This Cocktail Kills Fascists (and Culture Consolidation)

This is my one draft synthesis of the situation reported on in Kevin Alexander’s Thrillist article. The article is by no means bad, but I think it misses a lot.

I was just on a motorcycle road trip from Boston out to Indianapolis via NYC, and Pittsburgh then back through Buffalo. I stopped to grab lunch and gas outside of Columbus Ohio in something like a multi stranded mega strip mall. In this bustling area there was not a single independent business. Not a pizza shop nor an ethnic restaurant. I was witnessing the massive consolidation of American culture. This is what the cocktail revolution has really been about. It has been an effort to dispel complacency and de-consolidate American culture. It may have started or grew wings with a bunch of list checking elitists catering to other elitists, but it has done a lot that goes beyond cheap thrills.

A lot of the greatest ills of our country are from corporate consolidation into monopoly and people are only finally waking up to that. An ill that still isn’t noticed is the cultural consolidation phenomenon. Mega brews and dumb shit like Mike’s Hard Lemonade used to be drinking culture. We didn’t have many choices or options. David Brooks recently wrote something idiotic about a friend of his being afraid of Capicola on a sandwich, if not threatened by it. This is what happens after a generation long stretch of aggressive consolidation. At its best, the creative energy unleashed by cocktail movement turned this all on its head at a time when we really needed it.

We shouldn’t be focused on trivial things like how people in the middle of nowhere are finally serving drinks with massaged marjoram and interpreting it as jumping the shark. We should think of how many independent businesses we formed or strengthened because we created a demand for independent experiences. The cocktail movement should also realize that it was bested and absolutely dwarfed by craft beer, though they are both always standing on each others shoulders.

Near every major town in the country has its own brewery (tens of thousands!) which is a giant blow to one size fits all Applebees culture as well as the complacent white bread mom & pops. We are up to nearly a thousand new distilleries, though that sector actually needs the most help, and because it is unexplored, has the most potential to amuse us thus spreading culture.

The cocktail effect is harder to quantify. Who cares about sales figures for premium spirits. What we should be concerned about is independent job and culture creation. List checked experiences are not necessary culture. Something has to stick around and endure to be ingrained in our culture, and we need broader culture desperately.

The culinary movement is not well understood because it has moved so fast and few have slowed down to look at the tangential problems it has solved beyond simply feeding us. It is the vital arm of inclusion and positive nationalism as opposed to negative nationalism which comprises naive protectionism, nativeism, and white male supremacy. We are living in a vacuum created by climate change and the collapse of the globalism and the culinary movement has done nothing but positive things to fill dangerous voids. A lot more could be said about this, but the point is that below the surface the various culinary movements are epicly profound and need a little more thought than “maturing to statehood”. I do not live in a red state struggling with the concept of inclusion, but as an artist I can subversively export my culture therefore weakening dangerous negative nationalism.

Politicians have been slow as shit to figure out how to get educated young people, particularly entrepreneurs, to stick to cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They so thoroughly don’t understand what they are doing and feel at the mercy of inevitability (a force at the root of globalism) that they let things like major airports disappear making it more expensive to get to their mid western city than Rome, Italy. On the other hand, many of us are like fuck it, I love my city (positive nationalism), I’m going to create a bar to amuse myself competing in the culinary game for culture points. Well, all the energy unleashed ended up creating glue (sticky places to belong), and more and more people started sticking to cities rebounding them. In Buffalo, I had drink related cultural experiences so significant I think I could live there happily.

Many are discovering, but maybe some don’t have a frame of reference, we are also in a new golden era of road tripping. You can visit second cities and have better culinary experiences than many premier cities for less expense and stop at wonderful breweries and distilleries in between (just not yet in central Ohio).

A reason the cocktail movement slowed down is that few could articulate its significance and the writers mostly suck and squander opportunities. The way they write about creativity blunts what it can actually achieve. They also cannot participate in this narrative I’m giving because they are so quick to let corporations dictate their narrative. The movement degenerates from a spontaneous economic engine, away from articulate positive nationalism, into ten thousand monkey arriving at Shakespeare and good things happening merely as byproducts of elitists trying to amuse each other.

The point is the movement can still keep moving along if we figure out how it helped make our country more livable. The movement didn’t start with contrived articles about a new product sponsored by a brand. It will also end if people don’t learn about and celebrate the concept of involvement. We haven’t even scratched the surface aesthetically if you want to explore that route. If you want to get specific, there are still rums in Cape Verde that haven’t been discovered. Portugal is full of amazing spirits and liqueurs yet to be recognized. New distilleries have not yet realized what they are finally legally allowed to do. Hell, no press has ever even covered my Champagne bottle manifold which is used in some of the best bars in the world.

A unique cultural force that helped coalesce American culture in the beginning has been re-coalescing America after a generation long stretch of dangerous cultural consolidation. The new beverage scene is only going to die if no one figures out what it achieved in the first place.

Search for the Real: Olfactory Hallucinations and Passive Learning

I see more and more people searching for olfactory illusions and I’ve written about them quite a bit, though I don’t think any of it has trickled into mainstream contemporary culinary conversation.

A few time I’ve highlighted the spectacular paper, Olfactory Illusions: Where are they?, by Richard Stevenson, but what I should mention is that there is a small academic controversy out there over the topic. Another academic, Clare Batty, has challenged Stevenson’s language in her paper, The Illusion Confusion, and claims what we are calling illusions are really hallucinations. I eventually intent to outline the difference because the repercussions are significant to my studies of wine over at my evolving Vino Endoxa project. The topic is also wildly important to creating gins, vermouths or any other complex and composed culinary artifact.

Currently to get a better grasp on the concepts (hallucination versus illusion), I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ book, Hallucinations. In Sacks’ various tales of hallucinations, one thing that comes up frequently is that many visual hallucinations get turned off when a person is doing other tasks like performing math. The ability to generate a hallucination might be related to mental activity which is no simple thing to sum up because of our ability to multitask.

This all made me think about various sensory scientist’s claims that we learn aromas better passively than actively. I played with this idea long ago when I created aromatized hand sanitizers to better learn aromas and my results were encouraging (repeated use of the sanitizer dramatically changed the threshold of perception of the odor).

True, or real (my terms) aroma perception duels constantly with recollection which we know is very powerful. I’ve said before that perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection. Sort of the like the doors of perception, there are different perceptual states with different distributions of the real and the remembered.

What I’m getting at is a hypothesis that when we are active (at another task), olfactory perception becomes more real (based on incoming sensation). When we are not distracted by other tasks, there are resources free that lets us slip into hallucinations and thus makes it harder to learn aromas.

The active and passive terminology I’ve inherited probably makes this confusing and we should just look at the distribution of resources. If we have a tendency towards olfactory hallucinations, having more mental resources free makes them morel likely to happen.

This is all just intense speculation in a hard to study subject, but why not just throw an idea out there and see what happens? Its not intended to be a justification for me drinking on the job (because when I’m busy I can learn and remember the whiskeys the best), or is it?

Playing God (or Carving Venus): Food Product Design

When writing my article on terpene removal a search for an author I quoted led me to this interesting 1998 article, The Sweet Taste of Success, published by Food Product Design. I have bunch of masters program text books on food science for food product designers and some of the ideas from industrial food scientists range from insightful & interesting to startling & creepy. They sometimes pen justifications for using artificial ingredients they call nature equivalent and rationalize them as more friendly to ecosystems than growing natural ingredients. They are known for not liking to waste anything so they take every fatty scrap and invent snacks for children (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).

But there is also great ideas to be found and I’m only high lighting this article because when I started collecting vermouth literature so many years ago, I was looking for unique language that flavor professionals used to discuss the very complex things they were constructing. Did they have language the flavor layman didn’t have and did that help them achieve so much? Sadly, I didn’t find anything too unique and I started creating my own language using ideas from aesthetics, sensory science, cognitive linguistics, metaphor theory, and category theory.

Here goes, lets highlight some passages.

Before becoming a food scientist, I couldn’t understand why my homemade yellow cake and freshly squeezed lemonade didn’t pack the full flavor of grocery-store products. It was only after touring my first flavor-manufacturing facility did I understand why my creations paled next to commercially prepared foods.

Oh god, what an introduction. What author Lisa Kobs is getting at is how commercial food manufacturers use every trick in the book to create a supernormal stimuli.

Flavor chemists have access to thousands of flavor compounds capable of accentuating the subtle nuances of sweet goods. The literature tends to focus more on the application of flavor to savory, rather than sweet, food products. But with a basic understanding of how to properly use flavoring ingredients, the food scientist can create the right flavor system for sweet applications.

This implies fragmenting something into a series of categories and manipulating them independently until you can create a seductive experience that exploits all of our reward mechanisms.

The four most common processing methods – Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian and Java Indonesian – vary in the length of time beans are grown before picking; duration of drying; and the drying method used, which can include sun-roasting and fire-curing.

This differentiation of vanilla beans is new to me and very interesting. She describes vanilla as the chief way to enhance sweets but personally its a flavor I’ve rebelled against, often seeming too plebian and ordinary.

An aroma profile common to all vanillas is described as sharply acidic with slightly bitter back notes and a pronounced pungency.

In this statement note that she is describing olfaction in terms of gustation which is the first layer of my aroma categorization schema. I had also never seen vanilla referred to as acidic before.

However, vanillas have characteristic flavors and aromas based on their country of origin. Bourbon-processed vanilla beans, grown mostly in Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, produce a high-vanillin-content vanilla described as rich, smooth, rummy and full-bodied. Mexican vanilla beans have a lower vanillin content and the vanilla lacks the body associated with the bourbon beans. Its flavor profile has been described as sharp, slightly pungent, woody, resinous, sweet and spicy. Tahitian vanilla is distinctively sweet, very fragrant and perfume-like, with coumarinic flavor and heliotropine notes. Java vanilla beans, from Indonesia, produce a vanilla described as deep, full-bodied, harsh, smoky and phenolic.

Awesome descriptive language and differentiation here. She uses varying categories to describe each of the beans even using two iconic object comparisons for the Tahitian beans.

