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.
If you put a glass of milk, Jasmine flowers and a cotton ball in front of an English speaking audience and ask them what those objects all have in common, the majority will point out that the objects share the same “white” color. If you put bat droppings, petrol and the leaf of ginger root in front of that same audience asking the same question, you’ll find them stumbling to identify the common ground.
Interestingly, if you conduct this survey with speakers of Jahai, a language found in Malaysia, they would confidently answer that objects in the latter sequence emit a scent they call “Cŋεs.” The closest translation we have for that word in English is a stinging smell.
When it comes to colors, the English language has the capacity to name and identify a vast world of pigments like Burnt Sienna, Fuchsia, Azure, or Eggshell. When it comes to aroma, however, there seems to be a void in the English vocabulary. Some even argue that there are only THREE English words for scent: Fragrant, Aromatic, and Pungent. All other descriptors are Similes (it smells like fresh laundry or smoke-y), Tastes (it smells sour or sweet), Textures (it smells crisp or round), and even Color (it smells bright or rich). None of these descriptions truly identify a scent; at best, they merely show comparisons to our other senses.
Arguments over how deeply language influences human thought have surged since the 1930s, when linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf first stated the hypothesis that:
"Humans can only think about concepts we can name."
This debate gained more traction 2014 when researchers Asifa Majid of Radboud University in the Netherlands, and Niclas Burenhul of Lund University in Sweden conducted a study comparing the performances of Jahai speakers and English speakers on two different tasks: color-naming and scent-naming. Each individual was asked to identify the color and smells of 80 differently colored chips and 80 different scratch-‘n’-sniff cards.
The results showed that while English speakers had no trouble identifying colors, they drastically underperformed in scent recognition. Even when sniffing familiar everyday scents, like coffee, peanut butter or chocolate, they could only identify about half of them and their descriptions tended to be long, rambling and inexact.
Jahai speakers, on the other hand, were easily and pointedly able to isolate basic smell properties within a range of objects, finding them just as codable as colors. For instance, they agreed that smell of cinnamon should be described as Cŋəs, which is the same word they used when smelling garlic, chocolate, onion, coffee, or coconut. To the best we can determine, that translates to something that has a tasty and edible smell, like cooked food or sweets.
While the English lexicon may not be expansive enough to define certain unique scents, we've found that this may actually strengthen the bonds between scent, emotion and memory. For better or worse, English speakers have to rely on the integration of external and internal stimuli that surround the experience of a single smell. Almost by default, all senses are "tuned in" and scents are connected by their definition of personal and emotional experiences.
As a flavor and fragrance company, Alice & the Magician was built in part to connect consumers with the rich magic of incorporating and saturating all of the senses in a single whiff of aroma. There is no need to universally and verbally define that experience.
For example, Autumn Bonfire Mist may smell to you like the end of summer's burn pile in the back yard, collecting sticks from the wood's edge to hurl into an enormous fire. To A&M, it smells like New England cleaning out their chimneys in the late fall when the leaves are starting to turn and the countryside is preparing for the first frost of winter. The beauty is that every answer in these scent memories is authentic.
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.
An Apple is an Apple, a Potato is a Potato, and you have 2 Smell Systems to Tell You So…
Many of us can recall the thrill brought on by a certain grade-school science experiment involving nose plugs, a blindfold, raw apples and raw potatoes. If this doesn’t sound familiar (Spoiler Alert): by plugging your nose and blindfolding your eyes, your ability to detect the difference between a bite of an apple and a bite of potato weakens extravagantly.
Extravagantly, but not entirely.
Luckily, your brain’s system of distinguishing flavor is not so flimsy as two nostrils. In fact, you are capable of experiencing flavor through two separate, but inter-woven olfactory pathways.
The most recognized pathway is through our nose (Orthonasal). Historically, an active nose warned us of predators, guided us to nutritious food, and informed us of friend or foe. Furthermore, the result of sniffing evokes an intense memory-and-emotion reaction. Fascinated with the ethereal bond between a person’s warmest memories and a single whiff of Chocolate Birthday Cake or a late Autumn Bonfire, Alice & the Magician created their signature line of Aromatic Mists.
