Taste, Smell, Touch, Sound and Sight are key to creating a cocktail experience, but so too are lighting, sound, temperature, texture, and glassware feel. Terry Cashman from Nine Lives has some tips & tricks to create serves which elevate all the senses, guaranteed to impress your guests.
A COCKTAIL FOR ALL THE SENSES
When we talk about cocktails we tend to focus on taste and flavour, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes in the brain. You don’t just enjoy a drink because it tastes nice, you enjoy it for a multitude of sensory inputs like the temperature, colour and feel of the glass, the temperature of the liquid, or the very quiet fizzing of a carbonated beverage.
Even if you don’t try to engage all the senses, it’s vital you have at least thought about all the ways that your guests can interact with your serves. Think about ways you can play with these sensory apertures with these top tips, and a whole new dimension of cocktail creation will open up for you.
QUICK TIPS FOR TASTE & FLAVOUR
Firstly, it goes without saying that taste and flavour not to be ignored when it comes to creating a top-class cocktail; it is always the core sense when it comes to drinks.
- A Process with Many Parts
You must remember, building cocktails is often like an interconnected machine of different cogs and parts. None of these parts work alone, they are all changed and affected by every other part to a greater or lesser degree.
Acids enhance salinity, for example, while bitterness is supressed by that salinity. If something tastes too sweet, salty, bitter or whatever it may be, the answer isn’t always to reduce the actual ingredient causing the imbalance, but perhaps to increase another that may not appear on first glance to be connected.
Another example, if we are going for a silky, textured mouthfeel on a short, shaken drink, then honey may be a better sweetener choice than simple sugar syrup. Balancing this from the beginning will be easier, quicker, and allow you to stay truer to your original vision.
Focus on a singular flavour that you would like to bring out. Think about the type of serve you would like it to be in, and then continue to build out your texture, temperature and other elements from there.
- Taste-Test with the Team
You may have gone so far down a rabbit-hole of tasting and adjusting, that your cocktail has veered wildly off track, which is hard to always see when you’re in the middle of its creation.
Similarly, a weekly gathering together of tasting and development can focus everybody, stimulate creativity, and provide an open forum for bouncing ideas off one another.
Remember: Your palate is very particular to you, and while balance is pretty universal, subjective experience isn’t. Flavours are learned, not innate like taste detection, so a fresh pair of eyes (or lips) on your drinks may open up avenues of flavour pairing that you would never come up with on your own.
Stimulating all the senses is a very important part of drinks creation. Creating a sensory experience is a great way to immerse your guests in the theatre of your bar, and not just have the drinks as an afterthought or a simple vessel to carry alcohol.
Perhaps we can take some time to also think about the smells and aromas that are in the bar while the drink is being served.
- Do you have incense or essential oil diffusers?
- If so, are they working in harmony or against the cocktail list?
Smoke is a notoriously difficult tool to get right when it’s used a-la-minute to create theatre and drama, but what about using it in a more subtle, easily controlled way by smoking your glassware before service, or even better, smoking an ingredient to be used in your cocktail list. This is a great way to engage your guests’ sense of smell, and evoke memories of fireside, bonfire and campfire.
ELEVATING EXPERIENCE WITH GLASSWARE
When thinking about elevating touch, one thing to consider is the texture and feel of your glass. Is it completely smooth like most glasses, or can a little bit of texture give the guest a more pleasant tactile experience? Also, the height or width of your glass will be conducive to taste and experience.
For example, if a serve is needing warmth and depth to it then a rocks glass is ideal as the touch from your customer and the rim of the glass will allow for a deeper, warmer taste experience.
For a more delicate tasting cocktail, a long stemmed martini or coupe glass will have a larger surface area and long stem to keep your serve cool and heighten any natural sweeteners and aromas for your customer.
The tall highball glass on the other hand works well for enjoying longer drinks which combine spirits with mixers.
There is so much choice with glassware, so play around with different types and see what works best for your serve to enhance touch and overall experience.
EXPLORE THE SOUND OF YOUR BAR
So, now we have taste, touch and smell covered, how can we affect sight and sound? Some things to consider:
- Is the music a good level? Think of tables as little pools of sound; guests should be able to hear each other’s conversation, but not the conversation at the next table. There is also your choice background music to consider. Is it in keeping with the mood you are aiming for? Are there playlists which suit better for different times of the day?
- The sounds of a working, busy, happy bar are a perfect accompaniment to a great cocktail. However, are there any unwanted acoustics? For instance, if your bar doesn’t have enough décor or furniture, the sound can reverberate, causing the delicate tinkling of an ice shaker to potentially become the loud retort of a machine gun. Take the time to sit in every part of your bar during service, and make sure that every guest has a perfect drinks experience, every time. It might be perfect as it is, but the likelihood is that you will be inspired to add, subtract, or change something very small to fit the room, layout and mood created.
Speaking of layout, ensure this in keeping with the atmosphere you’re wanting to creating for guests. For example, if any area is too sparce then it may come across as too clinical and uninviting for your guests and not allow them the space to really savour and enjoy their cocktail.
REMEMBER… SIGHT IS MORE THAN THE COCKTAIL YOU SEE
Well, there are many ways to make a cocktail look beautiful, the first bite is with the eye as the old saying goes, but perhaps we should think more about the surrounding lights. Are the lights down low enough? Are they all of a similar brightness? There’s not much worse in a bar environment than a rogue light that’s too high and is in your eyeline. Think about how this will impact your guest – from the moment they walk in to when they leave through your exit.
Also, something that tastes great in the lab, the kitchen, or the bar during the day, might feel totally different when tried in the midst of an evening service. The lighting, the music, the aromas and a hundred other sensory inputs can change the way we experience cocktails. Try your drinks in different lighting environment and take notes.
- Drinks are made of interconnected parts, think about how they work as a whole.
- You team is a valuable resource, make sure you use it for development of your serve.
- Get out of the kitchen, take your time, and test the senses in the real world.
- Taste and flavour are important but think about other senses including lighting and sound.
- Make the most of glassware to enhance texture and flavours of your serves.
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