Ethyl vanillin is a chemically processed flavor made from the coal-tar derivative, guaiacol. It has an intense, vanilla-like odor, and has a more powerful flavor than vanillin. It can feature a harsh “chemical” character when used at too high a level. A number of other, less well-known components delivering a vanilla flavor include: veratraldehyde, which is herbaceous and warm; heliotropine, which is sweet, spicy and floral; anisyl acetate, which is powdery and floral; and vanitrope, which has a warm, spicy medicinal sweetness.

Coal-tar, who would have thought? I’m not afraid of that kind of thing but it is surprising. Here we see a “chemical” descriptor among many other categories. Powdery is a surprising one and the paper Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps helps correlate such descriptors to others that are better known.

The category of sweet, brown flavors includes those flavors having the connotations of roasted, burnt or caramelized flavor systems, according to Carol Pollock, director, sweet and beverage flavor creations, Wild Flavors, Inc., Cincinnati. They can be extracted from botanicals and supplemented with other natural and artificial flavors, or they can be created by a reaction process. Flavors within this category include brown sugar, graham cracker, malt, honey, maple, molasses, caramel, butterscotch, coffee and chocolate.

Here she uses the term category which may seem insignificant but believe me its significant.

Flavor profiles for the base notes in many sweet brown flavors are similar. St. John’s bread, an extract of the carob plant, forms the base note for many brown flavors. Brown sugar gets its distinctive flavor from a thin coating of molasses on the granulated sucrose. Butterscotch flavor is made from heating butter, sugar, fat and salt. Lipase activity from the butter, caramelization from heated sugars, and Maillard reactions from the sugar and protein generate this flavor. Many of caramel’s flavor notes can be found in butterscotch, but with a twist. Botanical extracts that make up the sweet browns include black hawthorne, fenugreek, yerba mate and lovage. Brown flavors tend to contain more backnotes and mouthfeel rather than aromatics, and many of them have actual extracts of the ingredient in them, such as coffee or chocolate.

I love the idea in here of yerba mate. Flavor formulators love to surprise and here is an example of it in action. Yerba mate is a fragment or sub category of a larger category like sweet-brown so it fits because it fills its category role but it turns heads because its different and that is relatively more extraordinary. A pattern is found and put to use with a fun variation.

Honey. Honey is considered a sweetener, but one with a characteristic flavor. A complex flavor results from the sugars, acids, tannins, and volatile and nonvolatile components within it.

This is one reason why I specify non-aromatic when I use white sugar. It eludes to variations that could provide aromas such as using honey which is more than just aroma but rather flavor.

Using honey at high levels also can be quite expensive. The solution may be a honey flavor. The flavor chemist can engineer an excellent artificial honey flavor, and a blend of honey and other sweeteners boosted with a honey flavor would provide the desired flavor characteristics at a lower cost without the accompanying texture problems. Often a mixture of real honey and honey flavor can taste more like honey than actual honey does.

Lets quote that last sentance again:

Often a mixture of real honey and honey flavor can taste more like honey than actual honey does.

Text book supernormal stimuli: where there is a response tendency we create an exaggerated response tendency. Boom! Don’t let flimsy symbolic constraints like being natural get in your way…

Maple syrup. Maple syrup, the sap of black maple and sugar maple trees, is another sweetener containing a characterizing sweet brown flavor. The sap is concentrated through an evaporative process, which thickens it and intensifies the flavor. Syrup right out of the tree is mostly sucrose. Evaporation produces some glucose and fructose upon inversion at a low pH. One group of flavoring components comes from the ligneous materials from the sap, but a second group is formed by the caramelization of sugars.

A really interesting way to sum up maple. I didn’t know it started as sucrose.

Maple flavors have been developed by the extraction of botanicals, such as fenugreek and lovage, or chemical compounds, such as cyclotene and methyl cyclopentenone. It’s important to distinguish real maple flavor from maple syrup flavor. Processed, artificially flavored maple syrups have become almost a standard of maple flavor, while a true maple flavor has a completely different character.

Really interesting ideas on how to elaborate maple. And then the ubiquitousness of the artificial version has superseded the natural version? Interesting.

Chocolate flavors typically contain actual chocolate, or extracts and distillates from the cocoa beans. Artificial chocolate is difficult to make without any real chocolate extractive components because of the complexity of the flavor, according to Gary Reineccius, professor in food science, department of food science and nutrition, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. “It’s very difficult to make a totally natural chocolate flavor, because the chemicals comprising chocolate flavor aren’t available in natural form, and the flavorist won’t even get close to a mediocre natural chocolate flavor by putting together pure chemicals without adding chocolate products.”

Its amazing how chocolate can elude forgery. Is the word forgery appropriate?

Vanilla and vanillin are commonly added to enhance the flavor of chocolate. They also are the primary source of flavor in white chocolate, which is a blend of cocoa butter, sugar and milk. Another developer’s trick to increase the perception of chocolate flavor is to darken the food matrix. The deep brown color of a chocolate cake will send connotations of rich chocolate flavor to the consumer’s mind before it is ever tasted.

Perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection. He color primes your recollections before you even taste. #phenomenology.

Aside from the adjective “coffee-flavored,” it can be called acidic, full-bodied, mellow, mocha, soft, nutty, rich, smooth, acidic, spicy, smoky, winey, heavy, chocolate, bright and earthy.

She goes from one upper level object comparison to other lower level object comparisons, sensations, and grounded metaphors where one sense in described in terms of another. Separating sensations like acidic from grounded metaphors like heavy is not always easy. In another context without much cluing, acidic could also be a grounded metaphor.

Coffee flavors have been developed by profiling the extractives of the native beans for their flavor, and then analyzing these chemicals and their composition. Reineccius explains that a compound called furfurylmercaptan can help the developer create coffee flavor without using coffee. Since this flavor isn’t available naturally, it must be labeled as artificial. It’s impossible to make a natural coffee flavor without starting with some coffee, as there are no other naturally occurring substances that capture this flavor. “Making coffee flavors challenges the flavor chemist because different levels of oils exist in the beans themselves,” Pollock explains. “In addition, different amounts of oils can be extracted, and coffee contains many reactive ingredients. Coffee flavor is temperature-dependent; freshly brewed coffee loses its impact within a minute of brewing.”

Adding furfurylmercaptan to coffee to stretch it would fit the intention of creating a supernormal stimuli. Interestingly its not to be more seductive but to be more economical. Like chocolate, coffee might be very symbolically significant to our culture because it resists forgery. #mythologies

Caramel. Applying heat to sucrose above its melting point catalyzes the reaction of caramelization. Sugar breakdown products create a mixture of aldehydes and ketones and, most importantly, furanones. These can be characterized as caramel-like, sweet, fruity, butterscotch, nutty or burnt, and are the backbone of the caramel flavor. “The decomposition of sucrose by heat is a challenge in a plant situation because it is difficult to control the reaction,” Pollock says. “It’s much easier to simulate caramel flavors by using compounded flavors.” Maltol, ethyl maltol and cyclotene are components commonly found in caramel flavors. Caramel candy’s flavor comes from heating and concentrating sugar and milk, so simulated caramel flavorings often are enhanced by added dairy notes. Caramelization occurs in baking and cereal manufacturing, and the product base can be enhanced by adding caramel-type flavors.

Wow, the inputs seem so cheap, but because its difficult to control the reaction at the large scale formulators often go artificial.

Fresh-fruit flavor can be achieved by blending juice with aromatics recovered from the rest of the fruit. Natural and synthetic flavors can be added to juice to boost flavor and reduce expense.

Good advice, press and then distill. This is very important for liqueur manufacturing. And then synthetic flavors make it go turbonormal stimulating.

Concentration via vacuum distillation separates solid matter from the aromatic substances. These can be partially recovered and added to the concentrate, but the finished product still will be deficient in top notes. Freeze concentration uses no heat, so the finished product’s profile is closer to real fresh fruit.

I tried to turn freeze concentration into a trend yeas ago because it is so cheap and easy on the small scale but no one bit.

Citrus fruits are made into essential oils because much of the characteristic odor is found in the peel’s oil. Citrus oils have a high percentage of terpenoid hydrocarbons. These carry smaller levels of oxygenated compounds such as alcohol, aldehydes, ketones and esters. These are responsible for the characteristic odor and flavor. The terpenes contribute an odor/flavor of their own, and a citrus oil with the terpenes removed will be flatter-tasting and lack freshness. Terpenes are typically removed because they will oxidize, resulting in lower flavor quality.

This is why I found this document. Interesting sensory descriptors of terpenes.

To develop a fruit flavor, flavor chemists start with what nature starts with: amyl, butyl and ethyl esters, organic acids, aldehydes, alcohols, ketones and lactones. These build, characterize and enhance fruit flavor. Some chemicals instantly conjure the image of the fruit they are meant to depict, such as amyl butyrate with its banana-like scent. Others, such as ethyl acetate, will suggest an overall unidentifiable fruit note that will enhance and round out the flavor. Green, fresh, earthy, overripe, cooked and floral notes all can be added for complexity.

Playing God. What a great rationalization in the beginning.

Organic acids occur naturally in fruits, giving them their distinguishing flavor and bite. The same flavor will deliver differently depending on the acid used to enhance it. While citric and malic are very close to each other chemically, their profile and sharpness in the mouth vary considerably, and each individual acid will enhance fruit differently. Citric acid enhances cherry and strawberry flavors, Pollock explains, and malic works with apple and pear. Blends of malic with tartaric are great for raspberry as the tartaric has a slight metallic aftertaste that fits with the seediness of a berry. The goal is stimulating other areas on the tongue. A subliminal amount of acidity, not specifically tart, can work well to add a different dimension. Phosphoric acid at less than 100 ppm, or acetic acid used at a level at which the scent isn’t noticed, are other atypical ways of using acidity.

This is great stuff and the descriptors are spatial. One problem with spatial descriptors like sharpness is that they are hard to make scaler with any concensus on meaning. I proposed to overcome that by using hypertext controls.