The second pathway to flavor perception is through Retronasal Olfaction. As you chew food or swallow liquid, odor molecules travel from your mouth to the back of your throat. As the molecules hit the back-entrance to your nasal cavity, they reach your olfactory receptors. This back-of-the-throat sensation sends signals to your brain specifically concerning what your mouth is savoring.
Some scientists assert that Retronasal Olfaction evolved only after the advent of fire, when the human diet became richer and more dynamic. As cooked cuisines diversified with spices, liquids, and fermentation, our palate needed more than one way to discern the safety of such compounded ingredients, like wine and cheese.
As curious and reverent explorers of flavor complexity, Alice & the Magician created their Elixir line to stimulate and amplify the Retronasal experience. The Elixirs are an 80% Retronasal and 20% Orthonasal composition. The Mists are just the opposite.
By comparison, the Mists are slightly more complex and evolve as you experience them— the initial flavor unfolds to reveal more delicate aromas. Though appealing, the intensity of the Mists in the glass slowly fades as time goes on. The Elixir flavor remains consistent strength and quality for the entire drink.
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:
Aromatics have always been the secret behind great drinks. 16th century Carthusian monks infused their elixirs with delicious herbs and spices believing them to hold the key to longevity. The eponymous 'Grandfather of the Cocktail," Jerry Thomas added dashes of aromatic bitters from his ring-adorned hands to give depth and complexity to his renowned libations. And the Famous Stanislao Cobianchi of Bologna, Italy paid tribute to the marriage of the beautiful Princess Helen of Montenegro to Victor Emmanuel III by macerating rich red wine with the finest local botanicals and titling it "Amaro Montenegro."
Wednesday night was a celebration of Aromatics. We enjoyed the rich, delicious history of the speakeasy and peeked at the future of how our sense of smell holds the secret to the perfect cocktail.
We had amazing time teaming up with Pizzeria Verita Wednesday, March 30 to create some delicious craft cocktails featuring Alice & the Magician Cocktail Aromatics
Great to share Cocktail Aromatics with Nathan from Maglianero Coffee Shop
The Magician explaining the power of Cocktail Aromatics
5:05 p.m. and people are already having fun
Complex aromas of Neroli, grapefruit and honey were some of the most popular of the night
Our friend Erin experiences Cocktail Aromatics for the first time (we think she liked it)
Alice & the Magician Cocktail Aromatics bring out the most in every drink
NEW INGREDIENTS, TECHNIQUES & RECIPES FROM VERMONT'S PREMIER BAR INNOVATORS
Mad River Distillers Burlington, Barr Hill by Caledonia Spirits, and Alice & the Magician joined up to bring you Fresh: Ideas and Ingredients Behind the Bar for 2017! We have asked some of our best friends, favorite bartenders, and all around spirit savvy folks what they look forward to seeing more of in cocktail culture through the year of 2017. What methods, techniques, flavors and tricks currently make Vermont bartenders tick?
Using the inspiration of these bars and bartenders we have created a unique series of craft cocktails to give you a look at what you can expect to see throughout 2017! Think NYC Fashion Week meets Cocktails. A demonstration of exciting new styles and drinks that VT bars are working with.
The resurgence of the Tiki cocktail has been strong in the green state. This delicious, midnight colored interpretation utilizes activated charcoal for its deep color and creamy texture. Coconut, Raspberry & Strawberry Aromatics will transport you right to a pristine tropical beach
The Manhattan is a classic, even iconic cocktail. The perfect balance of rye, sweet vermouth and herbal bitters. We deconstructed the classic down to its flavor elements and built it back up using creative, local ingredients. The look and flavors are different but the soul is the same. Although there are only 5 boroughs in NYC, and we think of this addition as a play on the classic and lovingly thinking of Vermont as another Borough.
At its core, a Sour is spirits, acid and egg whites violently shaken until the individually harsh ingredients result in a silky smooth, well balanced aromatic classic. We revisited those components and made them all ours. Replacing citrus with alpine berry shrub, egg whites with aquafaba (yes it's vegan!) and fruity aromatics with the fresh, invigorating flavor of local pine forest.
