Meet the Billion-Dollar Nose That Makes Your Taste Buds Crave Absolut Vodka

Per Hermansson's hidden talent

Lifestyle publication Uncrate has released a most edifying piece of branded content: “The Billion Dollar Nose,” a 2:22 documentary about Per Hermansson, the Absolut Company’s director of sensory design.

Yeah, that’s a title. More commonly, though, the people who make complex decisions about aroma are addressed by the feature that defines their paychecks—the nose.

“When I create a new taste profile of vodka, it’s like writing music. It’s composing music,” Hermansson says. If you know a nose, or are just a fan of Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume, you’ll sense the logic to those words.

Scent, like music, is composed of notes. How you encounter those notes will ultimately be decided by a great composer of smell (an experience that we now understand firsthand and will never again forget).

But it isn’t just perfumes, lotions and makeups that get the benefit of a nose. Hermansson has been in the sensory field for 35 years, and helped build sensory analysis in his industry. (You may know his previous hits—Malibu and Kahlua.)

“Interest in the sensory field is growing, not only in the spirits business but all over,” he says.

This video may be tiny, but it’s dense with information. We learn that eating and drinking involves the use of all our senses, not just one or two, and it’s not even just to be fancy—it’s a critical survival skill.

“You look, you taste, you smell, sometimes you even listen,” Hermansson says.

How often have you opted out of eating something you just didn’t like the look of, or whose smell made you gag? While we have little to fear from most plates today besides cultural reproach—or, say, a food allergy—those same responses would probably have kept you alive in a time before refrigerators.

Hermansson also tells us that visual sense is the most dominant sense in humans—”it stands for about 85 percent of all information transferred in the perception process.”

Smell functions in much the same way. “From a physiological point of view, you can only taste what’s soluble in the saliva or water … 95 percent of what you call taste or flavor is actually an aroma perception,” he explains.

Absolut most often markets around a lifestyle. It’s big on art. It collaborates with musicians. Sometimes it relates social messages. But this focus on Hermansson, and his take on his work, provides a different perspective on the brand—one it doesn’t often say a lot about.

“I have a lot of notes around me. The question is how to put them together to create a symphony,” he says. “And in this case it should be a symphony of taste.”

Absolut—a symphony of taste? The trouble with a brand that presents itself more as a moment in time than a product is that, no matter how much you’ve had, it’s hard to remember what the vodka actually tastes like. Still, Hermansson’s meticulous sniffing is enough to make us want to give it another go … maybe even without Red Bull.

Of course, everything comes down to what happens once the product appears on shelves. And while Hermansson has clearly done well for his brands, what people actually want is an alchemy all its own. He doesn’t claim to know a hit when he smells one.

“When we see that the product starts flying off the shelf, then we could be quite sure that this will be a million- or even a billion-dollar success,” he concludes.