I have a super sniffer.* My sense of smell is extra sensitive. At the CIA they talked about super tasters, but I think that it’s at least partially related to having a super sniffer. Give me a curry powder and I can taste the various spices in it, in part because they have such distinctive smells. Cumin for example almost smells sweaty.
In college I got a ride home from the Japanese restaurant where I worked with the two chefs. If you’ve never been around a chef after work, let me tell you they smell. Not necessarily bad, but rather full of odors. Onions, fish, cooking meat, soy sauce…all the various foods they work with all day impart a heavy odor to their clothes, hair, even skin. Its strong enough to hide stinky man odor after 12 hours in a 120 degree kitchen, trust me, I know. So when I asked what smelled like strawberries in the car, they were both confused and told me I was imagining it. But I was pretty certain there was an aroma of strawberries, notable because it was so out of place. They wrote me off, but a week later the car’s owner admitted that he had found a closed, capped, sealed can of strawberry air freshener under my seat the day before when he cleaned out the car.
What does this have to do with food?
Everything. Taste and smell are intimately connected. We all know it, but it’s easy to forget.
(<–Here it is with said syrup)
Before I made the syrup I drank one of the beers. I did NOT like it. It tasted like…ok, this is weird, but its true…vomit. It tasted like vomit. Just a subtle hint of it, but it was there. I found if I held my breath it while I drank it wasn’t so bad–because who wants to waste a good beer??
I was nervous about the syrup, but went ahead making it anyway. As I was pouring the beers into the pot my chef walked into the kitchen and said “It smells like puke in here.” He was right. The smell was even more palpable. But I soldiered on and the end product had so much sugar and spices in it that it no longer reminded me of a fraternity bar room (beer and puke for the uninitiated). In fact, it is really quite delicious.
We had one lonely porter left which sat in the fridge for more than a week, surrounded as it was by other delicious beers. But the day before New Years when I asked my son to bring me a beer, this is what he brought me. Opened. Sigh. So I drank it. And it was really quite good.
I tried it again. Yup. Pretty good. Chocolaty, rich, with a sweet vanilla overtone not all porters have. What was the difference?? Well, at the risk of imparting TMI, the difference was my nose was stuffed up. Not so much as to eliminate my ability to breath and thus smell entirely. But enough that I wasn’t getting a strong whiff of the java bitters as I prepared to drink it. That’s also why it was drinkable if I held my breath. It was the bitter smell that reminded us of vomit and made it hard to drink.
Like I said, we all know smell is directly related to taste, but it is so rarely that I get to inadvertently participate in what amounts to a science fair project proving the point. It reminded me of a dish I had a few years ago served by Kevin Sousa, now of Salt of the Earth fame, when he was cooking at Bigelow Grill. It was a piece of rabbit on top of a ball of rosemary smoke. Inhaling the smoke as you ate resulted in a totally different taste experience from simply eating the meat alone.
THIS is what I love about food, eating, and drinking. Pairing the pure sensual experience with intellectual exploration and a playfulness makes eating one of the top joys of my life.
PS. I’d love to hear other people’s feelings about Atwater. I live in a house where the three adults have extra sensitive noses and palates, to a freaky degree, so things like this I often think it MUST be just our crazy super noses because most people couldn’t possibly smell that or the beer would be off the market. Is this true?
*Let me point out that having a super sniffer has distinct disadvantages. Bad smells are amplified just as much as good smells. There’s a dumpster at the Giant Eagle near where I live that renders the adjacent Bus Stop unusable to me in summer. Ew.