Moderation and Dilution

In both cocktails and cologne, less is more. While this may be obvious in cologne (how many scents get a bad reputation because they are over-used?), it may sound counter-intuitive in cocktails.

A recent article in the New York Times explained the principle. “The more alcoholic a drink is, the more it cloisters its aroma molecules, and the less aroma it releases into the air,” wrote Harold McGee. “Add water and there’s less alcohol to irritate and burn, and more aroma release.” This is one of the reasons most cocktails are shaken (or stirred) with ice.

What McGee says about alcohol (a key ingredient in fragrances) applies equally to colognes: the more you use, the more pungent and acrid the aroma. It’s like music played too loud—it distorts. And with varying concentrations of fragrance oils in a cologne (from 10-25%), some may be sprayed directly and some ought to sprayed and then walked through.

Too many men don’t get this. Ideally, a personal fragrance should be something that one smells occasionally throughout the day on one’s self. Others should only smell it when very close, so that the ones who you let that close want to get closer.

Getting back to cocktails, I’m reminded of an excellent article I read in the conservative Weekly Standard (an odd place, I thought, to find great liquor writing) a year ago by Robert Messenger. “During the ‘Swingers’ era of the 1990s,” he wrote,

“what you could get were very large Martinis that were often just chilled gin—six ounces or more in a single glass. It wasn’t uncommon to see one made by spraying the tiniest amount of vermouth into a frozen glass and adding the gin on top. Bartenders would proclaim the benefits of not diluting the alcohol by shaking or stirring it over ice. Well, diluting the alcohol is much of the point of the cocktail. Do not underestimate the value of water in cocktails. It is what separates us from our less-civilized forebears who began the consumption of distilled spirits. The meeting of water with alcohol and flavorings civilizes the mix, allowing the spirit’s rich flavors to prosper and diminishing the harsh bite of the liquor—which is after all something of an industrial byproduct.”

The emphasis was mine.

If you’re going to drink straight vodka or gin, why the pretense of the Martini? And if you like it cold, and most of us do, why would you order a 10 ounce drink? It will be warm and disgusting by the time you’re halfway through.

It’s as thoughtless as the way many men wear cologne—as if they’re trying to repel something. It’s like binge drinking. Guys will soak themselves and their clothes with a scent so cheap and common that the rest of us can smell them coming. And going.

I’m sold on diluting in cocktails, but I tried McGee’s advice in brewing coffee with less beans or beans groundless finely. It worked well. The flavors were less strong and more complex.

My next experiment: to try a cologne I don’t like in a smaller dose to see if it might smell new again.

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