Smell is the only one of our senses with a direct connection to the brain. That is why it can be so evocative, bringing back a memory with total clarity.
“There is no more emotional sense,” says Harvard University professor David Edwards, whose work explores new ways of delivering health benefits through scent.
At his restaurant and culture lab, Café ArtScience in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edwards’s team is exploring ways to enhance dining—and especially cocktails—with scent. Using a device Edwards invented called the Nimbus, bartenders can add scent directly to a cocktail, changing the character of the drink with the flick of a wrist. When the Nimbus, a battery-powered device that resembles an egg timer, is tipped over a cocktail, it creates a mist made with natural essences that floats over the drink for a few minutes before dissipating. Any scent can be made in the Nimbus, from sea salt to cinnamon. The droplets vanish quickly, so customers can experiment with different scent clouds, changing up their cocktails with every sip.
The Nimbus is just one way bartenders are exploring scent, says Leanne Favre of The Clover Club in Brooklyn, noting that they use everything from a citrus twist to atomizers and smoke to contribute aroma to cocktails.
“Scent design is a wonderful storytelling device,” Edwards says. “The potential transient nature of it invites experimentation, and the visual appeal of the flavor clouds brings great theater.”
“My Dress Hangs There” (Frida Kahlo, 1933)
By Ian Swindlehurst, bartender director, Café ArtScience, Cambridge, Massachusetts
• 1 oz. Don Julio® Reposado Tequila
• 1 oz. dragon fruit–infused Plantation 3 Stars Rum (infuse a bottle with pitted dragon fruit for 24 hours)
• .75 oz. vanilla syrup (combine ó quart sugar, 1 quart hot water, and 1 full vanilla bean halved lengthwise; let sit for 1 hour before straining)
• .5 oz. fresh lemon juice
• 1 dash Reagan’s orange bitters
• 1 pinch cayenne pepper
Add all ingredients to a shaker; add ice, short shake, and strain over a big rock into a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with vanilla, cacao, or caramel Nimbus scent cloud.
Ready to take your cocktails to the next level by adding aroma to them? If you don’t want to invest in a Nimbus Starter Kit ($95 at sensory-cloud.com), you can make your own vanilla-scented smoke at home easily and inexpensively. Ian Swindlehurst offers this simple how-to:
1) Top a cedar grilling plank with a vanilla bean and use a lighter or kitchen torch to make the pair smoke for a few seconds.
2) Place a rocks glass over the smoke, allowing it to fill.
3) Tip the glass upright and add your cocktail quickly. The vanilla smoke will linger as you sip.
—by Jeanne O’Brien Coffey