Pleasure and Creation
Take a look at this photo of the Manhattan and the Sidecar, adjacent and abutting one another. If you plan to look deeper you'll see two cocktails, each comprised of three essential ingredients—bourbon, vermouth and bitters on the one side, and brandy, triple sec and lemon juice on the other side. But I hope that's not the first thing noticed if you plan to look a little deeper. Let's appreciate the aesthetic.
Let's appreciate the vibrant aesthetic, the way the appearance of the drinks coincide. Let's step back for a moment and take in the visual; the peychaud-spirited color of the Manhattan and the muted vibrancy of the Sidecar's lemon infused brandy, and the way they, together, suggest an certain affinity.
Look at them together.
Why is it that the color and appearance of drinks, and wine in particular, isn't given more focus in the various reviews and descriptions we give them?
This occurred to me as I mixed a Sidecar for a friend yesterday evening and followed it with the stirring of a Manhattan for myself and noticed the colorful and vibrant affinity that these two drinks had for one other. Is it that the intensity of our palates' and noses' reflections on our drinks take precedent over the visual character of the drinks? Or is it the seeming inconsequence of a drink's appearance on our pursuit of pleasure that appears to relegate it to second fiddle status?
I think it's more the latter.
Take a look at any review of wine and notice that if the wine's color or appearance is even mentioned, it's rarely more than a quick notation. Meanwhile, the descriptions of the aromas, texture and flavors take up the bulk of the review. The fact is, despite the striking visual that a vibrantly colored wine can deliver, the pleasure this aspect of the wine offers can't match that we get from its aromas and flavors and textures. And if wine is anything, it's a pleasure delivery vehicle. Hence, color and appearance must play second fiddle.
In fact, if you get down to it, the appearance of wine is pretty darned predictable: Shades of red, hues of yellow, slight variations on pink. When we observe the color of wine, the point is usually to simply check if it lives up to our limited expectations. But when we observe the aromas and flavors of a wine, there are far more possibilities for pleasure and delight we need to be prepared to decipher.
It's for this reason that the cocktail has far more potential to capture us through its appearance than wine ever can. And it's for this reason that the degree of pleasure we obtain from cocktails is derived in much greater degree from their appearance than wine can claim to give us from its appearance.
There is one more thing that makes the appearance of the cocktail much more important to our pursuit of pleasure than it is with wine: We, the drinker, create the color of the cocktail. The color of wine is merely found. The Manhattan is a perfect example of this overlooked aspect of the way we receive pleasure from cocktails. The Manhattan is made of bourbon (brown), vermouth, (clear) and bitters. Now, if one chooses to use Angostura bitters, the Manhattan will come off with a bright brown hue tinted by way of orange. Use Peychaud bitters and the same Manhattan will take on a tint of red. It's your choice. The appearance Cabernet Sauvignon is out of our control.
We are a creative species and creation is one of the things that gives us pleasure. Even though the wine we drink is not one of our own creations, the fact that it was "produced" by man is one of the things that gives it interest. But it's not quite the same as the interest and pleasure we get when we do the creating ourselves. Like when we mix a cocktail.