Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Importance of Aroma

In matters of taste, there’s nothing more important than the sense of smell. Wine lovers have known this forever: The lip of a good wine glass that’s narrower than the widest part of the bowl, the swirling, the sniffing—it’s all done in order to enhance a wine’s smell, and, therefore, its flavor.

These days, the same attention is being paid to spirits, too—at least in the right hands. We’re not talking about bathtub-sized, quintuple-distilled vodka martinis here, but cocktails that are crafted in such a way that their multiple layers of character all have the opportunity to shine through. Which, in the arithmetic of all things imbibed—be it wine or spirits or tea or coffee—equals more, and better, flavor.

I recently sat down with Tom Pittakas, the Beverage Director at Alison two, Chef Alison Barshak’s fantastic follow-up restaurant to her successful and wildly popular Alison at Blue Bell in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Tom is one of the most careful, considerate, knowledgeable beverage professionals I know, and during the course of our conversation, he told me about a new technique he’s using at the restaurant’s bar. And though this one is obviously for spirits, the underlying principle is the same as it is for wine: Aroma is key. Rather than try to describe it, though, I’ll let Tom show you himself.

After shooting, I tasted the cocktail, and was blown away by the careful interaction of flavors on my tongue and the persistent aroma that literally clung to the sides of the glass, enhancing the entire experience.

The lesson is simple: In wine and spirits, as in everything we drink, focusing on smell is one of the surest paths to enjoyment and pleasure.


Anonymous said...

Too bad Alison Two has lost Tom as a beverage director. I wonder if it's even worth going into the restaurant anymore... I somehow think that without Pittakas' firm handle on the bar, the quality of the wine list, the diversity of beer list, and cocktail craftsmanship will all decline.

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