“Have you ever compared Baileys and the perfume Prada Candy?”
That’s the top question asked by Arnd Henning Heissen, bar manager of the new bar, Fragrances, in the Ritz Carlton in Berlin, Germany.
Fragrances’ conceit sounds like an impossible gimmick: a bar where perfume and other scents are the star cocktail ingredients. Once you hear Heissen arguing the concept’s clear logic, doubts start to fall away like the trickles of a fading perfume. Heissen’s rallying cry: “It’s very easy to use spirits in a perfume-inspired drink if you use similar scents.” Simple enough, right? The scent of the devil, though, is in the details.
When Smell Is Flavor
The cocktails served at Fragrances always contain similar ingredients to the perfumes themselves. “Think of perfumes as a different kind of gin or flavored vodka. They’re basically alcohol distilled with flavors—and sometimes they even contain juniper.”
Balance is essential in scent-themed cocktails, he stresses. While the initial aromas “are definitely more unusual and therefore in the beginning more intense, once you get used to them they are not so dominant.” Heissen avoids scents that are alcohol-heavy and could lead to an imbalanced drink.
As a result, Fragrances’ drinks, including one of the options paired with Si by Giorgio Armani,” a cocktail made with Oranje Ketel One, Amabuki Himmelswind Sake, Chambord, bergamot-patchouli-jasmine-vanilla syrup, fresh citrus and beer foam; and the La Nuit de L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent, matched with lavender-infused Tanqueray 10, Rhododendron Sake, vanilla-vetiver-patchouli-grapefruit-eucalyptus syrup and fresh citrus, don’t overwhelm with sugary or cloying sweetness. “If certain aromas are too overwhelming, I will cut them back but not so much that you lose the perfume’s character.”
The spirits themselves, as you might expect, are part of what carries the perfumes’ aromas in the cocktails, Heissen notes. “Zacapa, for example, works as a chocolate and coffee ingredient while Don Julio Blanco replaces the mossy note in certain perfume.”
Bottles on Bottles
Heissen, predictably, uses actual perfume as his inspiration, stocking the bottles in an airtight foyer. Guests are encouraged to bring in their favorite scents, too, from which he creates bespoke cocktails. “You can not imagine how excited they are.” You might think it would be predominantly women who truck in their favorite scents. Wrong: The clientele is half women and half men, says Heissen.
Fragrances was inspired by Berlin’s cutting-edge sensibilities, Heissen says, as well as his own attraction to scents. He’s even noticed a tidy corollary between people’s preferred scents and their cocktail choices: Guests with heavy perfumes usually order sweet and heavy cocktails; guests wearing gentle perfumes usually order light and clear drinks.
The Medium Is the Message
In keeping with the novel conceit, Fragrances’ cocktails are served in innovative containers. A few examples: birdhouses, bamboo sticks and small bicycles or boxes that look like jungles. Heissen says that the presentation keeps guests’ creative juices flowing and helps each drink tells its own story in its own way.
Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.