Grape typically has been associated with the use of malic and tartaric acids, according to Jim Lewis, director, flavor applications, Bush Boake Allen, Montvale, NJ. Today, citric acid is often used to enhance grape flavor, and many people have become accustomed to the different flavor that results. Because of this, some will perceive an off-note to grape enhanced by tartaric or malic acids.

We have been so warped by the works of flavor formulators that the artificial has become the norm and the natural seems off. #JorisKarlHysman #AgainstNature

Another option is using a nut flavor. “True and characteristic nut flavors can be developed from synthetic ingredients that not only convey a nutty characteristic,” Pollock explains, “but can simulate the specific nut, such as a filbert, hazelnut, cashew or pecan.” Many nuts contain allergens, so a great need exists for flavors that aren’t nut-based. Using only natural flavors restricts the flavor chemist’s compound options. A nutty character can be developed, but it won’t possess the unique nuances of the individual variety that can be found in the artificial flavors. Since these natural flavors require the use of actual nut extractives, it’s not easy to develop an all-natural flavor that is allergen-free.

Giving us allergies by saving us from allergies. Here the main category nutty is broken down into sub categories which are object comparisons.

Lets requote this:

A nutty character can be developed, but it won’t possess the unique nuances of the individual variety that can be found in the artificial flavors.

This refers to using natural non nut ingredients to synthesize the character of nuts. Kobs claims only artificial ingredients can push natural non nut ingredients into believable nut territory. I personally like artistic constraint and don’t feel the need to have nut named stuff when no nuts are present. This is a semiology issue, they are forcing a symbol on a sensation.

Spices. What would pumpkin pie be without the spiciness of cinnamon, ginger and cloves? Spices are defined as natural vegetable products used for flavoring, seasoning and imparting aroma to foods. Small quantities of spices add dimension to a food product, and their connotations of naturalness appeal to the consumer. However, spices vary in strength and flavor profile; their flavor is often less evenly distributed within the food matrix; they can represent a microbiological hazard; and they lose flavor strength upon storage. Occasionally, a large spice volume can make the food matrix muddied or speckled and bitter-tasting.

Connotations of naturalness… so what something symbolizes is important. #semiology

Often, an essential oil or extracted oleoresin is preferred. Essential oils help control flavor strength and character. They are microbe- and enzyme-free, and are stable under good storage. One drawback of the essential oil is that it only represents a portion of the total available flavor in a spice. The volatile oil of ginger won’t provide any of the pungent qualities because these qualities come from non-volatile components. Oleoresins contain the volatile and nonvolatile compounds from the spices, so their flavor is more characteristic of the spice. Oleoresins are thick, viscous liquids, making them difficult to incorporate into the food matrix evenly. They also are very concentrated, so weighing errors are dramatic.

A very interesting differentiation between an essential oil (only the volatile part) and an oleoresin (volatile and involatile). This fragmentary thinking is so much more important than people think.

Spices also may be found in the form of essences, emulsions and encapsulates, and plated onto sugar. Often, a blend of forms represents the perfect solution. In a cinnamon roll application, cinnamon essential oil will provide the flavor strength, while a dusting of ground cinnamon will give a quality, homemade appearance.

Homemade appearance. We’ve jumped from sensations to what something symbolizes.

Maltol and ethyl maltol can improve overall flavor, potentiate sweetness, increase the sensation of creaminess, mask bitterness and suppress an acid bite or burn. Marketed under the name VeltolÆ by Cultor Food Science, Ardsley, NY, these ingredients have a mild flavor and sweet caramel-like odor. While both compounds must be labeled as artificial flavors, the product line also includes product enhancers that can be labeled as natural flavor.

Potentiate sweetness here might be what I call olfactory-sweetness.

Licorice extracts, derived from the roots of the licorice plant Glycyrrhiza glabra, also possess flavor-potentiating properties.

More potentiating. What I’d love to know is if its an industry term or the authors personal term.

Going beyond the obvious can lead the developer into flavor areas that might sound unlikely, but the results speak for themselves. There’s no reason why a grape flavor can’t be enhanced by a less recognizable flavor such as melon or plum, which provides roundness and depth. Fantasy flavors, or flavors with no real characterizing base flavor, can come from all sorts of unlikely blends and can be great fun to the creative flavorist.

This is really great and it elludes to the power of the grotesque to be attractive and extraordinary.

“What the developer is doing is adding interesting notes,” says Reineccius, “and even though the product is sweet, the flavors don’t necessarily have to be. Odd items can contribute interesting notes – there’s really no limit. Garlic oil works nice in butterscotch because it provides a warm feeling, and chocolate often has been enhanced with low levels of fermented soy-based flavors.” Using 300 ppm of monosodium glutamate in maple syrup will help open up taste buds, and make the flavor come alive through this very viscous product, Pollock says.

Collage creative linkage. A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space -Hans Hoffman.

When 20 new flavors come in, it’s tempting to open the bottle, take a sniff, and make a decision. But flavors shouldn’t be screened in their pure state, as many of the notes will appear unbalanced or even unpalatable. The best screening method is trying a flavor in its final application. With a cake, bake a plain batter containing the flavors and evaluate to determine how they interact with other ingredients and heat. With time lines as short as they often are, and 30 flavors staring at you from the shelf, this may be unfeasible. The next best thing is to dilute the flavors in water, comparing them for quality, character and impact. Just as a sprinkle of sugar will tone down the bitterness of a slice of cinnamon toast, sweeteners make flavors come alive. This phenomenon is apparent when screening flavors. Diluting an almond extract in plain water will produce a slightly bitter and unpleasant liquid that would appear to contribute very little to the finished product. Adding sugar will accentuate its rich and fruity notes and bring out flavor more realistically. Many of the components of sweet flavors don’t have a very pleasant flavor on their own, so it’s important to screen sweet flavors with sweetened water. It also takes a great deal of imagination to recognize the capacity within a flavor.

This parallels my idea of making a series of sketches to get familiar with flavor fragments when making products like amaros or aromatized wines.

The way sweeteners interact with flavors and deliver to the human olfactory system is quite complex and almost totally unpredictable. When flavoring based on sweetness concentration, mildly sweetened products require the use of less flavor as the flavor comes through more clearly. At very high levels, sweetness becomes intense and begins masking the overall flavor. As a result, higher flavor levels are required.

When sweetness masks the overall flavor, I’ve called this cloying. Sweetness can be a aroma enhance to a point then it is an aroma distractor. Enhancement could be defined as lowering the threshold of perception.

The best method for developing products with balanced flavor is learning to speak the language of the flavorist, and to have them involved at the conceptual get-go. Don’t be afraid to answer their questions truthfully. The flavorist isn’t trying to steal your concept. Instead, he needs this information to provide the best product possible for a given application. How many hours, dollars and pounds of ingredients have been lost because a flavor didn’t act as predicted? Granted, there’s no guarantee changes won’t occur, but at least you’ll rest easier knowing you did everything possible to prevent it.

Does the flavorist actually have a language like aesthetic sensory language? or is she talking about business language and logistics of developing a formula?

It’s important for every food scientist to learn the language of flavor, because within every flavor category, a subset of many characterizing flavor descriptors exists. A fruity strawberry can be very unripe and green, very ripe, seedy tasting, or cooked so as to resemble preserves. It’s not enough to say one is seeking a chocolate flavor, because the terms tobacco, barny, fruity, musty, milky, woody, oily, green, hay-like and floral all have been used to characterize chocolate flavor. Telling the flavorist one is looking for a vanilla that is creamy, custardy, spicy, smoky, floral, caramellic, baby-powdery or fatty will save time by reducing the number of samples that need to be submitted and screened, resulting in shortened development time. Discussion can be promoted and expectations clarified by using food-item terminology, such as fruit punch, cough syrup, vanilla wafers or even brand names like Captain CrunchÆ cereal and Juicy FruitÆ gum.

So they think the have a language…

Developers and flavorists must have this list of vocabulary words, and agree on what flavor is being perceived. If one person describes a flavor as “hay-like” and the other person describes the same flavor as “barny,” then there should be a common word agreed upon so everyone knows this particular flavor will be described as such. This is not as easy at it might appear, as each individual has his own sensory strengths and abilities to communicate their reactions.

Agreeance is what I called Endoxa in my analysis of wine descriptors.

Granted this article is from 1998 and a lot has happened since in the industry, but it seems like there is tons of room to advance. The skills and ideas of the industrial flavor formulator are relevant to the cocktail creator or the micro distiller formulating new non traditional products.

Vino Endoxa®: Three new categories and Pamela Vandyke Price

In Adrienne Lehrer’s Wine and Conversation I discovered the incredible writings of Pamela Vandyke Price and was inspired to pick up her book The Taste of Wine (1975). Not many people give older wine books a thought, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the editions of Anthony Hogg’s Wine Mine of the same era so I gave it a chance.

Vandyke Price was one of the first women to break into the wine world and in quite a major way. The torch was pretty much passed to her from legendary wine merchants Allan Sichel and André Simon. In busting the chauvinistic barriers of the industry she imbued her ideas with an egalitarian anti-pretentious slant that opens up the world of wine to new drinkers. It is not too easy to recognize this from the great place we currently stand but when you look at other literature, both before and after, it becomes recognizable. Another big achievement of Vandyke Price that was picked up by Lehrer was the language that she used. PVP collected, created, and popularized a lot of the modern tasting language in place today. This might all have been due to her not fitting into the good ol’ boys club and needing to carve out her own niche, but it has endured.

As a person that has read a lot of wine books, I whole heartedly recommend The Taste of Wine and think it could be a valuable part of any education, especially within a restaurant program, and especially because used copies are virtually free on Amazon. If anyone really wants to tests the skills and articulation of PVP, flip immediately to her sublime writings on vermouth and the other fortified wine and you’ll immediately have complete confidence. Her writing is pretty much timeless.

Vandyke Price is a having a large influence on the Vino Endoxa project. Three major categories for wine language she proposes are language that explains what the wine is (dry, medium dry, sparkling, red, wine, etc.), language that details its attributes, and language that will tell you what the wine is like.

