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Exploring Flavor in Cocktails and the Impact of Aroma

Here’s something pretty fascinating:

Even though there are lots of combinations of flavors that a lot of folks would agree go great together, science still isn’t really clear on why these combos appeal to us.

purple cocktail with white foam in a vintage glass.

Scientists have theorized that foods that share some of the same chemical compounds will naturally taste good together. But studies have shown that that is not always the case, and in certain cuisines around the world, foods which don’t share any of the same compounds seem to work best together. You can read more about the studies here.

So what’s a creative cocktail creator or chef to do? Quite simply, the answer is experimentation! Somewhere along the line, I started to believe that there are certain flavors that go together and others that do not. The end. But that’s clearly not the case, as some of the world’s greatest bartenders and chefs prove all the time, with their wildly delicious, yet unexpected creations.

There’s really no right or wrong, just some common combinations that make for great starting points, and then also your personal preferences. We all enjoy different flavors and in different quantities.

For example, my mother dislikes cilantro, but I absolutely love it, and use heaps in my homemade pico de gallo. However, both my mom and I can agree that chocolate and coffee are a magnificent combination. So are there certain basic combinations that have more universal appeal than others? In some ways, I think so.

Today I’m sharing a cocktail that I believe has fairly universal appeal, while being just a touch more interesting than a basic gin sour, using our sense of smell to open up new flavors, and of course a little visual jazzing up, as I love to do!

purple cocktail next to pink peppercorns and grapefruit.

Why do so many of us love sour-style cocktails?

A gin sour is a magical thing. Just the right quantities of juniper-y, botanical booziness, sweetness, sourness, and a creamy foam to soften all the edges – it’s a thing of beauty.

Whether including an egg white foam (or even aquafaba foam) or not, the Sours category of cocktail recipes are some of my absolute favorites. I return to the template again and again when making my own recipes (more about recipe templates in an upcoming post!) and I think that the simple combination of these three tastes, when balanced and enhanced by one another, is universally appealing.

So while we may not all agree that a sour made with say, chocolate liqueur (sweetness) and balsamic vinegar (sourness) is an enjoyable flavor pairing, we do agree that their primary tastes (sour and sweet) are a hit.

Think of my example above about my mom and I and our differing opinions on cilantro. She might dislike the specific flavor of cilantro, but we both agree that chocolate and coffee (sweet and bitter) work together, and we also agree about lime and simple syrup (sour and sweet).

So flavor and taste are pretty complex things, but when we use an understanding of the basic tastes, we at least have a solid road map in our quest for delicious pairings.

How does our sense of smell affect what we taste?

I have been experimenting a lot recently while thinking about the affect our sense of smell has on what we taste, since some say it’s 80% or more of our perception of flavor.

This is why when you have a cold, and your nose is congested, food can seem tasteless, or taste different. When garnishing a cocktail, I’m often thinking about scent, and how a garnish’s aroma can be the perfect way to punctuate the flavors of the drink.

I love pink peppercorn, and it’s wonderfully unique, citrusy, sweet yet pungent flavor. It lacks the characteristic bitey punch of black pepper, and when freshly cracked, opens up a beautiful aroma of citrusy spice.

If you don’t have some at home, I highly recommend picking up a bottle with a grinder top. Pink pepper is a great tool to have in your home bar for making syrups or when you want to add a bit of nuance to the sour flavors of a cocktail. In my opinion, it pairs especially well with grapefruit, and somehow draws out the delicate floral side of grapefruit’s flavor and aroma.

Just a little pinch of freshly cracked pink pepper transformed this cocktail for me and made it much more memorable. The bright, citrusy spice highlighted the flavors of grapefruit and lemon in the cocktail and lent a feeling of completion to the taste for me.

I also opted to include a couple dashes of lavender bitters to intensify the impression of clean, floral flavors. When in combination with one another, these flavors create a harmonious, elevated drinking experience that takes the cocktail from basic gin sour, to really, really delicious gin sour.

I went all out on presentation here, choosing a glass that would really showcase the foam, and using butterfly pea flowers in my simple syrup for their gorgeous color. I don’t find that butterfly pea flower tea adds any significant amount of flavor, so I use it mostly as a coloring in my drinks.

Lastly, I’ve topped this beauty with a big pink carnation, which offers a slightly spicy aroma of its own, adding another aromatic element and acting like a visual cherry on top. I’ll be talking more about how visual elements play into taste and flavor in an upcoming post. Learn more about different kinds of flowers to use as garnishes in my guide to edible flowers!

close up of purple cocktail with pink flower garnish.

Gin Sour with butterfly pea flower, grapefruit, and pink peppercorn


  • 2 oz Malfy Gin Rosa (grapefruit flavored gin)

  • 1 oz lemon juice

  • 1 oz butterfly pea flower infused simple syrup*

  • 1 egg white

  • 2 dashes lavender bitters (optional)

  • Pink pepper

You can use any gin you like, but I’ve chosen Malfy Gin Rosa for its crisp grapefruit flavor. If you can’t find it, go with a traditional London Dry Gin and it will be great.

Butterfly pea flower simple syrup is as easy as making a cup of tea and the amazing color is well worth the small extra effort. Simply combine equal parts water, sugar, and dried butterfly pea flowers. Allow the flowers to steep for a few minutes, then strain out the solids. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Lavender bitters are a wonderful addition to this sour and they enhance the floral undertones in the grapefruit gin. If you don’t have these specialty bitters, the drink will still work.

Pink peppercorns are available at just about any grocery store or on Amazon. I have a small bottle that includes a grinder, making it easy to add freshly cracked pink pepper to food or drink.

If you enjoy gin sours, you may also like:

purple cocktail with pink flower garnish and half a lemon.

purple cocktail with white foam in a vintage glass.

Gin Sour with Butterfly Pea, Grapefruit, and Pink Peppercorn

Amy Traynor
This variation on the classic gin cocktail uses a grapefruit-flavored gin with purple simple syrup and pink peppercorns for garnish.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1 cocktail


  • 2 oz Malfy Gin Rose (grapefruit-flavored gin)
  • 1 oz butterfly pea flower simple syrup*
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg white (or 1/2 oz aquafaba)
  • 2 dashes lavender bitters (optional)
  • pink peppercorns, for garnish


For the cocktail:

  • Add the first five ingredients to a cocktail shaker (without ice) and shake hard for about 1 minute to build foam.
  • Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe and top with freshly cracked pink peppercorns. Garnish with an edible flower, if desired.

*For the butterfly pea flower simple syrup:

  • Steep 1/2 cup of dried butterfly pea flowers in 1/2 cup of hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Strain out the flowers and add 1/2 cup of white sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Store any leftover syrup in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.


Gin Sour with Grapefruit, Pink Pepper, and Butterfly Pea Flower

  • 2 oz Malfy Gin Rosa (grapefruit flavored gin)
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz butterfly pea flower infused simple syrup*
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 dashes lavender bitters
  • Pink pepper
Instructions: Add first 5 ingredients to a shaker (without ice) and shake hard for about 1 minute to build foam. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe and top with freshly cracked pink peppercorns. Garnish with an edible carnation, if desired.
*To make the syrup, simply use all equal parts. Steep 1/2 cup of butterfly pea flowers in 1/2 cup of hot water for 5 minutes. Strain out the flowers and add 1/2 cup of white sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Keyword butterfly pea, gin, Malfy, pink peppercorn, sour
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Recipe Rating

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