Changes at the Bostonapothecary

There are going to be some significant changes around here. A major change is the taking offline of a lot of my old content. I had intended to leave everything up to show where I’ve been (and when), but I don’t think that idea has been valuable to readers. I have a mountain of content and I think people have trouble wading through it.

For new stuff I intend to do more videos (of higher quality than my first) and maybe even interview some people. I’m itching to lure a perfumer into an interview for my Vino Endoxa aroma categorization project. I’m also going to organize the equipment I’m selling into a simpler store front with comparative options.

A lot of my biggest goals definitely were not achieved here. I hoped to get a lot more commenting and community building. I wanted to meet more big thinkers. I definitely got a lot of readership despite tackling such wild topics, but definitely not a lot of participation. This is definitely a blog and not anything especially professional. I wrote so much of this stuff on the fly inbetween running a restaurant. I’ve never even really learned how WordPress works and when I started, I wrote at the fifth grade level. Instead of making an inclusive place to mull over wild ideas, I might have ended up with something stark and intimidating and debilitatingly ahead of its time.

But I did achieve a ton personally. Long ago I had read the adage: “you start writing to get noticed, you continue writing to notice.” I hoped more people would scrutinize the ideas I put forth and they didn’t, but just plain putting them down and forcing myself to organize my thoughts led to gigantic growth. I’ve almost earned the title Beverage Technologist and my production technique catalog makes me pretty close to beverage invincible.

Posts are going to be removed to emphasize my bigger contributions to the culinary arts. I’m gong to try and do more with my Vino Endoxa project which is very large and pretty much the future. It is eventually going to need a lot of money so I need to start learning to write grants. I’m going to try and organize my carbonation equipment and techniques better because I want the system to be a bigger part of culinary programs in the developing world. I’d love to see people start little bottling companies at the nano scale and watch them grow. I’m not Mr. Carbonation or anything, and I don’t promote it by yelling from the roof tops. I just ran with it because all the answers were coming to me, but no one has even scratched the surface of what can be done and all the good stuff will happen at boutique hotels in far flung places trying to make sodas for yoga tourism and not in cocktail bars like I thought.

I was asked to write a hypothetical curriculum to possibly teach a summer class at an art school about Aesthetics Through the Lens of the Avant Garde in Culinary. A big part of the curriculum was distilling. Over the years I’ve tried to create a new cocktail centric nano distilling scene which would pretty much be the new painting and attract more people from the art world. A lot of it was based on using science to achieve very new and hard to reach aesthetic ends (often to illustrate ideas in perception). Basically you need hardcore science to make your own paint. But so much of the supporting content here on the blog has probably come across as molecular gastronomy (insulting meaning of the word) and not attracted too many great minds. There just isn’t enough vision around so I’m going to take a lot of material down and come back at different angles.

The bostonapothecary is going to become less of a free as can be idea factory and more of a marketable services for sale sort of space. I’m a Ronin figure. Have Shaker (And Hydrometer) Will Travel.

[Edited to Add: I did plan on performing three beverage miracles this year and I think the small bottle bottler qualifies as being the first one. The other two are so absolutely fucking cool but are going to take a nice amount of time to pull off.]

For Sale: Small Bottle Bottler

For Sale (115USD)





I did make this short demonstration video (my first video ever). It looks like it made it back in 1994 (based on production values).

This product has been delayed for quite a while because of a chicken & egg scenario with my manufacturing partner. Originally I was building a small bottle bottler that had CAD drawn 3D printed parts then I started playing around with off the shelf ideas and I pretty much out invented myself. I delayed releasing this design for a long while because the profit on it couldn’t be much more than the cost of the parts and cost of assembly time. So here we are…

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The product here is a counter pressure keg-to-bottle bottling device that can do any size of small bottle from 100mL San Bitter bottles all the way up to Champagne 375’s. The innovation here is that it creates a seal with a ballistic plastic enclosure (which is a high pressure water filter housing) rather than with the tops of the various proprietary bottles like my previous design attempts.