The Tom Collins is more than an iconic drink, it's spurred an entire category of refreshing cocktails composed of gin, citrus, sugar and bubbles. Perfect for sipping after a long day on the farm. We repurposed the classic using fermented ingredients to give it a sour edge and a fresh from the farm experience.
Coca Cola is the most ubiquitous soda in history. But it was never designed to be a mixer for drinks. We reinvented cola to be the perfect mixer. dry, tart, with a just enough natural sweetness and heaps of complex flavor.
This weekend we were invited to the Boston Public Library to introduce our philosophy and Aromatics to the Leading Caterers of America. Our time began with an engaging workshop about the connection between scent and memory. The ability to bring up memories and emotions through scent is an incredibly important and often overlooked aspect in the world of events and we loved sharing some of our experiences and the science behind aroma with a great group.
At the end of the day, everyone gathered for food and cocktails and we opened our Traveling Cocktail Apothecary to create aromatically enhanced beverages for everyone in one of the most beautiful, historic settings in Boston. Check out some of the highlights in the slideshow!
Cinnamon is harvested by giant birds in their nests on sheer cliffs that are inaccessible to people. The technique is to take large pieces of meat (especially ox meat) and place them near the nests and leave. The birds will bring the meat to their nests until they get so heavy, that the nest falls allowing the cinnamon to be harvested.
At least that is one of the stories the Arabian Spice Traders told to keep other's from attempting to find their own source for this amazing and aromatic spice as well as justify its price.
Cinnamon has been a prominent and extremely valuable spice for nearly 4000 years.
Prized for its fantastic flavor as well as its ability to preserve food it has been used by the Ancient Egyptians, and became a prime spice for Arabian traders who dealt from China to Europe. Many European pilots set course West hoping to discover it and instead landing in the New World. It was finally found by the Western World when the Portuguese arrived in the area that is now Sri Lanka, where the highest quality 'Ceylon Cinnamon' originates.
This special Cinnamon is what Alice & the Magician uses in our Flavor Elixirs and you can try it in the:
In a rocks glass, combine the sugar cube, bitters, Elixir and club soda. Muddle to a paste. Stir in the bourbon. Add ice and garnish with a two-inch strip of orange peel and two mists of Perfect Ginger Cocktail Aromatic
The Butcher Room at Hen of the Wood was an amazing place to create and serve an Aromatic meal! Our collaboration with Chef Jordan Ware and the Hen team allowed us to create a sensory journey like no other. 5 courses paired with cocktails and everything enhanced or transformed with Aromatics. Thank you to everyone who came and keep an eye out for more Aromatic food experiences soon!
The Hen of the Wood Butcher Room set for a specially designed dinner as the Alice & the Magician equipment bubbles.
Oysters with a pickled watermelon cucumber are the perfect way to start the evening. An amuse with scents of the ocean. Chef Jordan Ware works next to the guests to provide a wonderful connection with the food.
To complement the green notes of South East Asia is a green tea cocktail with honey and dry sake. It bubbles and steams as if it is hot, yet it is served cold, starting the theme of the evening that nothing is quite what it seems!
"A Tale of Two Forks"- Jordan's amazing beet, whipped ricotta, cured egg yolk, and nasturtium powder salad is accompanied by 2 separate forks with scent pads. Each fork has a different Flavor Elixir on them. As you bring the fork to your mouth, your nose registers the a different aroma and you get a different flavor experience. The same salad 'served' two different ways
The quail, apple, and sweet potato course with the A&M prototype for visible aroma. The smoke aromatics bringing out depth. This was paired with bourbon, lapsang souchon and lemon. This course is all about earthy smokiness.
The Saddlebag Boulvardier: Super chilled with dry ice and matched with Leather, Tobacco, Cocoa, Birch Tar and Pink Peppercorn Elixir. It takes a classic bourbon drink and makes it a rich cowboy drink. Poured table side and misted in stages
Pairing with a cowboy Boulvardier required an amazing rabbit roulade with mustard greens, and celeriac puree.
Is it a cappucino?! The Jerry Thomas coffee cocktail has no coffee, but surprisingly tastes just like it. Especially with a few sprays of our Coffee Mist on top!