The first category is pretty straight forward and can resemble many things we read off a restaurant wine list or a label such as 2011 Sangiovese, Fattoria Colsanto “Ruris” (Umbria) $40 [restaurant list price]. The vintage and the region can possibly tell us many things to expect. Was it a hot or cool year in that region or not? Off hand most people don’t remember that information but it can be looked up and a centralized hub of wine information like Vino Endoxa can remember those details easily. Many other things are implied like the wine in question is dry and un-carbonated unlike other curve balls such as the Lambruscos of the world. Encountering that rare sparkling red can be implied at the last minute by the shape of the bottle or the enclosure.

Before I continue with the other categories, I should note the relationship of price to the categories which unfortunately is far from straight forward, but it an ideal world should work as follows. As you pay more, a wine should have more definition (a PVP word). This parallels the terroir concept and also relates to risk. Ideally the more expensive the wine, the more it says where it comes from and reflects the year and the site and the ownership. Risk taking and involvement reveals this. Definition and terroir also relate to the concept of the extraordinary and the ordinary. Also to flaws which are regrets and missed opportunities. Deep involvement in the wine making process systematically explores the options so that a wine can be its most extraordinary for its budget class. Flaws are systematically eradicated so that there are no missed opportunities and this has a strong partnership with science.

Where price does not become straight forward, is when stuff like new oak gets involved. The use of new oak is very expensive and has a propensity to overshadow singularity and extraordinary character in a wine, making it taste like it came from relatively anywhere. The wines become more ordinary (frequency of occurrence of sensory attributes) despite the rise in price due to both expense and a willingness of certain market segments to pay. I surmised in the past, after hearing the lecture of Maynard Amerine, that the chicken that came before the egg was that new barrels were so much easier to take care of as opposed to the skill and attention necessary for re-used barrels that this shortcut led to the new barrel fad which really grew wings when it aligned with consumer tastes. Multiple similar phenomenons obfuscate the relationship between price and definition in the wine world.

The sensory attributes category is the one that Vino Endoxa has be striving to advance the most. This is the realm of metaphor. The acidity is sharp, it has a particular acuteness. There is a roundness overall. The fruit expression exists in a space between rhubarb and raspberry. If aromas can be sweet (olfactory-sweetness due to sensory convergence and non-linguistic contrast detection), they can also be olfactory-bitter and olfactory-umami. Rare aromas in wine, without clear convergence, often described as barnyard, earthy or sensual, might best be described by effect rather than sensation which was touched upon in the last post. Sensual leads into the erogenous which is a common category in perfumology.

“A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space” (Hans Hoffman) and the language of sensory attributes is the nitty grittiest and probably has the most to gain from going post language by using hypertext controls. To differentiate experiences (and data mine that), we need a scale. Linguists recognize scaler adjectives, but for most sensory experiences common linguistic scales are not graduated well enough and have little consensus or endoxa. Will any of my hyper text endoxa ideas work and create a higher degree of useful consensus? Who knows at this point!

The last category of language used by PVP conveyed what a wine was like. It might be fair to say this is the realm of simile and possibly the realm of useful, artful, oversimplification. That Sangiovese from Umbria, described above, is a like a Bordeaux as opposed to like a Burgundy or like a Chianti. A lot of complex hard to articulate facets are summed up with single words. When you speak the same language this works really well and helps people explore beyond the beaten path. When you don’t, things get tricky.

In hip restaurants these days we don’t serve Sauvignon Blanc by the glass and simile helps make this somewhat possible. When I compare a Vermentino to a Sauvignon Blanc I have a generation of older drinkers that understand the simile and an emerging generation of servers who do not because life is short and the art is long and they’ve never had enough S. Blanc to develop a gestalt to exploit. In numerous texts for new wine drinkers, there is often advice to experience these definitive types.

Just like new oak messing with prices, the rise of a meaningful simile like Claret, Burgundy, or Chablis comes with its corruption. Jug wine producers are quick to swoop in and market a wine with a simile, such as the Peter Velha Chablis (not from Chablis) which undermines the comparison. This happens all over the wine map such as with Muscadet, or Lambrusco. There was a time where too many Americans though Riesling implied sweetness and the wine world spent considerable effort educating this public that it was also often dry and well worth knowing about.

These similes can also be strung to together to create something like a scale or rather just a set of options. The Chablis, Mersaults and Montrachets have definition and identity, but when we come across a Chardonnay being made in Italy or California where do we put it? Lageder, in Italy, can make numerous Chardonnays and one might be closest to Chablis because of the freshness while another could aspire to be more like a Mersault. California Chardonnays could develop enough consensus of style that they warrant their own use as a simile (often synonymous with butter and new oak) but then one could buck the trend and we’d be quickest to compare it to a French appellation.

For a wine recommendation engine, it is useful to consider similes, but how should they be handled?. For the type of drinker I am, I want to know if a California Chardonnay is like its prototypical type. If it is I want to avoid it, but if it isn’t I want to give it a go and be a patron of the region. Or the recommendation could just be straight forward. Maybe someone just likes prototypical California Chardonnays but they want to be a patron of another region and see if there are any wines of the same prototype out there in their price range that maybe they should try.

If there is a consensus of similes I can get a recommendation easily, but how do I test consensus? Does a user pass a test where they associate types with salient sensory values? Do they prove they’ve experienced these types? Are they a super user or one that has participated enough with the system? I suspect a game might be the best way to explore these language categories.

Should the Chablis type simile be handled carefully? I suspect yes. The world of wine faces homogenization and the loss of styles. The power of conveying meaning with the simile may prevent a vineyard from ripping up Vermentino and planting S. Blanc because its more marketable to Americans but on the other hand it risks suppressing the pursuit of individuality or the exploration of new techniques. Hopefully there use in Vino Endoxa will help drinkers get off the beaten path both via there use and there avoidance. If a wine fits no known type, you know I’d be itching to try it.

Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation

If I think I’m going to make any progress creating a next generation wine description system, it might help to take a look at the current work about aroma in other disciplines. One of the great required readings is Adam Jasper & Nadia Wagner’s Notes on Scent from Cabinet magazine in their winter 2008/09 issue. They weave a beautiful narrative through philosophy into different aroma classification systems and between delicious factoids about smells & smelling.

Secondly, for more heavy duty reading, The Impact of Expertise in Olfaction was really interesting. Papers like this are important to the distiller because the distiller is an expert due to their unique sensory experiences and this impacts countless decisions they make day to day. Expertness implies a unique reality because unique contrast detection skills and very personal thresholds of perception of aroma compounds because of repeated exposure (contrast enhancement phenomena). So in effect, expertness can even be a handicap to creating consumer products in certain cases.

Solo organoleptic evaluation isn’t always valuable because of the expert phenomenon so its useful to construct tasting panels and this great paper, Sensory Analysis in Quality Control: The Gin as an Example, is a wonderful primer. To my knowledge, most new distilleries are not correctly using tasting panels or maximizing what they could do with them. The new American distillery is a busy, overworked and on the go place. Staff pretty much need to set up little assignments for other staff members as quality control procedures so as many minds as possible can be brought into the process.

Lastly, the paper that is blowing my mind is Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps which is fairly cutting edge being from 2009. The paper is sort of dense and takes a lot of concentration and repeat reading to get through. Odor perception space refers to the points of tension that exist in odor perception. The paper analyzes multiple databases constructed by researchers and perfumers then performs multi variate analysis to cross examine existing aroma categorization ideas and maps proposed by other researchers and professionals. This sort of analysis would be at the heart of the Vino Endoxa project and would be at the heart of more deeply understanding the botanical formulas that make up spirits categories like gin, absinthe, or vermouth. I pretty much should take the time to dissect the paper in its own post, but I’m pressed for time and I’m too interested in tracking down references in its bibliography and pursuing those.

The first major split in organizing flavor language or more specifically categorizing aromas is to differentiate descriptors that relate to affects and descriptors that relate to sensations. Refreshing pertains to affect and while acidic pertains to sensation, yet they both typically pertain to the same stimulus. I haven’t yet determined if the term balance pertains to affect or sensation but I’m leaning on affect.

The world of cocktails seems to be in love with affect and so does my earlier writing where I explored concepts like emotional content that I borrowed from abstract painting criticism. Emotional content, for me, was the spectrum spanning elation to repulsion and typically looked at the tension between multiple sensations like sweetness and acidity. It seems like as we juggle multiple sensations an overall effect is more salient that the individual, challenging to parse, sensations.

I remember reading a book long ago called Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs that examined the affects of certain food sources. This book broke aphrodisiacs into more categories than just one, which would make you horny, but rather multiple which were typically grouped in trilogies to arrive at a horny conclusion. Camphorous mint or spicy chilies would flip your temperature getting you hot and bothered while coffee or chocolate got the heart racing and cinnamon or saffron got blood flowing to the genitals. Coffee and chocolate can both be categorized as bitter but they can both also be categorized as stimulating and that effect might be more salient and easy to articulate than the bitter sensation.

Cocktails have been promoted by effect since the beginning. They used to be mustache twisters, eye-openers, corpse revivers, or anti fogmatics. Affect makes better adcopy than describing the individual multi-variate sensations. When I developed the craft keg cocktail way back when, the proof of concepts were quickly coined as panty droppers and party killers. Besides the new keg format, I was also exploring freeze concentration methods to increase aromatic extract which lowered or perhaps overshadowed the perception of alcohol. So should I have been dispensing high extract sours or should I have been dispensing panty droppers? And what the hell should Vino Endoxa include?

Affect seems like it is less data-mineable than sensation, but then it might just be the best way to categorize sensations in wine that just can’t be grounded in other common sensations. When wines have that highly regarded stink, is it more helpful to call them olfactory-umami or to call them erogenous? I’m suspecting for aromas that have no strong co-experience, categories of affect might be the way to go.

Vino Endoxa

First I have to recycle that Marshall McLuhan quote: “I don’t explain—I explore”. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing but I hope by trying to explain it I might further my understanding of the project. I suspect I’ll have to do this over and over.

