Lilacs is one of those scents that I really love, and it is so linked to the early days of summer. I have smelled many perfumes with lilac (it feels like) but only En passant from Frederic Malle has made a good impression on me, as so many of the others are missing the freshness that the smell should evoke, to me at least. Others may have a different view on them.
That constantly referred to source of floral wisdom Frances Bissell has a mere paragraph in her book about cooking with lilacs; basically she hasn’t managed to capture it properly in food or drink but advises that using the blossoms as decoration is always a good idea.
I have tried many times to make cocktails with lilacs, and still haven’t succeeded. Just the other day I made a blueberry-& lilac syrup according to instructions I had been given, and prepared drinks with it. Nice but no lilac-flavour to speak of.
Putting lilac flowers in a cocktail however means that you burrow your nose in them when you take a sip and that does lift the experience and it really is the best option. Very nice to do in a Martini just make sure you are using lilacs that have not been sprayed with pesticides or have grown near roads. Be cautious about what you let in to your body. Alcohol is a toxin I agree, but lead is so much worse and the effects do not wear off.
The elusiveness of some scents and why they are impossible to capture made me bring Essence & Alchemy by Mandy Aftel down from the shelf looking for answers. This book has meant a lot to me in terms of understanding perfume, and as an extension of that, how I think about cocktails. It is a book in that explains it to someone how knows nothing in an entertaining and understandable way but is still a relevant source of information for the more advanced, in short it is a reference point. Aftel was one of the people that put handmade perfumes back on the map.
And the line between perfumery and mixology is thinner and thinner, the trend to put ambergris in cocktails was just the beginning. Add to that what Tony Conigliaro has been doing for a long time, the Ritz-Carlton in Berlin etc. When I started talking about perfumes and drinks a few years ago I got a few skeptical looks (and I would write so much about this) but the point is that I wasn’t alone in my thinking. I’ve had no influence in this trend whatsoever, it’s more like sometimes when bartenders tell me about the stuff they made I nod my head and think “made that in my kitchen three years ago” because I caught on very early. As I was already interested in perfume and cooking it wasn’t a big step to extend to cocktails, probably shorter then for most.
Aftel has since she wrote this brought not only her perfumes to a wider audience but also her wonderful food essences to the world. Those essences, of which I have sampled a few, are a wonder to work with. Expensive, especially with shipping and taxes, but to be able to make cocktails that taste of fir needles and ceder wood was amazing. She does not have a lilac essence but I hope someone will make that happen.
And now that I have opened “the perfume and cocktail-box” again you’ll never hear the end of it.
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