Don’t be smelly – be tasteful and flavorful

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In the enjoyment of the finer things in life, such as good food and drink, all five senses come into play.

Sight is important because a beer’s color, the size of the bubbles in the head, the color of the foam, and how it sticks to the sides of the glass will give you information about the beer, which you will then use to judge it before you’ve even smelled or tasted it. Presentation will affect your opinion of the beer, and not just based on what kind of glass it’s served in. The amount of light present affects the flavor of a beer, as does the general ambience of the room.

Hearing has been shown in psychological experiments to have an impact on the way something tastes. High-pitched tones make beer taste sweeter, while low-pitched ones elicit a more bitter flavor. Personal preferences also come into play, altering your perception of taste.

Nerve endings perceive how food or drink in your mouth feel, bringing your sense of touch into the mix. Beer can feel watery, slick, bubbly, syrupy, or creamy. The level of carbonation in a beer stimulates your oral touch nerve endings (that sounds weird, but it’s true!). The amount of protein, alcohol, dextrins, tannins, and other compounds in a beer give it a specific mouthfeel.

Smell and taste are obvious, but how they are interrelated is often taken for granted:

  • Aroma is sensed when airborne molecules react with olfactory sensors – mainly inside the nose, but also the upper part of the nasal cavity, back of the throat, soft tissue at the back of the mouth, and in the channel that connects the nose and mouth. This is your sense of smell.
  • Taste refers to the senses inside the mouth. You have taste buds not only on your tongue but all over the inside of your mouth and pharynx. These detect sour, sweet, bitter, umami, metallic, and fat flavors (yes, fat is a fundamental flavor).
  • Flavor is the intersection of taste and aroma.

Any odors present when you drink a beer will affect its flavor. So you don’t want to be around fragrant flowers, a toilet, frying fish, or cigar smoke because these will get in the way of your tasting the beer.

I’m chemically sensitive. This means that coming into contact with artificial fragrances is akin to a physical assault: massive headache, sore throat, burning sensation on skin, hives or rashes, painful dry eyes, and a sort of toxic reaction that makes it very hard to concentrate on anything. This lasts for some time, so even if it’s just a moment of exposure, I’m miserable for at least a few hours.

Things that are smelly in this way are cologne, perfume, most deodorants and soaps, most laundry products, and many body products (such as hand cream or shampoo) have pungent, lingering odors that are made from petrochemicals. So do most cleaning products, and there seems to be an inverse relationship between cost and stinkiness. It’s hard to escape these products; I know because everything I use has to be truly unscented and those products hard to come by. Some “unscented” products still have a scent to them. The mere thought of applying that stuff on my skin is enough to make me itchy.

I’m better with natural fragrances but anything strong – like hyacinths or patchouli – gives me a wicked headache.

Many people are fooled by dishonest marketing that scented candles, body oils, or incense are derived from natural products. Even if they are, they are usually adulterated with synthetics and chemical fixatives that create an artificial fragrance cocktail. When you see names of fragrances such as “rain,” “meadow,” or “cucumber,” you should be especially suspicious. This is akin to putting fake fruit extracts into beer and calling it a fruit beer. They taste like air fresheners, because the same chemicals are used in both.

I can’t be friends with people who wear strong fragrances – I literally cannot stand to be around them, no matter how much I like them. There was a woman I stopped hanging out with because she reeked of toilet cleaner (she was a bit aggressive with the cleaners and carried their aggressive scents around with her). It’s not the people; it’s the chemicals on them, which volatilize into the air and into my respiratory tract and onto my skin, where they wreak havoc on my system. It hurts and it lasts for a long time. The mental anguish caused by being unable to escape this predicament is significant. It makes me crazy, temporarily. OK, maybe borderline homicidal.

That’s why I can’t deal with artificial fragrances. It’s not a choice. My body has a painful reaction to them. Like a hot stove, you don’t want to touch it.

Forget about me for a minute. Think about the following scenario for any person without sensitivity issues.

When you set off to have a taste experience – a nice meal, a fancy beverage – you don’t want anything to get in the way of it, especially since you’re paying good money for it. As I mentioned earlier, smell is intrinsically linked to flavor – it actually is the greater part of it. Taste is what your taste receptors pick up in your mouth but without your nose processing the aroma, you don’t really get much flavor. Think of how food tastes when you have a cold and your nose is congested. That’s flavor without the aroma (smell) aspect.

So why anybody would come to an artisanal brewery, where flavor is paramount, doused in cologne is a complete mystery to me. Maybe some people have no sense of smell so they don’t realize what they’re doing. I suspect insecurity is a key factor for most people, worrying that they might smell of B.O. or, worse, absolutely nothing. But filling up a brewery with your cologne, applied far too liberally, is offensive. It forces everyone around you to smell – and taste – your cologne and it makes the beer taste like cologne. People are there to taste the beer and you are preventing them from doing so.

Is that considerate?

Just as silence is golden, no scent is the best scent. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Bathe regularly and you shouldn’t have to worry about smelling bad.

But people do this all the time, in fancy restaurants, craft beer bars, and upscale cafés.

Last weekend, someone came to the Brew Studio Bar and had put on so much cologne that it was if someone had dropped and broken a bottle of cologne there. He was with a woman and I suspect he was on a date and trying to impress her by taking her to this new, cool, hard-to-find brewery bar while positively reeking of his favorite cologne. He wore so much that the table he sat at stunk of cologne 3 days later (and counting). The brewery still smelled of cologne. Even the bench he sat upon smelled like cologne. I could still taste it in my mouth even after I went home.

I couldn’t work with this intensely smelly table inside the brewery so I had to put it outside, away from me, while I worked my 13-hour day. Fortunately, I could do this because the sun was out and it wasn’t raining. The table isn’t even mine – it’s on loan.

This isn’t the first time one of my tables have been stinkified. Another one had a smelly perfume spot so I couldn’t go near it for about 6 weeks till it faded – but that wasn’t nearly as bad as this incident. No amount of baking soda or isopropyl alcohol (usually an unbeatable solvent) could get rid of it.

When someone wears so much perfume that you can smell it without hugging the person, that’s excessive. It’s obnoxious. It doesn’t end when that person leaves the room. The fragrance molecules, by design linger endlessly. Hours, weeks, or even months. There are far better ways of being remembered or making an impression. When I moved the table I had to wash my hands in water as hot as I could stand it to get the fragrance off them and I could still smell it in the brewery.

Even if I weren’t sensitive to these chemicals, that’s just too much.

There’s an indoor smoking ban to protect the health of staff and customers alike, as well as to improve their quality of life. As gross as smoking is, secondhand fragrance contamination is worse because the concentration is higher indoors.

I realize you have limited control over who comes into your establishment, but I do have the right to refuse service to anyone I deem unworthy. Usually it would be someone being antisocial who gets kicked out (not that I’ve ever had that happen), but I feel that being stinky is antisocial. My brewery is very small, and given that I spent the vast majority of my time there, it’s my home. So anyone who comes over is a visitor in my home and should be mindful and respectful of my space, where I work and spend most of my time. I don’t need their money that badly; certainly not at the expense of my health.

From now on if anyone comes into my brewery with that much artificial fragrance on them, I will have to ask them to leave immediately. It will make me physically sick as long as it lingers, and I can’t afford that. I need to be fresh and alert and able to smell my own beer and get work done without making mistakes or suffering needlessly. Furthermore, I feel obligated to provide the best possible environment for customers to enjoy my beer, and making it as scent-neutral as possible is an important factor, even if they don’t break out in hives like I do.

Don’t be smelly. Let’s be tasteful and flavorsome together instead.