I’m trying to build a new wine description system that probably best compares to cantometrics, Alan Lomax’ specialist language for describing music. Lomax worked on it for decades while other musicologists just didn’t get it and ultimately was bailed out by the creators of the Human Genome project to create the Music Genome Project which is now Pandora.

I’m calling my project Vino Endoxa (name is negotiable) and I’m hoping to excite wine professionals, cognitive linguists, neuroscientists, et al. into participating with its development. Introduced to me by cognitive linguists, endoxa is a Greek term that is synonymous with consensus which is paramount to creating meaningful and perhaps data mineable descriptions of wine.

Many people have tried to do this in academic contexts, very notably at UC Davis, so what makes me think I can do any better? For starters, my effort is post Metaphors We Live By and also post Neurogastronomy. It is post hypertext, post crowd sourcing, and post iPhone. I’ve also learned that I can introduce people to new metaphors and ground them between known values. Between-ness is something I’ve explored for years now.

Take for example the gooseberry comparison. On its own gooseberry has irked a lot of the wine crowd because they have never experienced the fruit for themselves, but gooseberry can be grounded between other known values like tart tropical fruits and grapefruit. Crowd sourced scales can be created and refined similar to the G. Septimus Piesse’s Odophone:


The comparison of perfume aromas to musical notes in the odophone helps ground unfamiliar values between other values that are likely more familiar. With this technique its possible to create higher degrees of consensus, but the question remains; will it be enough?

One significant challenge of working with object comparisons when describing wines is that olfaction is subject to illusion and wine might be the greatest realm of olfactory illusion. We may say that perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection, so we are always completing a wine just like an optical illusion.

When we describe a wine with tasting descriptors, especially object comparisons, we aren’t exactly describing the wine, we are pretty much describing our own recollections. For some people this idea might be liberating and for others it will be another wino WTF.

Well knowing that, what the hell do we do? Before we move along we should probably make it even more complicated. The bounds of subjectivity are governed by a penchant for illusion, but they are also governed by significantly different contrast detection skills among drinkers. Some people are pretty much aroma blind just like some are color blind, so when they say it all tastes the same to them, for many facets it just might. This is not exactly a case of genetics, it is rather, in most cases, a lack of development due to a lack of categories.

Categories are how we tell blue from green and they have to be created, though that is easy to take for granted. Language helps create categories and that is a big part of the emphasis to turn wine into words. If a system of describing wines gives people more categories, and therefore a better chance of detecting contrast, it will somewhat level that playing field.

Another way to overcome the specific proprietary object comparisons that recollection can generate is to go beyond lofty symbolic language into the very much grounded territory of non linguist thought. This is where colors can be warm or cool, aromas can be sweet or angular, and to cross into yet another modality, aromas can even be umami. Neuroscientists and cognitive linguists are only starting to explore this territory but poets have been at it for ages. Many thinkers have confused non linguistic thought with synaesthesia but they are different phenomenons though likely related. Co-experience has a very significant impact on non-linguistic thought and just being raised human is enough to give strong consensus to non linguistic metaphors.

The non linguistic ways we detect contrast are where hyper text and the iPhone come in. Previous thinking on describing sensations was pretty much constrained by the printed page. Hyper text allows us to use pictures and moving controls to describe sensations. How angular or acute is the acidity of the wine? Previously, people have just said, its tart, sharp, zippy, or zinging, but that doesn’t allow for much of a sensitive data mineable scale and it also allows hedonic value judgments to creep in which compromises palate growth and the acceptance of acquired tastes, which is central to preserving the worlds wine styles. Instead of selecting words, a control could be moved to visually describe the perceived angle of the acidity. Will this seem intuitive and create higher degrees of consensus? There is only one way to find out! More significant consensus on tannin might be found by using pictures of possible shapes than by using words alone. These shapes of course can be grounded in parallel with words.

Many people have been known to taste shapes, some as full fledged synaesthetes and some not. An important shape taster to highlight might be Pamela Vandyke Price who wrote The Taste of Wine (1975) and was brought to my attention by Adrienne Lehrer in her boundary pushing text, Wine and Conversation.

Many people find it helpful to think of wines as having a shape. Some immature wines often seem to be angular, other seem straight up and down in slightly unripe vintages. A round wine has its skeleton (the alcohol) adequately and pleasantly covered with flesh (the fruit) and is enhanced by a good skin (the fragrance). Excess rotundity show a lack of proportion, but many young wines posses a type of puppy fat which they shed later. How round a wine ought to be depends on the quality it should ideally attain; a great wine at is peak should be only gracefully curved, a good youngish wine in the medium ranges can be rather more curvaceous. Roundness is sometimes felt as the wine passes over the palate and is held momentarily in the mouth. (p. 183)

If a wine can be round, it can also be angular, and it can also be other organic shapes. If poets can be quick to say aromas can be sweet, or sour, sometimes bitter, they can also be umami. We have bass notes and flatter notes and no one really questions any of these nor expands upon them. The pattern that runs through this all, in regards to what we have metaphors for and what is incomplete or very seldom used, is that sweetness leads the pack because it is reinforced by the highest nutritional reward. This is followed by acidity which is an acquired taste and likely part of a warning mechanism. Umami is the category that lags in usage and the problem may be in translating non language to language. Round shapes and angular shapes are basic but organic shapes are more complex. A shape for Umami escaped the ancient Greek Democritus:

“Sweet things”, according to Democritus, were “round and large in their atoms,” while “the astringently sour is that which is large in its atoms but rough, angular, and not spherical.” Saltiness was caused by isosceles atoms, while bitterness was “spherical, smooth, scalene and small.”

This might all seem like its going in a non scientific direction, but in Neurogastronomy, Gordon Shepherd, explains the spatial perception of smell. All these shapes and then winespeak, like linear, are the language and categories of space. I was once told of an adage that “so many failed architects go into the wine business.” These architects no doubt have exercised that spatial muscle and it gives them some sort of advantages in the trade. But can any of these ideas ground metaphors, facilitate contrast detection, and ultimately help us reach higher levels of endoxa?

I think I’ll take a break. Next time I’ll come back and explain what is possible once you have a new wine description system.

Revisiting the 2003 eGullet Symposium

Recently I came across a staggering body of work I previously wasn’t aware of, even after being a long time eGullet member. The Boston apothecary blog was born out of eGullet as a place for things that didn’t really fit and its even probably safe to say the entire modern bar tending scene is a product of eGullet.

I came across the Symposium Fridge while searching for the essay Wet Dogs and Gushing Oranges by Sean Shesgreen that was referenced in linguist Adrienne Lehrer’s beyond brilliant look at wine tasting language, Wine and Conversation. The essay was republished with the consent of the author who even provided some follow up commentary.

The body of work reminds me of Ruth Teiser’s interviews for the California Oral History Series which I have read a ton of and profiled briefly. Any one wanting to make a career in wine should definitely spend time with them.

Many of the ideas I’ve been grappling with I’ve been finding discussed by probably the most brilliant gathering of minds culinary has ever seen. Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame, even participates in a few of the discussions and of course there is the voice of my favorite thinker of the series, Steven Shaw aka Fat Guy, the creator of eGullet, who tragically recently passed (anyone young in the culinary arts should familiarize themselves with the contributions of Steven Shaw). The symposium shows other great thinkers, I had some familiarity with (Lord Michael Lewis, Janet A. Zimmerman), at their absolute best and I just wish it wasn’t well before my time and I could have participated.

Issues of language, acquired tastes, art theory, and rhetoric were up for discussion and received the brilliant debate that eGullet is famous for. Sadly, its eleven years later and so many of these discussions have been abandoned. There is a new generation interested in the culinary arts and they just aren’t producing thoughtful commentary anywhere as close to what is revealed in the 2003 symposium.

I thought it might be useful to highlight my favorite parts of the symposium and comment here since the forum is closed.

Mind Over Palate A Divergence of Opinions
This discussion covers what I’ve started calling stance and I touched upon in my last essay on rhetoric, problem solving and categories. The discussion starts to bring ideas from phenomenology into the culinary arts and looks at the polarized opinions on very high profile restaurants.

Secrets of the Incredible Shrinking Brigade
This discussion is really interesting and you hear the first murmurs of sous vide cooking. What they are talking about is the shrinking staffs in high end restaurant kitchens which I guess is a result of increases in labor productivity. People had mixed opinions on whether labor saving technologies like temperature controlled cooking methods were positive or negative.

On the bar I’ve done a ton to increase labor productivity in the face of the cocktail renaissance’s challenges. Pretty much all of modern batching is attributed to the bostonapothecary blog and batching represents the most significant trend in the bar world. In the past, some forms of batching were illegal and people had strange notions that liqueurs would separate in the bottle or ratios had to be changed as the batch scaled up. I disproved those ideas and then eventually created the craft cocktail on tap, reflux de-aeration, the champagne bottle carbonated cocktail, and now new ideas for hot drinks. I also have new equipment I’m keeping a secret for the time being.

To bring it back to kitchens, one of the coolest things I’ve been seeing in NYC is people cooking beyond the logistics of their kitchen. Basically, they are putting out the food of a kitchen with twice the square footage and twice the staff in a tiny retrofitted postage stamp. They do this using the best new ideas in organization and logistics and the results are spectacular. This is about to be pushed even further with new tools like the searzall.

A Hierarchy of the Senses or of the Arts?
This post examines the works of two horribly confused people from the fine arts world musing about food and thinking “food cannot express emotion”. The art world here is just so lost and really shows how incomplete their ideas are and how they do not scale. What I have to add is that all art is a form of problem and solving and the smallest problems a work of art can solve are anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories. Food typically works on these small problems but they are no less important than other larger problems painters try to tackle.

Eleven years later, food is the new painting and people like me work on painterly problems relating to the nitty gritty of perception just like so many mid 20th century painters whose work is fetching big dollars these days. One of the problems is that food is so ephemeral and that once its eaten its gone and that is something touched upon in the discussion.

The best part of the discussion for me came in the beginning from Suvir Saran. Then ballast_regimes comments are a must read. Ultimately, Lord Michael Lewis crushes everything :

“Taking this further, it may be reasonable to claim that food, in the proposed hierarchy, is above Art being, as it is, so worthy of Art’s attention.”