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This also makes bottling safer because if a bottle breaks while filling (which has never happened to me) it is contained in an ultra strong enclosure. If a bottle overflows due to operator error, the liquid is caught in the food safe plastic sump and can be recycled. Or, optionally, if you want to fill the negative space with chilled water, less CO2 will be used and the bottles will be kept colder, reducing bonding time and risk of foaming when releasing pressure.

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The design features all the valuable lessons I’ve learned from designing the Champagne Bottle Manifold which is basically to only use uncompromising stainless steel Cornelius quick release fittings. Hardly an innovation, but I use one ambidextrous quick release fitting going into the bottle. This fitting can take a gas line to flush the bottle and bring the bottler to the same pressure as the keg then be switched to the liquid line to fill the bottle. This differs from other death trap designs which use multiple hardwired lines preventing units from being used in an array or being sort portable (or easy to clean). True, you could probably whip this device up yourself, but by the time you ship everything from various suppliers and learn the machining techniques I’ve learned (drilling stainless ain’t easy!), you are way over my price or have made some errors, or compromised on fittings and will lose tons of valuable time operating your half-assed version of the device. My version is highly evolved and articulate for the task. [The machining is slightly more complicated than you’d think and I’d be happy to discuss what the hell I do to make the thing if anyone wants.]

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Personally I enjoy the Champagne Bottle Manifold because I take advantage of its de-aeration abilities and I use it over night to preserve sparkling wines. But I kept fielding requests for a small bottle bottler. Most notably from a hotel that wanted to bottle product for their mini bars and secondly from a hotel in Jakarta Indonesia that had trouble sourcing bottles and could only use miss matched odds & ends they recycled. Nobody could meet these needs before this product.

IMG_4484The product is easy to store behind the bar, easy to clean & keep sanitary, and because of the chosen fittings, seamless to integrate into programs already using cocktail on tap equipment. To reduce inactive time and make bottling as fast as possible, they can be used in an array of multiple units on any counter top because the device takes up less square footage (that restaurants don’t have) than competing designs like the Melvico and its clones.

Operation:
1. Put in your bottle of choice and securly screw the top onto the sump with the downtube sticking down the center of the bottle (refer to pictures).
2. Connect the gas hose and release the side valve to flush the bottle of Oxygen. Close the side valve which also brings unit to the same pressure as the keg. Disconnect the gas line.
3. Connect the liquid line from the keg and slowly release the side valve to create a low pressure system drawing liquid into the bottle. Close the side valve at your desired fill level.
4. Diconnect the liquid line and let the bottle bond for 30 seconds so that it does not foam upon releasing pressure (at this time you could start working on another unit).
5. 30 seconds later… Release pressure using the side valve. Remote the bottle and promptly cap it.
6. Start a new bottle!

Feel free to ask any and all questions. Cheers! -Stephen
For Sale (115USD)





Vino Endoxa: Freedom & Confinement

[This post is tied to my earlier works where I’m developing next generation tasting notation ideas and a wine recommendation engine. You need to write this kind of junk to organize your thoughts so you can push forwards.]
Vino Endoxa
Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation
Vino Endoxa: Three New Categories and Pamela VanDyke Price

For my next generation wine tasting description system (and recommendation engine) I thought I should take the time to explore both the freedom the system affords and the possible confinement people might use to condemn it. I sort of see the system easily being adopted by amateurs eager to learn but likely receiving an uphill battle swaying professionals because of any totality they assume it comes with. The system is comprehensive and does push boundaries, especially in recognizing non language and aroma illusions, but there certainly is no totality.

The teaching aid that is the Wine Aroma Wheel has achieved wide acclaim and its success points to a warm reception from any attempted system that can teach someone to better detect contrast and keep track of experiences. Vino Endoxa is in effect an extension of the wheel. It investigates the deeper theories of why the Aroma Wheel is so successful and tries to build on them. The aroma wheel is definitely confining because its so finite, but it is also only a starting point. Vino Endoxa is also a starting point but one that can be taken further from amateur all the way to professional use where it can be used in the wine industry to better keep track of the world of wine (so many merchants juggle 20,000 skus).

