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DI’s Hamish Smith was at the 2011 Cognac Summit where the big question was: Can you measure pleasure?
Published:  14 March, 2011

The word ‘summit’ conjures imagery of political brinkmanship, the thrashing out of peace accords or perhaps poverty-eradicating debt reduction. So when Drinks International was invited to The International Cognac Summit 2011, expectations were giddily grand, albeit in the more sober context of drinks. The Cognac Bureau (BNIC) far from disappointed......

For the 40-strong throng of sommeliers, journalists and bartenders assembled for the event, the bar had been raised. Gone were yesteryear themes of cognac cocktails. In for 2011 was: Can You Measure the Pleasure? According to the BNIC, this was the first attempt by any spirit category to quantify the pleasure of tasting.

To aid us in our quest for quantification was a device that was rapidly dubbed The Cognaculator. With this mighty machine in one mitt (imagine a calculator from the 80s – not a nifty scientific one) and a cognac in the other, we went about the business of translating oral emotion into breakthrough data.

Here came the clever bit. At regular intervals over a three-minute period the group assigned numerical values (from one to 10) to the pleasure they experienced. The data was then zapped to a boffin-manned computer and, before you could say Cognaculator, we were confronted with a wall-mounted graph representing the pleasure effect of what had by then entered our stomachs.

For many of the participants, measuring pleasure was a daring endeavour, but one with a problematic premise. Pleasure is, after all, a subjective emotion, driven by taste, mood and context, so relating numerical values is tricky. In practice we were measuring intensity – not pleasure – which, granted, lacks the rat-a-tat-tat rhythm of rhyme, but more than makes up for it in meaning.

So what of the results? As one would imagine, the numerical value assigned to pleasure (or even intensity) declined with time in linear fashion. Nothing surprising there.

And what of the summit’s conclusions? Some raised the idea of the Pleasure Zone – a window of flavour intensity between 45-90 seconds – others raised the idea of the Cognac Clock as a mode of pleasure indication.

And then there were those who just raised eyebrows.