Complexity or clutter in tasting menus
I loved this topic because it got into the territory I’ve been attracted to lately of cementing memories. Clutter and excess can destroy the memory of a meal. Some culinary experiences you can remember forever and others, though delicious, are somehow forgettable. Not much articulate and analytic attention seems to go into cementing memories and I see it as a big area culinary should be focusing on.

Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting
This discussion covers the journal article Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting by Carolyn Korsmeyer. It gets into the territory of acquired tastes but doesn’t get very far. Lord Michael Lewis opens with a question I’ve been tracking for quite some time : “why is there commonality amongst the items that provoke this reaction?” But then commentors start to compare adventurous eating to bungie jumping. LML even mentions hardwiring which today is being disproven by new ideas in neuroscience. The problem with the discussion is it looks at examples that are too nth degree like high meats and not less extreme scenarios like enjoying black coffee or dry wine. I could probably write a book about this.

Achieving balance in a menu
I was attracted to this discussion for the Thomas Keller quote:

For Thomas Keller, the answer is “five to ten small courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say, ‘God, I wish I had just one more bite of that. ‘The way to keep the experience fresh is not by adding flavors, but rather by focusing more on specific flavors, either by making them more intense than the foods from which they come, or by varying the preparation technique.”

The focusing of flavors Keller describes is the creation of a super normal stimuli. I have theorized before that all creative linkage in food & beverage is a means of creating a super normal stimuli and its something we can study in more depth and possible find more patterns in. I touched upon the patterns in recent post inspired by an amazing book, the Geography of Thought.

Are we likely to go the post-modernist way…
The thing about this discussion is it uses the word post-modern in the opposite way I do. I suspect I’m correct in my word choice, but many in the art world also do not see my logic. Basically, people incorrectly see post-modern as the state of the art, but really modern is at the forefront of creation and newness. Post-modern is when the imitators come around. They could not create the modern patterns themselves when immersed in the broader culture, but they could work with them later on after culture has absorbed the newness. That is why Adria is modern and his imitators are post-modern. The flow of money can also help us differentiate the two. When I used to stir a drink or make a Manhattan with vermouth I made myself, I used to get a $5 tip, but now I only get a dollar. The gesture used to be modern and extraordinary but now its ordinary and less worthy of $5. But stirred drinks are classic so how can they be modern? and some forms of art called modern resemble primitive forms, but yes, a renaissance can be modern and then go post-modern. It all has to do with the ideas relative to the broader culture and then with how they finally get absorbed. As time marches on what retains the desirable stamp of modern is the precedent. An artist’s subsequent works can become post-modern even though they hold the modern precedent. The artist is imitating himself, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it just means the work of art won’t be worth as much money.

This discussion interested me because I just read of the point/counter point musical metaphors at the end of Adrienne Lehrer’s Wine and Conversation. Here the context is different and best exemplified in Jonathan Day’s quote:

I was struck by how rarely menus are constructed around point and counterpoint – alternating warm and cold dishes, for example, or sweet and savoury, or rich and meagre. Why is it not possible to introduce a theme at the outset, then return to it later in the menu? Have members encountered contrapuntal menus? Are there chefs who think explicitly in this manner? Are point and counterpoint impossible in the medium of food?

I think one problem is that one comparison is in space (music) while the other comparison is in time (food) [at least in relation to tasting menu progressions]. My theory of food & wine interaction was called contrast enhancement in space and time which is borrowed from the work of neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd. That being said I don’t have much to add. Fat Guy had the best comment of the bunch. As far as hot & cold dishes go and throwing sweetness into the bunch, I think strong symbolism comes into play of hot and cold which makes it only appropriate in certain contexts. A cold dish is too often a flaw; a regret or missed opportunity. Sweetness also comes with strong nutritional reward phenomenons. Sweetness can change contrast markedly with experiences that come afterward and it might create some sort of palate fatigue where contrast detection abilities decline.

Comparing food, music and other arts
This is a follow up conversation to the previous discussion and relates to a metaphor project I’m working on now to improve wine language. Fat Guy has my favorite comment :

The point I was trying to make — and I was, perversely, trying to make the point metaphorically — was that metaphors don’t work unless we’re all referring to a common pool of experience and understanding. Otherwise we’re speaking different languages.

Some have been skeptical of my metaphor project because how could anything new not be more specialized like music jargon and therefore sacrificing common experience? Well common experience can be gained, especially when introducing a new word, by grounding the metaphors! Don’t let a term exist on its own, ground it in common understanding (through the magic of hypertext!).

Wet dogs and gushing oranges
This was the discussion that led me to the 2003 Symposium. The essay is a lot of fun to read and the comments are even better, particularly that of Fat Guy who refutes some of Sean Shesgreen’s conclusions. What is funny is I’ve never lived in the Gordon Gecko world that Fat Guy describes as contradicting Shesgreen. In my corner of Brookline Village where my clientele hails from the most expensive neighborhoods in the entire country, I’ve only seen it as Shesgreen describes it, but years later, under different presidencies, after recessions and therefore on a completely different time scale, but very much similar.

Developing my new wine language project has coincided with five years of intense conversations with a friend whom is a poetry professor, translator, and national book award winner of his own poetry. He doesn’t believe in wet dogs and gushing oranges. He thinks wine speak is silly. A poet, really? We are due for our next conversation but the last one ended with me liberating David, or so I told him. Aromas are often illusions, I told David. A wine never has enough chemical compounds in common with a cherry to objectively be cherry. Therefore wine speak is not descriptions of the wine, wine speak, I guess counter intuitively, is an exploration of our own recollections. Perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and out going recollection and thats how the cherry gets there. But then can there be a point in sharing this with the goal of recommending wines? Yes, and finding commonality against the challenges of articulation and specifics of our own experiences is a way that wine brings us together.

Maximum Rhetoric, Problem Solving and Categories

“I don’t explain—I explore” -Marshal Mcluhan

I guess I must have been ahead of my time, but two papers I wrote back in the day seem to have resurfaced. The first paper from two years ago was the summary of my talk for a science club for girls fundraiser. I was assigned to speak about the Manhattan cocktail and of course I put my own high concept spin on it. The people whom asked me to speak pretty much didn’t know me and were cringing left and right about their wild card speaker. They would have been fine with rehashed & cliched ideas, but I presented something fairly new and the audience, to everyone’s surprise, absolutely loved it. The rediscovery even included a criticism/reflection piece by a well known wine writer which is definitely worth checking out.

The second piece that has been gaining traction, was written four years ago and recently just got a comment endorsement from someone at Atera in NYC, which is a place I deeply admire. It was written with the remnants of pressures from me leaving my last job at a fancy restaurant with an overly ambitious beverage program to work at a cash only, red sauce, neighborhood spot with more regulars than restaurants should have (and I’m still there after five years!). A lot has happened since I wrote those papers and its probably time for some idea updates or maybe just some quality wandering.

The two things I think we all should be chasing in the culinary arts these days could be called maximum rhetoric and improvements to contrast detection. To play in this fertile territory means we have to figure out a couple things. Firstly, for rhetoric, we have to grapple with what art does so we can make it do more and then even hit well articulated targets. This will keep us from being ten thousand monkeys banging randomly to come up with Shakespeare which is a very inefficient business.

Secondly, for contrast detection, which is telling what from what, we really have to grapple with our language/non-language. Contrast detection is far bigger territory than you’d think. It involves analytically deconstructing the multi sensory perception of flavor and putting its facets into categories. It also involves categorizing the symbols that get attached to sensory values so we can see how they exert pressure on each other (the source of our rhetoric!). If you want to work on contrast detection, places to start are the categorization of aromas (to find patterns!) or mapping the path by which we acquire acquired-tastes which it turns out are crucial to sustainability and personal health. For example, fully exploring the path by which some people start to enjoy black coffee could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the national health care budget if we could get more people to go black. If we better understood the nitty-gritty etymology of every possible tasting term we might be able to create a successful wine recommendation engine which can respect wine diversity and scale to very polarized tastes (this is what I’m working on using some new post-language hyper text ideas).

Rhetoric is all about persuasion, which in the culinary arts regards persuasion to follow the path to a problem’s solution. This isn’t readily apparent because, in culinary, we are typically dealing with the smallest problems a work of art can solve. I don’t think in the history of art criticism anyone has ever said: what are the smallest problems a work of art can solve? A lot of great art critics like Leo Steinberg or Dave Hickey have danced with the art equals problem solving idea, but their versions could never scale to the smallest problems and that weakened them. When you can categorize the small stuff, you can capture the decorative, indispensable works of art that confuse everybody. This all leads into one of my favorite ideas, that all art is a form of problem solving, and the smallest persistent problems a work of art can solve are anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories.

The better we can articulate, contextualize, and categorize our own work, the more likely we will be able to pick a problem and work backwards from it to a solution like media theorist Marshal Mcluhan said would be possible in the future (with enough literacy or as Mcluhan would say, fragmentation). Its all about calling your shot as well as ennobling the smallest problems. The best (what an inarticulate term!) restaurant in a region might not be a hushed place where you have 30 courses of foraged sushi with sauce that you have trouble remembering, but rather a tightly packed red sauce joint where everybody manages to have a good time and remembers their meal forever. Remembering your life is particularly important so if as an artist you can cement a pretty large memory for somebody, that is pretty much as good as it gets. Fancy restaurants at the top of the dining food chain just don’t do it as well as they think. Maybe you’ve have heard that dreaded one word summation of a restaurant experience before? Forgettable.

We can call our shot and articulate all sorts of other small stuff as well. To illustrate with cocktails, I can make your daiquiri a little more tart and teach you how the highly attentional nature of it helps get the work day anxieties out of your head. You will stop reciting ways you are going to tell your boss off in your own head and start chatting with the stranger beside you. We can go back to the complacency problem, and I know daiquiris might be getting played out, but have you had one made from Cape Verdean rum? I can make you something like a daiquiri with Dominican Mamajuana, and you can tell me you’re surprised I know what it is because you haven’t seen it since you went on vacation there fifteen years ago. I get a lot of that last phenomenon, but only from the odd underdog products I make a market for and not the mass market stuff most bar tenders hock to win a contest or to get their kickback trips to TOTC.

