take bacon strips, lay them down and dredge in brown sugar and bake off gently.  The sugar melts and ‘encapsulates’ the fat.  That way when you take a bite, the sugar holds the fat in until you chew and the fat releases.   Yes, you will have a heart stopping moment.

I had to try it with beef bacon.  I prepared it the same way by covering with brown sugar and slowly baked it off.   I can tell you that it was amazing.  Next to it, you can also see homemade focaccia.  I make this every week now and use for rolls.  Please look at the picture again for the moment.  Can you imagine the aroma of the fresh baked focaccia drizzled in orange infused olive oil and rosemary coming out of the oven?  Can you picture the smell of the caramelized brown sugar and bacon mixed together?  It’s a great set of aromas, right?

Questions for you

I’ve given you two different sets of scenarios above to think about.  While you were reading them, I was waiting to ask you questions that relate to each scenario:

  1. When I described the aroma to you, could you instantly relate or picture the aroma in your head?
  2. Who taught you that the aromas were either good or bad?
  3. What feeling did you have when you started to think about the aroma in question?

I ask these questions all the time to make one clear point:

  • Every aroma, smell or combination of them are related to our experiences!

I have stated this in other articles, but I really can not stress how important this is.  In our past, we experienced a skunk aroma and was told it was bad (Ok, it is).  However, as soon as I mentioned skunk, you knew what that smell was.  For the bacon and focaccia, as soon as I described it, you could imagine what the aroma is.  I could have added the statement, that’s it’s the weekend and as you wake up, you can smell bacon cooking.  We have all had that experience and now your mind is thinking about making a BLT (which I will later with the beef bacon).

Connecting Experiences

Aromas are connected with experiences.  Think about the questions from above.  How can I use these answers to help me determine an aroma?

Let me explain.  I teach this system to explain how to find aromas in all food and beverages.  If someone gives me a glass of wine, I’m going to smell the wine (before sampling) for a few reasons:

  • I want to see if the wine is healthy and safe to drink or if it turned bad,
  • I want to determine the number of aromas that I smell, and
  • Most important, what are each of the aromas.

For each of the aromas in the glass, I’m asking the same questions as above (picturing the aroma, was it good or bad and your feelings) to figure out what it is.  Every aroma for me I have linked with an experience.  For example:

  • Blueberries are related to picking pounds of them, covered with their juice on my fingers in the hot sun.
  • Apples are linked to my dad taking us to an apple orchard as a kid and picking apples.
  • Oak is linked to my tour of a barrel making factory. Before that, it was walking the wood aisles at Home Depot.
  • Toast comes from making bread into toast.
  • Butterscotch is from candies my sister liked as a kid.
  • Cinnamon to me is linked to fresh cinnamon rolls.
  • Dill is linked to pickles.
  • Leather is an old baseball glove I still have.
  • Wet gravel is walking a path after a rainstorm.
  • Wet dog – do I need to describe this one if you are a pet owner?

I can cover the list of all aromas that can be found in any beverage.  They are all linked to an experience that we have had. I bring this up because when you give me the glass of wine to smell, I look for the experience to guide me to tell me the aroma.

Final Thoughts

Today, I wanted to share how important aromas are to our everyday existence.  In the coming weeks, I want to explain how to use our experiences to help guide you with figuring out what aromas are in a glass.  Your assignment until then is very simple.  Slow down and experience the world around us.  Take a deep breath and smell what our environment is showing us.  Unless it’s a wet dog that played with a skunk.  You have my thoughts and prayers dealing with that issue.

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