Alice & the Magician Cocktail Apothecary is a blog about cocktails, flavor science and interesting ingredients. This blog is a keen look into the mind and laboratory of Alice & the Magician. They write interesting articles, thoughts and recipes.
What happens when you add a rather unappealing ingredient (lets be honest, no one drinks Tonic by itself) to a very pleasant ingredient? Normally, the gross becomes a little better and the delicious becomes a little gross. One exception to this rule is Gin and Tonic.
At its base, tonic is a less than exceptional mixture of carbonated water, quinine and sugar. Most people do not feel inclined to sip on this beverage on its own. In fact, Gin & Tonics got their start by keeping the British Empire healthy during the nineteenth century when officers stationed in India began dosing their daily malaria-fighting quinine tonics with a bit of gin for palatability.
That move instigated a lasting cocktail trend. In fact, many would argue that the combination of today's tonic water with Gin doesn't just assuage a bitter tasting element, but actually elevates both of its parts.
Believe it or not, Science is behind this phenomenon.
Matthew Hartings, a professor of Chemistry at American University, explains that while gin and tonic taste quite different from each other on their own, their flavor compounds have very similar structures. When the two meet in a glass, their like-molecules attract and this bond creates an entirely new taste sensation. You might say they have a natural and delicious chemistry that delivers novelty.
Moreover, the tonic bubbles play an important role in intensifying the perception of flavor. As each bubble rises through the liquid, different molecules of aroma stick to its surface and are delivered in tiny aromatic bursts to the top of your glass. Since Gin may be comprised of many different botanicals beyond Juniper Berry (e.g. Coriander, Orange, Angelica Root, Lemon, Orris Root and Cardamom), each sip naturally provides a different bouquet of scent.
So, whether you consciously notice or not, there’s a drama playing out beneath your nose as each aroma bubble fights for presence in the headspace of your cocktail.
As some of the most discerning spirit drinkers on the planet, Gin lovers often seek to elevate the spirit in their cocktails rather than mixers. For this reason, Alice & the Magician created an edible fragrance bursting with the natural botanicals of a traditional dry gin called London Dry Aromatic Mist. With ingredients sourced from the cliffs of central North America, this mist displays the sharp, piney freshness of crushed wild Juniper Berry. Get our favorite G&T Recipe Here. You may not be able to tell which scent molecules will triumph in the battle of bubbles within your Gin & Tonic, but you can govern which aromas animate the cloud above with A&M!
The smell of pavement cooling just after a summer rain, the heavy fragrance of freshly cut grass, the warm waft of baking bread, the soft clean breeze of laundry drying on the line …
While these aromas are highly specific and even seasonal, they are some of the more commonly cited favorites we hear about and are even asked to custom-create by visitors to Alice & the Magician’s tasting bar.
In a world spanning numerous environmental landscapes, cultures and climates, how is it possible for more than two people to agree that something smells good or bad? Are specific scents pre-determined as "bad" in your system? Can a smell be universally liked?
Here's What We Know:
The olfactory system is directly linked to the memory-and-emotion part of the brain, suggesting that fragrance is a deeply powerful and intimate force. The human nose can detect over 1 trillion different smells and when you sniff an aroma for the first time, your brain automatically logs both your emotional state and physical experience as a reference point for when you re-encounter that scent later.
For example, the musty odor of dirty motor oil, chassis grease, and brake dust might smell fantastic to Person A and terrible to Person B. The difference could be that Person A first experienced those aromas when spending positive time with dad tinkering around in his garage, while Person B only negatively experienced those same scents when sitting at the mechanic shop waiting for bad car news.
These positive or negative scent-triggers would suggest that aroma preference is learned, emotional and therefore, completely subjective.
And if you're wondering, YES, we have had clients custom-request that "old garage" scent at A&M.
On the Other Hand:
There is also evidence of a more scientific reason for the difference in scent-opinion.
MedicalExpress reports that no two people experience scent in the exact same way. The variation of a single amino acid on one gene can cause a person to experience a smell as "pleasant" while someone with another amino acid experiences it as "unpleasant." Researchers at Duke University compared people's scent receptors and found that there was about a 30% difference from person to person.
In fact, hating a particular scent (CILANTRO, for example) may actually be hard-wired into your genes. A 2012 Study discovered a genetic link near the olfactory center of DNA in about 10 percent of people that creates a severe cilantro aversion. Some people experience the fresh herb in all it's green glory, while others experience a soapy, pungent aroma. So yes, it's possible that some aromatic preferences are pre-determined.