We can change it up a bit and I can simply serve you a cocktail you can afford like a batched old fashioned made with an modest & affordable Bourbon or a cocktail on tap because I need that technique to keep the party moving since its so busy and I’m working by myself. Whats possible is, though you’re young and poor, with affordable drinks you’ll be able to go out more often and rub elbows, and because I can serve more people with my batchzilla techniques, you are more likely to meet your soul mate or your next business partner who you are more likely to be able to buy a round for. The average person cannot make the investment and buy a round of $13 cocktails, even if the gesture is the door to the best version of the rest of their life.

Its better to have a notch in your belt for introducing someone to their soul mate than for a nod in a PR about a forgettable new mass market premium product. These notches can probably be looked at with a different metaphor. I can work at a turn & burn where my small problem solutions amass in a large pile of pebbles or I can work at an upper echelon place and share some new details on measuring carbonation with a kitchen scale that only applies to a few people at the moment, which is just one single big rock. Many small solutions or one big one, but they can end up weighing the same. Unfortunately, these days it feels like you will only be called the best if you solve the big problem, but we need to refocus our pursuits and start glorifying those that constantly amass large fading piles of pebbles.

Another way to analyze the difference here is that one set of solutions is very much ephemeral (dust in the wind!) while the other is a big solid precedent, it even made it into a book (though unattributed!). The ephemeral arts are wild territory and not a lot of thought has been applied to them. Just think about it, people can line up in front of one painting and endless amounts can view the work at near negligible cost, but a culinary creation has to be recreated every time and at considerable costs, and in candle lit context after a long work day. Culinary players trying to get immortalized in books get swept up in the ephemeral wave all the time. Beware being ahead of your time.

I made the first house produced vermouths in an contemporary culinary bar program, and actually served them at the James Beard house before any other bars tried their hand, but sadly to a bunch of people that couldn’t contextualize what they were consuming nor even remember it now. My vermouths were also arguably more extraordinary than any of the hundred that came after. But, we drank them all, and nothing is left but some message board time stamps (you all missed my sforzato chinato). Ask around and most people will attribute the trend to someone else, no big deal because I got a lot of small notches in my belt. I got so many five dollars tips making Manhattans for mid western business men who finally met someone else that loved the drink as much as them. I boldly suspect, the ridiculous gratuities for a single drink were because my rhetoric was so powerful; five dollar solutions when the industry average is only a dollar.

That modern era of rediscovery and innovation is sadly over as evidenced by the fall in tips. You used to also get five dollars all the time simply for stirring a drink or stocking rye, now the gestures are post modern and you get pretty much no special notches. One of the deepest notches I ever got back in the day was when I served a ratafia of pomegranate seeds to some Louisiana oil men as a gratis. These guys weren’t particularly into culinary, just business guys anyone would write off as lame, but then 20 minutes later their ring leader released his Louisiana drawl on me and said: “What you’ve done here son, we call Lagniappe, and it’s terrific. Do you know what that means?” Me : “No, sir.” Him: “Something extra.”

One of the great restaurants, that I had eaten at a few times, that seemed really aware (most positive sense of the word) of all the subtle, wonderful things it was doing was the M. Wells Diner in Long Island City. All these subversive little things were happening. I was watching ordinary people think they’ve stumbled into a common diner and get blown away by some spectacular food at the normal prices these stumblers were expecting to find. No monkeys hoping for Shakespeare there, someone was calling their shot and hitting the mark. It was maximum rhetoric and quite memorable. Every time I see a French Picpoul, I immediately think of lunch at the M. Wells.

To see problems, especially the smallest ones, and then solutions is about fragmentation which is about categories, which in turn will require an obsession with language. That is where we go next. The monkeys that make up the culinary world have typed up some Shakespeare, but now the challenge is to contextualize it and wrap language around it. The next leg up in the culinary arts will require new language.

My writing on sensations over the years has included some new language where aromas are described possibly as olfactory-sweet or as olfactory-umami. Olfaction can be categorized in terms of gustation and the technique is justified through non-linguistic contrast detection (that some mistake for synaesthesia) which is induced by accumulated co-experience. Non-linguistic thought can be used to investigate the origins of tasting notes like angular, acrid, and provide new insights into minerality.

New language, which is essentially new categories, has helped see big successes like noticing, in the wild, near all the aroma illusions proposed by RJ Stevenson. They also helped pen probably the leading articulation of wine & food interaction which was heavily inspired by Gordon Shepherd’s Neurogastronomy. Language developed for creative linkage, helped identify all creative linkage in the culinary arts as a form of supernormal stimulus and possibly explained a network flavor pairing mystery published in Nature.

Scrutiny of language has led to an exploration of semiology where sensory values and symbols can be separated and their relationships explored. Each of these categories has its own harmony and disharmony and each influences the other which is a mechanism by which we acquire acquired tastes. Acquired tastes, which I mentioned earlier, are of staggering importance, but which few seem to realize.

Semiology even opens up into phenomenology and we each will have a stance on a dish or a drink. Stance is the baggage you bring to an experience, be it history, literacy, stress levels, or personal nutritional reward requirements and these all can be categorized so they can be targeted for manipulation. An understanding of stance can help us with the Other Criteria idea of judging experiences as well. We judge experiences differently when we are starving or stuffed or stressed or when our mom made the definitive version of it. We can call features flaws when our unique stance allows us to see them as regrets and missed opportunities, but remember, when you have no special stance, they are not yet flaws. Cocktails are certainly not one size fits all, and balance, a term I abhor, if it must be used, is only relative to stance.

Nutritional reward or nutritional preference as it can be called in relation to wine pairings is an interesting idea to explore and might even prove an explanation to the philosophical problem of the inverted spectrum. We think we can have no idea what goes on in the minds of others and our red is their blue and our sweet is their bitter, but sweet and bitter are sensations anchored with nutritional reward and that makes sure that we all have enough commonality of experience to sit at the table together. There certainly is subjectivity, and investigating aroma illusions that arise in the construction of reality when incoming sensations are completed by our personal catalog of recollections, is another way to explore the bounds.

Reward systems and nutritional preference might lead some people to think we are hardwired for certain aspects of flavor perception, but we likely are not as explored in Richard Nisbett’s Geography of Thought. Some of my previous ideas, like the order of operations of multi sensory flavor perception, to be universal, were dependent on hard wiring. Ideas I had used to create or explain aroma driven cocktails like, the simplified gustation model, where a path is flattened to perceiving aroma (best exemplified in port) might not be as universal as I thought, and as someone develops intense experience with flavor, they can warp their attentional spotlight to focusing on whatever they choose. There might prove to be a starting point to the order operations of perception that can be described, but then we are probably capable of diverging from it.

With experience, the acidity of very dry wines can be overlooked to get a better glimpse of the aroma. This idea should make people optimistic and hopefully they will invest in developing the skill, but it also means we have to be aware of this journey and the changing of our stance. Terroirists & wine adventure advocates too often downplay the acquired taste nature of interesting wines and forget all the baggage & skills needed to be fully seduced by those experiences. To be a true steward of wine, the concept of stance must be integrated into recommending wine and helping people on their wine appreciation/therapy journey.

To get back to rhetoric, one of the greatest things a steward of wine can hope for is to help someone select a wine that will deeply cement the memory of their evening. During an explosion of wine literature, this seems to have been somewhat forgotten after it was most articulately proposed by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher in the Wall Street Journal’s Guide to Wine. The flip side of cementing a memory is using wine to retrieve one which was also a big theme of Gaiter & Brecher’s writing. What wine should I bring home this evening? How about one that will remind me and my company about another time we spent together so many years ago. Nothing here is exactly novel, but it does seem to be out of the current discussion.

The somms out there, too often ten thousand monkeys, only seem to aim for your new memories, and too often leave you in the dust for retrieving anything with their wine. Instead of playing musical chairs with the wine list I have now, I try and emphasize that this is our 12th vintage of this wine for us. When I thought regulars were just being complacent by ordering the same bottle over the years, in many cases these astute diners might have been seeking to pick up where they left of with a cherished memory. Without categories or problem solving, I probably would have overlooked that my entire life.

So here is plenty of new ideas, plenty to complain about, and I’m sure plenty I must have left out.

Back to Class with Maynard Amerine

Long ago I recovered a VHS of super star California oenologist Maynard Amerine giving a wine tasting lesson and had it digitized sight unseen so I could put it on youtube. The video turned out to be a 15 minute, horribly boring flop. It might have been the first of a series that was never continued.

Recently I checked up on that video and via a search for Maynard Amerine, it appears that UC Davis has uploaded a series of old 50 minute black & white lectures of Amerine’s from the early 1970’s.  These videos are an absolute treasure trove of insights into the history of modern wine making.

In the 15 minute video, Amerine, the world’s foremost wine scientist, is horribly dry and uninteresting but in his lectures he has the students laughing quite often although overall he is rather clinical. He tells short industry stories often and gives an intensely pragmatic vibe to what these days has become an often obnoxiously fetishized art.  What these days is presented as art, is not ancient, does not bypass new advancements in oenology, and is absolutely built on the backs of relatively recent government sponsored oenology research.

Amerine is simultaneously loved and loathed in the industry and two vermouth producing friends of the cocktail have presented me over the years with somewhat opposing views.  Andrew Quady of Vya fame was a student of Amerine’s and is I suspect an admirer while Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars vermouth fame (and one of my favorite California dry wine producers), who is much younger than Quady, was always taught to be weary of Amerine.

The teachings of Amerine were a big force in homogenizing wine and allowing production to scale up to volumes where wine was made in silos.  Amerine’s lectures seem to continuously be emphasizing a low risk wine making style that many people today are thankfully rebelling against. It should be noted that Amerine lived in a different world where nearly every wine you tasted had common flaws.  Today by comparison, nearly all technical flaws have been eradicated and now when people find them, they mistake their low frequency of occurrence for a reflection of terroir. For shame!

