Our Flavor Map
Our main goal at LiquorAlchemy is creating cocktails that taste great. The key to achieve this is balance. Balance does not mean that there cannot be particularly prominent flavor dimensions.
To abstract from the individually perceived impression of flavor, which is highly subjective, we are using a framework called the flavor map.
Structure of the flavor map
The flavor map describes the flavor of a drink by assessing its properties in seven dimensions assigned to three major categories.
The categories are explained as follows:
- Basic flavor
The dimensions in this category refer to the “objective” flavor profile of the drink, or as one could also say, what we taste with our tongue. More precisely, this includes the following dimensions:
- sour ↔ sweet
“Sour” and “sweet” are summarized on the same axis, as they mutually exclude each other, e. g. adding an equal part of sugar syrup into lemon juice makes it taste less sour and more sweet. Note that bitter and salty flavors do not necessarily exclude each other in a similar fashion (i. e. a drink can potentially be very bitter and salty at the same time). This is why these properties are not summarized on the same axis, but represented separately instead.
- Flavor Association
This category attempts to describe what we might associate this flavor with. In contrast to the prior category “basic flavor”, this also includes what we taste with our nose. It is expressed using the following dimensions:
- creamy ↔ herbaceous
- mineral ↔ fruity
Here, it seems as if we made the assumption that a drink cannot be creamy and herbaceous (or mineral and fruity, respectively) at the same time. While this is definitely not true in general, it holds for the vast majority of well-known cocktails. Hence, they can be placed in a spectrum from creamy to herbaceous / mineral to fruity describing how much their flavor leans to one or the other side.
- Drinking Experience
This category also refers to some kind of association with a drink, but less so with regard to its flavor than with regard to the setting in which it would likely by consumed. It contains the following two dimensions:
- heavy ↔ refreshing
- complex ↔ smooth
These properties are clearly opposites of one another. It is worth noticing that “smooth” in this case does not refer to the drink’s consistency but to a “non-complicated” flavor profile.
Ways to use the flavor map
There are two main ways in which the flavor map can be used: As a tool when creating cocktails and as a tool to compare recipes. Both these ways basically make use of the possibility to boil down a cocktail recipe to a few attributes, thereby making the description of a drink more objective.
As an aid in coming up with new recipes
Assume you want to create a very unusual drink. To do that, you have to find ingredients that help you achieve the desired flavor. Using the flavor map, you can now simply set “target points” and then derive the properties of ingredients from that, e. g. you will notice if you should add something that increases the complexity of your drink or makes it more fruity. Of course, this does not “generate” a complete recipe for you, but it breaks down the flavor you want to achieve to certain properties where it might be easier to find out how to achieve them.
Similarly, the flavor map can be used to find promising / interesting variations of existing recipes and match ingredients.
As an analysis tool when comparing recipes
Comparing a the taste of different cocktails can be quite hard – after all, it is very subjective. This is where, again, the flavor map can be really helpful. By breaking down the flavor to a few dimensions that are easy to compare by themselves, similarities and differences become apparent.
Obviously, the flavor of a cocktail depends on the specific choice of ingredients (e. g. spirit brands), so this is only a very rough classification to demonstrate the concept.
Dry Gin Martini
The Gin Martini is neither sweet nor sour, it is usually dry (which is not a flavor dimension in the map). This is reflected by placing it right in the center of the sweet/sour spectrum. A Martini might be slightly bitter due to the wormwood in the vermouth, but not salty (when not garnished with olives). Hence, the “salty” dimension is not used. The Martini can be clearly herbaceous due to both the vermouth and gin. However (this reflects the dryness, again) it is not fruity, but often has a mineral flavor component. Most Martinis are quite complex and rather heavy than refreshing (this heavily depends on the choice of gin).
With regard to basic flavor, a Mojito is usually neither bitter nor salty, but slightly acidic. The use of mint makes it slightly herbaceous and the lime provides a touch of citrus fruityness. Mojitos are very refreshing and not a very complicated flavor (very easy to drink). Therefore, they go into the “smooth/refreshing” corner of the third diagram.
The White Russian is a dessert cocktail. It is clearly not sour in any way, but can be quite sweet. It is not salty, so this dimension is not used. It might be slightly bitter from the coffee liqueur (depends on the brand used). A White Russian contains cream, so it is, well, creamy. It is neither noticeably mineral nor particularly fruity, so let’s put it right in the middle there. Usually, White Russians are also a very simple flavor, not complex at all, but tend to be a bit heavy due to the cream.
The Salty Bird is a Jungle Bird variation containing a small pinch of salt. Therefore, it is one of the very few cocktails that can actually be considered salty. Other than that, it is primarily bitter (due to the use of Campari) and should be balanced with regard to sweetness and sourness. The pineapple juice makes it rather fruity, but the Campari brings a slight herbaceousness to the mix. The Salty Bird is neither particularly refreshing nor heavy and over all, quite smooth in flavor.
The major limitation of the flavor map is that despite the more abstract description of flavor profiles, what we taste is still very subjective. So it cannot be assumed to provide a unique, precise, and universal representation of the flavor. Accordingly, the flavor map is probably more useful, more reliable in case of strong, clear-cut differences between several drinks and less suited to analyze nuances in taste.