Biologically, women and men experience taste in different ways. At the same time, we are also influenced by norms and dated ideas about taste and taste preferences. Whiskey distiller Tullamore D.E.W. has joined forces with sensory researcher Johan Swahn and award-winning bartender Josephine Sondlo, to create a gender-neutral cocktail for the Swedish market. This is a cocktail created to question cultural differences linked to taste, and to bring people closer together.

Tullamore D.E.W. is a triple-distilled grain, malt and pot still whiskey. The company has now taken a scientific approach to studying the differences, if any, in how women and men experience taste. The gender-neutral cocktail – named Hen, the Swedish gender-neutral personal pronoun – is now being launched in Sweden with the intention of taking issue with dated taste norms and false gender norms (learn more about the word hen below). The Hen cocktail is based on research compiled by Swedish sensory marketing specialist Johan Swahn. These results have been used by internationally renowned, award-winning bartender Josephine Sondlo to create a cocktail that can be appreciated by the widest possible range of people.

“Research has shown that women are better than men at identifying bitter flavours, as well as at judging the intensity of sweet, sour and salt. This means that they do not need such intense flavours in drinks in order to enjoy the same taste experience as men. This also means that women generally have better preconditions for experiencing the full taste profile of drinks such as whiskey. It is high time we take issue with dated norms regarding what constitutes a typically masculine or feminine taste experience,” says Johan Swahn, who has a PhD in Sensory Marketing.

Research shows that, in order for a drink to appeal to both men and women, it is important that the intensity of flavours is not too high. The gender-neutral Hen cocktail therefore has a careful balance of sweetness to cater to men’s predilection in that regard. At the same time, this is balanced by acidity and a hint of bitterness in order to avoid a shock to women’s often more sensitive palate. Bartender Josephine Sondlo has taken this research on board in order to create her Hen cocktail. The base includes cold-brewed Sencha tea and champagne sugar, with notes of apple, honey and vanilla.

“The idea of exploring taste with the help of science appeals to me. Irish whiskey is an exciting component as it has a rich flavour profile that is well-suited to mixing. As well as looking for a simultaneously well-balanced and exciting taste combination, I have used champagne, a drink traditionally associated with parties and luxury rather than socially constructed gender roles. I hope that this gender-neutral cocktail will become a meeting point for discussing flavours,” says Josephine Sondlo, bartender.

Research has demonstrated that genetic factors lead to variations between how men and women experience tastes such as sweet, salt, sour and bitter. Studies of how women and men experience taste also show that approximately 35% of women fall within the category supertasters, compared to around 15% of men. This means that women in general are better at identifying bitter flavours and other taste variations. It has also been demonstrated that women have 43% more cells in general and 50% more neurons (nerve cells) in the olfactory brain structure, something that in turn results in a more nuanced experience of taste and aroma.

The word hen
Hen is the Swedish gender-neutral personal pronoun, used in the same way as the gender-specific hon (she) and han (he). This word is used when gender identity is unknown, irrelevant or is to remain unspecified for some reason. The word was first proposed in 1966 by linguist Rolf Dunås in the Swedish local newspaper Uppsala Nya Tidning with reference to the Finnish gender-neutral pronoun hän. The idea gained support during the 2000s and its use has spread, especially since 2013. The word has received a great deal of attention, as well as both positive and negative reactions. Hen was first included in the fourteenth edition of the Swedish Academy Dictionary, published in April 2015.

How to mix the Hen cocktail at home
50 ml Tullamore D.E.W
20 ml Verjus (juice made by pressing unripe grapes, available in grocery stores)
20 ml Champagne and Sencha sugar
5 drops of vanilla and Cynar Bitter
Top with 20 ml of Koumboucha

Champagne and Sencha sugar
Reduce your champagne (alternatively Prosecco, Cava or Cremant) by 50% over a low heat. Add two parts sugar to one part of the reduced liquid. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a clean container/bottle and allow to cool. Can be stored for approximately two weeks in the refrigerator.

Cold-brew three tablespoons of Sencha tea and allow to stand for at least two hours. The longer the tea is left standing, the more bitter it will become. Strain the leaves and use the cold-brew tea to dilute the champagne sugar – one part sugar to one part tea.

Vanilla and Cynar Bitter
Two parts vanilla bitters to one part Cynar Bitter (an Italian bitter made from artichokes, available to order from Systembolaget). Vanilla bitters can be ordered from bar consultants, etc. If you are unable to obtain vanilla bitters, you can use classic Angostura bitters, available from most Systembolaget stores. Mix and pour into a small bottle. Keep chilled. This can be stored almost indefinitely.

Combine all of the ingredients except for the Koumboucha in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass. Fill the glass with clear, good quality ice and top with Koumboucha.

Via Press Release