When you spend time with the videos you can see why Amerine was risk averse.  Wine making across the world still had a foot in the dark ages in the 1970’s. He opens a reputable Borolo for the students and notes that it had a volatile acid (vinegar!) that was readily discernible. He also notes how many other wines stink of sulfur.  These days we have well proven guidelines for adding and maintaining sulfur and it is accurately measured and adjusted at numerous phases in the wine making process while back then if a winemaker had no lab skills, correct sulfur was probably only nailed by luck.

According to Amerine, Chianti in the 60’s and 70’s was still using the governo process of adding semi dried grapes to increase alcohol similar to Amarone.  This is something they abandoned and something few people are aware ever happened today.  Grape picking in much of the world was done not to brix / acid values, but to other strange cues like visible shriveling of the grapes.  Now we can have intellectual debates with Dennis Dubourdieu about oenological ripeness, but back then they were just scraping by and trying to fit picking in with their other chores.  Wine making was more ethanol centric and less flavor centric.  Origin controls were just starting to be implemented that would shape the European industry over the next three or four decades promoting a flavor centric approach.  Government sponsored research moved the industry forward in a way that it probably doesn’t get credit for.

To bring it back to Vermouth, long ago I had hypothesized that the reason people made vermouth and refined it into such a high art was that their tastes were often so far beyond their ability to produce stable & interesting tables wines. I don’t think anybody took the idea seriously because to understand it, you would have to under what table wine actually used to be like. Spending time with Amerine’s lectures readily supports my hypothesis (which I got from reading nearly all of Amerine’s books).

I could discuss countless of the little stories Amerine mentions but one of the most interesting is the use of new barrels in the industry which is a sort of chicken and egg scenario.  Extrapolating from Amerine, the reason the industry went on to fall in love with new barrels was because they were easier to take care of. This came before consumer demand which went on to exacerbate it.  Moldy barrels fouling the wine was a giant problem for the industry. If you weren’t good at taking care of your barrels, you simply bought new barrels every season, especially when you could command prices that supported the practice. In California, the love of new barrels may have started with risk aversion, lack of skill, and laziness.

Economists as well as Wall street types that love the adage: wine, women, and money, not necessarily in that order, might really benefit from studying the modern history of wine making, especially those that do not understand that there is a time and place for both public and private investment.  Government investment in a luxury product, wine, elevated the fortunes of large regions and again, so successfully you probably wouldn’t give the government any credit.  This advancement would have never been possible by private industry alone because multiple decades of foresight was necessary.  Margins were also low which is something that hinders private investment.  The studies also had to be coordinated over large, diverse areas and across simultaneously cooperating & competing countries to be successful which is something private investment likely could not negotiate.  When so many 1%ers try to recklessly slash government spending, it might be helpful to remember that something so near and dear to our hearts as wine would be nowhere with out it.

Italian Wines and Vermouth

Special and Flavored Wines

French Wines: Part One

French Wines: Part Two

Present State of Grape Growing and Winemaking

California Wines

California Wines and Red Wines

Lecture Review ** This lecture is more unique and interesting than the name implies. When he explains the Delle stabilization concept, I think he ends up hinting at the secret to Aperol’s low alcohol content relative to any other amaro or aromatized wine. The same goes for Cynar but less so. This is also a concept we can probably use for home vermouth making or even syrup making for special scenarios such as the consulting I do with Have Shaker Will Travel in the tropics. To push a 400 g/L syrup up to 80 Delle units, the alcohol content needs to be only 10.66% which is completely natural relative to additives like potassium sorbate and fairly affordable.  Delle stabilization can also change the way I’ve constructed alcohol preserved Maraschino cherries in the past.

Aperol has a specific gravity of 1.082 which puts its estimated sugar content not too far over 230 g/L. 230 g/L is about 20 brix so 20+(4.5*11) only puts Aperol at 69.5 Delle units so who knows what is going on with Aperol but there are more anecdotes by Amerine in this paper that show beverages being stable at far less than 80 DU.

Final Lecture

Why we drink: A break from language

Lately I’ve been listening to Radio Lab episodes concerning language. A beautiful episode called A World Without Words explores the experience of neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor who had a stroke then briefly and intermittently had the language processing part of her brain turned off. Curiously, she encountered a feeling of overwhelming bliss she called “la la land“, with the absence of all anxiety, where all she felt was sensation and the raw pleasure associated with it. So if Taylor could feel some sort of bliss during the absence of language, what does language do to us? Without having a stroke, can we ever take a break from it? I think we can take a break with food & drink and I’ll try and build a case for that.

In the past, I’ve looked at semiology which is the study of symbols in relation to sensations. The most popular text on the subject is still probably Roland Barthes, Mythologies, which I really did not enjoy and think is fraught with problems. Barthes take on semiology cannot account for acquired tastes and that is the business I’m in. Acquired tastes are also critically important to sustainability and probably our health in general.

Semiology explains that there are two worlds we live in, the world of sensation and the world of stand-in values or symbols (where language comes in), which are both glued together and hard to separate without effort invested into developing categories to put everything in. The two worlds pull on each other, rearrange our harmonic bounds (theory of cognitive dissonance), are a potential source of dangerous bias, and can even be seen as the rhetoric of art. I’ve always felt that cocktails with their acquired taste nature, as well as infinite sensory and symbolic inputs, are the best arena to teach, test and explore semiology.

Through her stroke, Taylor turned off the symbolic, language driven world and found repose. Language may open the door to anxiety and a constant chatter in the mind that is a source of stress. Anxiety is debilitating for so many people and for others, unless it flares up, they barely notice it despite its ever presence. Turn it off and anyone might have a eureka moment, repose! Taylor’s stroke is an nth degree example of how to turn off language while a daiquiri would be a lesser degree example.

Meditation may be another method of turning off the chatter, and though I was formerly skeptical, descriptions of meditative experience make it seem like a language reducer (whiskey is a meditation aid like a mantra is). I had previously thought meditation would allow the voices to speak up, and they could only be displaced by jarring sensations or what I called dissonance therapy. Meditating is not exactly full of sensation like running or cycling or listening to the Velvet Underground. By limited degrees, meditation may move one closer to the nth degree which is the silence. (Keep in mind, there are multiple other avenues to lower stress & anxiety, and some involve lots of language such as writing poetry or song lyrics.)

This all relates to food & drink because flavor, particularly aroma, is a world dominated by non-language. Before the world of non-language is hyped, it should be noted that Taylor was lucky to have had a good experience because raw sensations are likely polarizing. Language may allow us to soften the peaks of pleasure or discomfort and stay functional. We all know how unpleasant certain foods can be. Dislike and disgust can be so severe that people cannot bring themselves to eat certain things and some may even have physical reactions like gagging. The softening effect of language is likely a layer of how the initial dissonance of fernet or whiskey can be overcome (expanding harmonic bounds is not simple and there are other layers).

Food may have a unique place in quieting the mind because it is so often above and beyond language. Isn’t it curious that so few people try to write cocktail tasting notes? Recently I had looked at non-linguistic contrast detection and eventually the origins of grounded metaphors. It was discovered on another Radio Lab that we cannot see the color blue until we have a word for it, but when it comes to wine or flavor in general, tons of contrast detection happens non-linguistically and even though people like to turn wine into words, we do not rely on language defined categories.

Consuming wine through a lens of aesthetic detachment may maximize the therapeutic experience. Aesthetic detachment is the cutting away of all or as many flimsy symbols as possible from raw sensation; it is painter Hans Hoffman’s Search for the Real. It was best described to me in the book, Homo Aestheticus, as if your friend who cannot swim falls out of your boat and instead of saving them because they are your friend, you merely pause to admire the bubbles as the friend sinks. The example is pushed to the nth degree to illustrate how much can be detached, such as friendship & responsibility (remember, not sensations), so lesser experiences, like consuming wine, will have something to detach but will never be so severe.

Culinary typically gets relegated to the decorative in art which is a realm that has been grossly downplayed by art history within my limited vantage point. Arabesques, egg & dart motifs, grotesques, all defy language and viewing them may help us slip away towards la la land. The grotesque is a very unique concept often characterized by betweeness. Being between known values, such as the fish & the woman of a mermaid or the aromas of apricot & orange, which are blended in the culinary arts, creates highly attentional, hard to name inbetween values that we often seek out and surround ourselves with unconsciously, perhaps for the sake of escaping language. If grotesque sensory experiences lead us to a dose of la la land, whether we can articulate the phenomenon or not, we will look for more, hence cocktail hour becomes a ritual. Hence so many people return to yoga every day because it allows them to slip into non-language by exercising and filling the mind with bodily kinaesthetic intelligence.

In the past, I had looked at cocktails as dissonance therapy and related acquired tastes to being highly attentional, more so than the linguistic chatter. I had thought overpowering language was enough to silence the chatter, but being beyond the grasp of language and our easy to reach language based categories might be a large layer of the puzzle. A cocktail example to ponder is the great therapeutic beverage, vermouth, which lies so far beyond language it is legally described circularly as a “beverage that resembles the characteristics of and tastes like vermouth”.

A pattern is starting to emerge that if we embrace aestheticism, otherwise said as the promotion of importance of sensory values over symbolic values, we will be rewarded with repose. The path to repose starts with identifying non-language, valuing it, and exercising it. Give up the highly constrained judgments good & bad which are the metaphors of the symbolic world and embrace ordinary & extraordinary, which pertain to frequency of occurrence of sensations. Among the only negative judgments relevant to aestheticism are missed opportunities and regrets (very important to judging wine!). Keep in mind the polarizing nature of sensation and be aware of language’s ability to help us overcome sensory dissonance.

Now I am thirsty.

[Something I probably missed is the relation of non-language to psychedelic experiences and polarizing good and bad trips. From what little I know of psychedelic experiences, they are characterized by fairly large degrees of non-language. Without language to level it out, overwhelming sensation can be a challenge. Something else I missed is relating art therapy to non-language]