To be liberating, relative to the confines of other ideas out there, Vino Endoxa intends to articulate and expand upon the way people already think, especially when using non language, which often ends up being private, so that others can learn and benefit from these powerful contrast detection mechanisms that do not make it into most tasting notes or courses on wine.

Olfactory illusions have become an increasingly popular search term (according to my blog analytics) and they will always put a limit on describing an experience. When we taste a wine and try to describe it, we are not only describing the wine but also in large part describing our own very personal recollections. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands in the air and say everyone tastes differently then give up. We all do have unique realities, but patterns exist within the bounds of our subjectivity that can make tasting descriptions valuable, data mineable, and capable of providing recommendations.

From my vantage point in the industry, wine professionals are likely to resist massive amounts of change that might alter their role in the industry. Could Vino Endoxa change the role and productivity of the wine professional? Maybe, but hopefully for every professional that resists or dismisses the project there is another that sees an exciting new tool that can increase their productivity and ability to represent more wines. At the heart of Vino Endoxa is the same core goals of so many wine professionals and thus can be a large asset to them.

Through providing recommendations and recognizing acquired tastes in wine, Vino Endoxa can promote and preserve diversity in the wine world. Diversity has been considered at risk for years as evidence by discussions of the Parker Effect, the loss of many indigenous varietal plantings, and the proliferation of low risk manipulated wine styles. Wine marketing has not been able to handle the long tale economics of a diverse wine world or the polarized tastes of wine drinkers. Uniting the right wine with the right person has so far been elusive but that could change with new tools.

One very liberating thing data can do is provide a memory that can help capture the journey, growth, and development of a drinker’s palette. This journey is too easily forgotten and taken for granted but shepherding it to cultivate taste and create a market for diverse, authentic wine styles is at the heart of most all wine professional’s mission.

Applying heavy amounts of data where there wasn’t much reeks of attempts at totality, the inevitability engine, or stripping the romance out of wine but that isn’t the case here. We only reach endoxa by degrees. The recommendations never get guaranteed, they only get better by degrees and eventually improve to a point where there is enough satisfaction to continue seeking them out.

The mystery of wine never unravels. Rather, we only corral and encircle the mystery, rounding up more and more of it to be enchanted by. Not everyone recognizes the therapeutic mystery of wine. Too many people simply drink wine for inebriation or low level relaxation. Exposure to new styles by recommendation or exposure to recognizable styles, but from never before experienced locals, may seduce more and more people with the mystery & romance of wine.

A recommendation engine does not want to create predictability in wine. There is a subset of potential user that will say: “I like these wines and they are all similar, please recommend for me a wine from this country I will also like.” That type of query is looking for predictability but its not a bad type because we did get them to explore a new region and they found they can enjoy wines from all over the world. Or another subset will say: “I like outliers and I can handle a lot, please recommend a new adventure for me.” All that we are predicting is that the wine will be an outlier with uniqueness and singularity. But again, no forces acted to homogenize the world of wine. It could be said that the wines were liberated to be themselves and just matched to the right people at the right time in the cultivation of their tastes.

One big limiter of the world of wine as we know it is the language problem. Countries like Greece and Slovenia make comfortable wines and exciting singular wines, the entire spectrum, but they lose out in the American market because of the language on their labels. If wine makers pander, tradition and integrity is sacrificed, but systems like Vino Endoxa can help us conquer exploring wines across the language barrier. When exploring new territory, no one needs a high degree of predictability but enough to avoid a sweet wine when you want an dry wine or an unoaked wine when oak isn’t your thing.

Vino Endoxa needs a collection of minds to advance itself from masters of wine to cognitive linguists to data scientists. Hopefully I paint a picture of a comprehensive but liberating project attractive and useful to great thinkers that love wine. The financial rewards for such a project are also very great and I should probably leave it at that.

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 16 of 15 Special effects!

I have been putting off the last exercise to the distiller’s workbook for a while now and its not exactly going to be completed right now. I thought I’d just show what I am thinking about. The reason I can’t complete it is I’m only dealing with stock infusions that were done so long ago that I no longer have articulate documentation of their specs.

