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Mixologist Arkadiusz Rybak on the importance of aroma

Science tells us that as much as 80 percent of what we taste is affected by our noses — and that’s not limited to what we eat, either. Our experiences drinking wine, beer, cocktails and spirits are all enhanced by their unique aromas, so it’s crucial to pay attention to what you’re smelling whenever you enjoy your favourite beverages. To learn more about how scent affects cocktails and spirits — and in anticipation of the forthcoming release of The Macallan Edition No. 3, a collaboration with fragrance expert and master perfumer Roja Dove — we chatted with master mixologist Arkadiusz Rybak of Zuma Hong Kong about how he designs new drinks and the best way to enjoy Scotch whisky.

How important is scent when it comes to enjoying cocktails or spirits?

Scent is one of the most important points when we are looking at spirits or cocktails. It’s the same with wines and food: If any of them smell unpleasant, would you try them? Probably you wouldn’t touch them at all!

How many times in life have you randomly smelled something somewhere that took you back to the past via good childhood memories like Christmas trees or our grandparents’ cooking? Can we deliver those good memories with drinks? Yes, by choosing the right scent.

Arkadiusz Rybak

How does aroma affect the taste of cocktails and spirits?

For us, smell is a very important part of the drink. The human body is designed that way, where 70% of taste in mouth depends on the nose — from the smell, actually. For example, if you close your nose and put mint leaf in your mouth, you won’t taste anything! But if you open your nose while chewing mint, then you will taste mint in your mouth. So you can imagine without our nose, we wouldn’t be able to taste most of the things we are familiar with now.

When you create a new cocktail, how much are thinking about its aroma?

For me and for us at Zuma HK, we’re always looking for one or two main flavours to introduce to our cocktails, and the aroma to bring it all together — we call that a “ drink experience”. For me, I always draw the flavours on my drawing papers to see how the ingredients can work together, or which ingredient needs a small support from aroma. I don’t like to mix many things together in the drinks; I like to make things simple and to the point. I don’t want to confuse guests when they’re sipping a drink.

What are some techniques you use to enhance the smell of a drink?

At Zuma, many times we have used homemade fragrances, tinctures, essences, and hydrosols to create the smell of the drink; then we can see how to fit the rest of the ingredients into the cocktail. We do most of it ourselves: Through distillations, macerations and research, we are studying and discovering things every week, which we can then put into the drinks.

Arkadiusz Rybak

What is the best way to serve whisky in order to fully appreciate its scent?

The easiest way to explore different scents from whisky is by adding a small amount of water. You’ll stretch whisky molecules with water, so that will give you an opportunity to explore more aromas. You could try a small experiment at home, for example: Choose your whisky, pour a small amount in two different glasses, and prepare two small jugs with water, one with warm water and one with cold water. In one whisky glass, add cold water, and add warm water to the other, and see how the smell will change.

What do you think makes a great cocktail?

Simplicity and a good story behind it! To be honest, what spirit we are going to use is first, second is what ingredients will work together with that spirit — one or two only. Then we add aroma to make sure it will match the rest of the ingredients and create balance between all components, including the right dilution and drink temperature.

Arkadiusz Rybak

How would you recommend The Macallan Edition No. 3 to be served in order to fully enjoy its taste and aroma?

I have not had a chance to savour it yet, but I am sure it would be a great aromatic whisky given that Roja Dove is involved in its making. I do look forward to it when it is available.

As a mixologist, I suggest serving it neat with a small amount of water to excite the molecules and appreciate its full aroma spectrum. In hot weather, just dip a small cube of ice for a few seconds to give a little bit of water and to drop the temperature of whisky to appreciate its oily texture.

If you’d like to post about this story or The Macallan Edition No. 3 on social media, be sure to use the following hashtags: #MacallanCreates #Edition3 #Macallan #WhiskySense #Whisky #Whiskey.

Michael Alan Connelly
Head of Digital Content
A Chicagoan by birth and a New Yorker by habit, Michael has more than a decade of experience in digital publishing at leading titles in the U.S. and Asia. When he's not checking out Hong Kong's newest restaurants and bars or jet setting around the globe, you'll find him hanging out with his dog Buster and enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
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