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Are natural aromas and essential oils the future of bar culture?

picture by Mother Earth Living 
Again reflecting on Darcy O'Neil's visit to Dubai (and to Library Bar), he used natural aromas and essential oils (...), to produce house-made syrups for his drinks.

This is pretty smart, because:

  • ...there are far more natural aromas than syrup flavors.
  • ...it is probably less expensive to use 1 ml of natural aromas per liter of simple syrup, than buying one of the syrup brands.
  • ...you know what goes into the syrup (let's be honest here - most syrups are anyway using the same aromas and often even artificial aromas for their own products).
Especially impressive were an aroma made out of tobacco leaves, which was bright, intense - really mindblowing - and a "lactone" made out of oak, which had strong vanilla notes and a complex coconut character (without tasting like Malibu). These are not your run-of-the-mill syrups.

This is all very new and very cool to me. But the question remains, is this the right direction for the bar - for my bar? 
Since quite a while, I have been steering away from artificial aromas and colors and natural but highly processed ingredients. 
The issue is, that you can hardly evade natural aromas, because they are used throughout the food & beverage industry. Tonic waters or ginger ales (even fancy ones) - and basically all commercial sodas, use aromas; commercial liqueurs, syrups and cordials and especially most flavored spirits (vodkas!) for sure use these aromas, even your yoghurt, gourmet oils (yeah - looking at you "truffle oil"), or even e-cigarettes. 

Fact is, if you are a regular consumer, you will consume half a dozen up to over a dozen products with added (isolated) aromas - often natural - but unfortunately not that rarely as well artificial.

Other questions: if you would have the respective equipment (rotovap, steam distillation apparatus etc.), would it be "genuine" to use the "self-processed" aromas or not? What is the difference, when other people, are extracting the aromas, as long if they do it in a proper way?

It is important to do a conscious decision!

Are you using convenience products which are making use of isolated aromas?

Or are you trying as much as possible use genuine products?


It is not so much a decision for yourself - but rather a decision for the venue/concept/product.

While I am rather tend to chose a far more genuine "house-crafted' approach (still the question remains, if I could extract aromas myself...), I am not affront the idea of using isolated aromas per se.

In fact, if I would need to create a new advanced bar concept on a consultancy basis, using aromas would be one of my top 5 points...

How to use aromas?

Aromas can be extremely expensive - but you only need minuscule quantities - hence you would need to dilute them:
  • You can add about 1ml to 1000ml of sugar syrup (this is how Darcy used them)
  • You could also dilute in vodka/neutral alcohol.
  • You could also use e.g. glycerol as medium, which makes it suitable for alcohol-free drinks as well as application, where you need to limit the sugar content.
Personally I do believe that either way homemade essences or commercial aromas are far more interesting and effective as plenitude of custom bitters. 

Today - obviously edible aromas are not as available as other ingredients - but due to the fact, that they are all available in the wholesale market, this will for sure change in future... maybe even Darcy's company (which is for the moment distributing "cocktail acid phosphate") could in foreseeable future ship those interesting ingredients...  

One more thing: when it comes to mocktails, there are a lot of limitations as well. Usually alcohol-free drinks are loaded with sugar (because of the commercial and repetitive syrups). Aromas can also help here, to create new remarkable and more adult variations of drinks.

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