JOURNEYING THROUGH THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TASTE, SMELL, MEMORY AND EXPERIENCE.
Have you ever paused to think about how you develop your own sense of taste? We spent last weekend having our tiny minds blown by Bee Wilson's incredible book; First Bite 'How we learn to eat'.
Mainly, the book is bursting with plain-spoken wisdom and insight about how our tastes are learnt and how they go on to define us, but can be shaped like any learnt behaviour. But there are also so many fun facts (some very sobering).
Here's a tiny excerpt on the subject of 'deliciousness'
'The concept of “delicious” was born in Japan in 1908 when a chemist called Ikeda discovered a “fifth taste” called umami that was neither bitter nor salty nor sweet nor sour but something more wonderful and compelling than any of these.'
We found a sneaky four minute summary here.
In our previous journal post we explored the ability for whisky to transport us (metaphorically) to other places through the sense of terroir. And since writing that we’ve gone down a bit of a rabbit hole exploring the origins of the idea and concept. In his epic novel Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust wrote about someone eating a ‘madeleine dipped in tea’ and was immediately transported on a journey through imagination and memory to somewhere else. We now know this phenomena as a "Proustian moment,”.
THE SCIENCE BIT
Our senses of taste and smell are hard wired into memory. One theory is that historically your survival essentially depended on your ability to remember what you could or couldn’t eat, so it’s baked into our evolutionary success story. It is through their innate nature that people are able to get so much from their experience of sensorial pleasures like taste and smell. The factual evidence is that the olfactory bulb, responsible for transmitting flavour to the brain, is directly linked to the hippocampus - the area responsible for memory. A second theory suggests that this is to help babies who can't see so well gain familiarity with their mothers through smell and taste. So both theories speak to evolutionary success and something quite innate.
In The Omnivorous Mind, John S. Allen writes comprehensively about this idea of taste to link to memories and emotion. John S. Allen is a really great speaker and we found a very down to earth but high level podcast interview from Harvard University that goes through these ideas.... The relationship between food and memory, and the combined ability to impact our emotional states.
Not only is taste and smell linked to memory - but simply remembering a particular food or drink experience can act as an effective trigger of deeper feelings and emotions, even internal states of the mind and body.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR WHISKY
Whisky can be quite academic - we must confess to having moments where whisky geekery gets too much, even for us. Whatever side of the 'has it all gone too far' debate you are on, if the mental interrogation of what you're drinking eclipses the enjoyment of the drinking experience then it probably has. There’s a perception that enjoyment is reliant on a high level of knowledge and ‘tasting notes’, which to the uninitiated, can seem quite intimidating.
Firstly, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy something. And secondly, in our own experiences, tasting notes simply do not do justice to the memory of an experience. When you recall a great meal you don’t pull out a notebook that lists the flavours you experienced - you recall the setting, the atmosphere and perhaps even a few interesting details of the food as part of a wider experience.
We want it to be the same in whisky. We found that our memory of a great whisky is often mixed up with a combination of what was in the glass and outside of the glass. Who we were with, why we were there - what was said etc. And it was this idea that informed the naming of Woven and the way we present our whiskies.
Our experiences aren’t binary - there are always other factors at play. For some people calling whiskies 'Experiences' it’s a bit much, but we wanted people to stop worrying about whether they were drinking it correctly and just enjoy the liquid for what it is.
We want to make products that take people places, allow them to connect with memories, or ideas, or others because it stirs a reaction within them. It’s universal, we believe, but social conventions make people worry they’re not ‘doing it right’.
Experience N.2 was a great example. We were so carried away with the technical stuff. Whisky from Campbeltown, married in an ancient Cognac cask - but the taste? It just made us smile. What’s important - the technical stuff? or the fact that this is whisky for happy moments with friends? The answer, for us at least, is a blend of both!
Through the experiences on our website, we try to give people the option to engage with the technical side, or not, depending on their mood.
And finally... We were treated this week to an Instagram post of celebrated Scottish Chef (and Leither) Tony Singh MBE unboxing and tasting Woven Experience. N.2. As he's perhaps one fo the most qualified people on earth to unpick a flavoursome twist on tradition, we had some heart in mouth moments trying to read his expressions before he put into words what he was tasting.