For the last exercise I wanted to show people how to make either an amaro or a liqueur that used special effects which are abstracted relationships between olfaction and gustation created by a variety of techniques. This concept is not well known by producers or even the connoisseurs out there so when the ideas finally get out there, they will launch a thousand ships. Of course you’re going to get it here first.

Lets give a run down of what I had lying around:

Infusion of gentian in cognac (≈40% alc.)
Infusion of quinine in cognac (≈40% alc.)
Distillate of quinine infusion (80% alc.)
Distillate of cointreau (35% alc.)
Infusion of seville peels (≈40% alc.)

I began by picking a role model which was Campari & Cynar. The next step was to find a sugar content and scale it to my test volume which is 100 mL. I went with a 280 g/L sugar content which means that I only needed 28 grams for the test batches. The volume 28 grams of sugar displaces is 28 / 1.578 (density of sucrose) which is 17.74 mL. This means I have 82.26 mL to fill up.

The first test batch is just to gauge how much bitter infusion (concentrate) goes in the amaro. For a first attempt, I mixed together 28 grams of sugar, 10 mL of quinine infusion and 72.26 mL of water. But this just isn’t in the ball park.

I don’t try to fix this. I just start again. 28 grams of sugar and 25 mL of quinine infusion and then 57.26 mL of water. Its definitely getting where it needs to be as far as gustatory-bitterness goes.

The same methodology can be repeated for the gentian to figure out where its at. When creating the original infusion (I hadn’t though of this back then), different types of systematic blends can be made to explore the gustatory-bitterness of the botanical. You can even create an infusion then dehydrate it, then rehydrate it to isolate gustatory-bitterness and separate it from olfaction (dehydration blows off the aroma). The isolation can help evaluate partial infusions (where the extraction is not carried out to equilibrium). For vermouth and the amaros, infusions typically aren’t terminal and slow durations, various degrees of heat, percolation, or even cavitation are used to extract degrees of soluble material (aggressive filtration can even be employed as a technique). What you really need to do to learn what works for your context is to do it all and present it in one sitting for a panel to explore. Assembling a panel is expensive and whole books are even written about working with tasting panels, but don’t be intimidated, they can be used at different levels of involvement.

Now that a rough sketch of gustatory bitterness has been nailed down, we can start adding aroma. So far we only have the aroma of the sugar (I used an evaporated cane juice) and the aroma of the bitter infusions, but we have plenty of space to fill in.

The next interesting avenue to explore is the quinine distillate which creates the special effects. The topic of special effects in distillation was first explained by Giovanni Fenaroli in an early edition of his Handbook of Flavor Ingredients (its not in new editions). Special effects are differentials between olfaction and gustation created by distillation. For example, St. Germain is not simply an infusion of elder flowers, because they are so acidic you would get too much acid before you got the aroma intensity you want. Therefore they distill a percentage of the flowers, separating volatile aroma from the non-volatile acid and then infuse the remainder in that distillate. In terms of special effects, St. Germain may be seen as an elder flower ratio such as 3x olfaction, 2x gustation.

Special effects are most common in the amaros where an exaggerated ratio of olfactory-bitterness is attached to gustatory-bitterness. This is going to be gotten using the distillate of quinine which has the aroma of quinine but none of the gustatory-bitterness. Any quantity that is added increases the differential and pushes the experience further into territory that could be called a supernormal stimuli (where there is a response tendency, we are creating an exaggerated response tendency).

An amaro isn’t all just bitter stuff and the next most likely aroma is orange. In the style of the other workbook exercises, I work with a standardized aroma source which in this case is the Cointreau. These standardized sources won’t help out a commercial producer but they do help making learning on the small scale more accessible. Distilling the Cointreau separates it’s sugar which is non-volatile. Cointreau goes through a process of terpene removal which polishes the aroma and makes it rounder. A way to unround it and create a reversed degree of special effects is to add an infusion of seville oranges which have all their terpenes intact and definitely an aggressive extraordinary character.