What We Can't Explain:
Despite variations in genetic code, olfactory receptors, or learned behavior there seems to be certain aromas that are almost (but not quite) universally appreciated.
According to one study, here's a list of the top 10 smells:
(clink on the links to see how A&M uses each top ingredient)
Its origin is rumored to have sprouted over 4,000 years ago from the lush tropical jungles of Southern Asia. As far back as 500 BC the great Chinese philosopher Confucius insisted this herbaceous spice be present on the table at his every meal, like today’s salt and pepper shakers.
Highly valued for its medicinal merits during the Middle Ages, just one pound of it was worth 1 shilling and 7 pence, approximately equivalent to the price of a sheep.
Sometime in the nineteenth century, Irish barkeeps started putting out small bowls of ground ginger for patrons to sprinkle into their ale (ginger-ale?) for taste. In fact, it has been traded throughout history longer than most other spices.
At it’s “roots”, Ginger is a creeping perennial plant that grows horizontally underground from a rhizome and kicks up a flowering stem that can grow up to three feet high. Usually planted in Early Spring, it is harvested after 9-10 months when its green leaves turn yellow and start to dry.
Cultivated in most tropical and subtropical regions of the world, there are more than 1,300 types of ginger. While many are purely ornamental, the edible varietals produce a spritely range of subtly different flavors.
For instance, India produces 40% of the world’s ginger, which is valued for it’s lemon-like flavor, low fiber and high moisture content. Jamaican ginger is heavily fragrant, displaying soft top-notes of eucalyptus. Chinese ginger is typically lighter in color with a more fibrous body and delicate aroma, and Australia produces the most citrus-like ginger. A&M's favorite Ginger is sourced from the Ivory Coast and imparts a sweeter, earthier snap with an unparalleled heartiness.
Ginger's uses have spread from culinary and beverage additives to message therapy and aromatherapy due to its energizing and stimulative properties. Ethno-botanists have even reported "women in Senegal and Fouta-Djalon use the tubers [rhizomes] of the Ginger plant in the making of belts with the aim of arousing the dormant senses of their husbands." 
Check out this Dark 'N' Stormy recipe featuring A&M's Warm Ginger Elixir, specially crafted with Ginger sourced from the Ivory Coast. Perfect for energizing the senses and keeping the spirits warm!
Valnet, M.D., Jean. The Practice of Aromatherapy, 1990, pp. 135-6.
From the Promised Land to the epics of Greek and Persian myth, history and romance settle around this sweet-tart fruit like a fragrance. It’s been painted by Raphael and Cezanne and mused upon by Shakespeare and Ferdosi. With a legendary status that dates as far back as agriculture itself, the pomegranate has seemingly found a way to be indispensable all the way into the present.
Of course, our favorite handling of the pomegranate’s botanical powers stems from the moment a time-forgotten genius peered under the berry’s leathery skin and found inspiration. After scooping out hundreds of ruby-like seeds glossed in a juicy pulp, this craftsman began crushing those seeds into a mash of their own juice and dissolved sugar. Thus, the creation of the modern bartender’s classic syrup we call Grenadine.
First showing up in cocktails in the 1890’s, the word Grenadine originated from the French word Grenade and Spanish word Grenada (both meaning pomegranate). Best used when mixed with alcohol and a few other ingredients, this richly flavored syrup spikes any drink with its tropical essence and red flare. It’s a key element in classic cocktails like the Jack Rose, Singapore Sling, and Pink Lady. Here's a quick recipe to make your own grenadine with pomegranate juice or choose one of our recommended already bottled brands.
In our Northern Hemisphere, the pomegranate season lasts from September to February. As fall edges closer to snowflakes, we celebrate a reminder of warmth and sun by highlighting the fruit nicknamed “the Jewel of Winter.”
It is well known that perfect cocktails are created when the elements are in balance. For Alice and the Magician, the magic emerges when seemingly opposing aromas harmonize. We've found that the light, citrusy top notes of pomegranate are enhanced when matched with a more savory, herbal base. For this reason, we love pairing our Sage and Exotic Citrus Aromatic with pomegranate. The aromatic's soft, herbaceous elements of sage round out any of the fruit's acidic edge and highlights the sweeter side of each sip.
Check out this A&M twist to a classic fizz recipe: