Does Drinking Gin Help Me Speak French?

Juniper Blog

One of the most difficult questions to answer has to be “Why do I like Gin?” after all, what’s not to like? It’s boozy, aromatic, versatile, clean, complex and at the same time simple. As I said, what’s not to like?

However, the answer could go deeper than that, way back into my subconscious – It could well be down to my childhood holidays!

Juniper is the primary flavouring ingredient in Gin. It is the only botanical which must be present by law and although it’s presence varies in concentration from one brand to another, it is there in one way, shape or form. Juniper contains many aroma compounds but the main one is Alpha-pinene. It is this hydrocarbon which is responsible for the pine-green and tangy aromas you find in Gin. They can also be described as resinous, woody and earthy.

I have a particular association with these aromas and that is of my childhood holidays. We used to go to the South of France every year and I used to love the warm air with the presence of pine and cypress trees. sometimes you forget these aromas but it doesn’t take much for them to be brought back as a vivid memory.

I hadn’t been to the South of France for many years but my fairly recent trip to Marseille brought back a lot of feelings as soon as I smelled the air, and, I’m certain it made my recollection of the language easier too.

So how does this happen?

Quite simply, the sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory and recall.

The olfactory bulb is a part of the brain’s limbic system which deals with both memories and feelings so smells can call up powerful responses almost immediately. The olfactory bulb accesses both the amygdala and the hippocampus. The former processes emotion, the latter conditioned responses. When you come across an aroma for the first time, your brain forges a link between that smell and a memory so it could be a place, a person, a thing or even a moment in time, this will become a triggered response and the next time you are subjected o the aroma, it will affect your mood – even if you don’t notice it consciously.

This effect is often noticeable when offered a drink of something you’ve once overindulged in at sometime in the past. I hear it over the bar a lot about Tequila. Someone drinks a lot of Tequila, spends the majority of the night talking to God on the big porcelain telephone and the next time they smell Tequila they feel queasy because they now have an association with the smell of Tequila and being sick (Funnily enough, another common culprit here, Malibu I have an aversion to because on these same holidays I have bad memories of suntan lotion being vigorously slapped on already-suntanned skin and the smell of coconut brings back those memories.)

One way to ease people back into liking things which they’ve gone off is to alter the headspace of the drink. Using the zest of an orange or grapefruit over a tequila shot will subdue the associative emotion and give the imbiber the ability to overindulge all over again.

So thank you Mom and Dad, for I feel it is at your feet I can lay my love of Gin but don’t worry, I shan’t let the Malibu people hold it against you!

And to answer the post title, I really do find I can remember my French far easier as soon as I’m there. I really have to try hard to speak since it is a long time without practice since I was fluent. I think I may have to indulge in some Gin training to see if my French recall improves.

NB I ALWAYS think my fluency improves after a couple of drinks anyway. Whether the language I am speaking is indeed French I know not but I usually manage to get my point across.


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