The next batch is starting to look something like:

17.74 mL sugar (28 grams) 0%
15 mL quinine infusion (≈40% alc.)
10 mL gentian infusion (≈40% alc.)
15 mL quinine distillate (80% alc.)
35 mL distilled Cointreau (35% alc.)
3 mL seville orange concentrate infusion (≈40% alc.)
4.26 mL water

To calculate the alcohol content we compute an average:
40(15) + 40(10) + 80(15) + 35(35) + 40(3) = x(100)
x = 35.45% alc.

The next blend can launch from here with boundless directions to go. Complexity can be added within categories that already exist or new categories can even be added. A category I’d love to add is the olfactory-piquant and I’d get it from distilling chilis along with either the Cointreau or the quinine distillate.

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 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:

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.

So 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 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 hippy 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 advantage 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.

Point/counterpoint
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.

Some Like It Hot: Sous Vide Hot Drinks

#BATCHZILLA

Hot drinks have an allure, but sadly they are hard to serve in some logistic scenarios so many cocktail programs forego them. They also aren’t as popular with guests as food writers make them seem. All this being said, I thought I’d try and innovate the hot drink a little bit in a way that is easy for others to play along (by degrees) and hopefully solve a few peoples’ problems and stimulate some new ideas.

The first way hot drinks can be innovated is the serving method. Many hot drinks are water based and mixed from scratch or served in heated urns with alcohol being added to finish them. Water based drinks are a challenge because you typically have to leave the bar to get hot water or with the urn you lose highly volatile top notes and eventually develop a stewed character. Typically only one urn is available so programs only offer one choice of hot drink. With an immersion circulator style water bath (the Polyscience I used might be over kill), multiple varieties of completely batched hot drinks can be served at the same time. And if they are not served tonight, they will be fine for service tomorrow.

The second way hot drinks can be innovated is using the sous vide closed container idea which opens doors to new aroma possibilities. If we heat juices like apple in closed containers, the freshest top notes won’t evaporate leaving the juice with too much of a stewed character. This character I’m calling stewed is more from loss of volatile aroma than from time sustained under heat. These innovations means we can both make service easier and make the sensory experience more extraordinary which hopefully will give the technique some traction.

I even took things a step further and carefully de-aerated my proof of concept juice with the intention of limiting any color change due to oxidation. I’ve never had a hot cider that wasn’t a muddy brown so the idea of something hot, pale, and fairly clear seemed very extraordinary to me (and it was delicious!).

Using the process from my green apple soda recipe, I juiced the apples with an Acme centrifugal juicer.photPeriodically I transferred the juice to a champagne bottle and used pressure from CO2 to force oxygen out of solution. I then transferred the juice from magnums to 187 mL & 100 mL bottles using another bottling device I developed that I’m still keeping a secret (It works so well its amazing but I haven’t figured out how to sell it!). [1/26/15 This mystery bottling device will soon be revealed because I finally found a company to source and assemble the parts!]

photoAs the juice heated and the liquid inside expanded, the bottle caps were cracked to relieve pressure then caps re-formed with a Colona brand capper (every bar should own one!).

photo 2Serving cups can be warmed in the water bath as well as aromatic botanicals added to fill a room with festive aroma.

photo 3The proof of concept was an un-oxidized apple cider served hot with all its top notes intact. Because you retain the most volatile aroma, you do not necessarily need to ameliorate the cider with botanicals like citrus peels, but of course there are no rules and I really liked adding cinnamon & nutmeg.

1 oz. Asbach Uralt German brandy
4 oz. oxygen free, fresh, 90C, organic, honey crisp
apple cider
grated nutmeg.

(An old hot drink favorite I thought I’d share)

Hot Yaffe
1 oz. scotch whisky
1 oz. caraway aquavit
.5 oz. alpine spruce tree honey syrup
10 oz. MEM’s spiced hibiscus tea
Add the spirits, honey syrup & water directly into
the tea pot and let steep for two minutes before
serving.

Will we see a bar program start offering six different hot drinks?

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 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 dollars 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 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 that can be described, but then we are 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 the memory is using wine to retrieve it which was 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 the 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. 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.