Expert Mixologists: How Taste Buds and Scents Affect Your Cocktail Experience


Written by Clara Wood

July 3, 2024

Ever pondered why a masterfully crafted margarita explodes with flavour, or how a single whiff of a well-made cocktail can transport you back to a cherished memory? Well below the answer doth lay. From the interplay of our senses and the chemical interactions between drink molecules, get ready to step into the lab and explore the life behind the bar, where boundaries are away…and expert mixologists play.  



Your tongue is covered in thousands of taste bud cells, acting as receptors which allow us to detect five basic tastes: 

  1. Sweet 
  2. Sour
  3. Salty
  4. Bitter 
  5. Umami (savoury)  


These taste receptors are located on fungiform papillae, those little bumps on your tongue. When you take a sip of your expertly crafted cocktail, dissolved molecules interact with these receptors, sending signals to your brain that translate into the flavours you experience. 

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However, taste is merely the first act in this mixology masterclass. Our sense of smell, or olfaction, plays a leading role in how we perceive flavours. Our sense of smell, or olfaction, is the unsung hero of flavour perception. Nestled high up in your nasal cavity, specialised olfactory receptors capture the aromatic molecules wafting from your drink. These receptors signal the olfactory bulb, which relays them to your brain’s flavour command centre. Even more importantly, the olfactory bulb is right next to the area responsible for taste, creating a powerful flavour synergy. Hence why top mixologists pay careful attention to aromatics in their creations and something as simple as a bunged-up nose can quickly dishevel all their efforts – you’re missing out on a half the fun!  



There’s one more player in this sensory symphony: the trigeminal nerve. This cranial nerve acts as a sensory jack-of-all-trades, detecting sensations beyond taste and smell, adding depth to your cocktail experience. It can perceive temperature changes, the texture of your drink. it’s the sensor that detects the silky texture of a professionally crafted martini, the airy frothiness of a well shaken gin sour and the tingle of bubbles in your Hugo spritz. The way a cocktail feels in your mouth, the coolness of crushed ice, the spicy kick of chili peppers or that refreshing mint hit – all these elements are registered by the trigeminal nerve, providing the final shaping your mixology experience. 



Understanding this interplay between taste, smell, and trigeminal nerve stimulation is the secret weapon of every skilled mixologist. These masters of mixology leverage their knowledge of sensory science when choosing ingredients, balancing sweet and sour notes, incorporating aromatic garnishes like citrus peels or herbs, and ensuring the right level of carbonation to create a truly balanced and delightful drink. They must carefully consider how taste, aroma, and texture interact, using this understanding to select ingredients with precision. Whether selecting a particular garnish for its aromatic impact, adjusting carbonation levels for the perfect mouthfeel, or choosing specific glassware to enhance the drink’s temperature retention, by mastering this sensory trifecta, mixologists elevate cocktail creation from a simple task to a sophisticated craft.  


So, when sipping your next expertly crafted cocktail, pause to marvel at the science behind each gulp. Every cocktail is a testament to the masterful connection between the mixologist behind the shaker and the workings of our senses in powering a truly balanced and delightful bev! In the name of meticulously crafted and delightful bevs at your next product launch, brand activation or private soiree, take a look at our work and get in contact today to discuss how our expert mixologists can provide your guests with a complete sensory cocktail experience.  

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