I was fascinated, but not surprised, to read recently about research sponsored by the RAC Foundation which showed that certain odours can cause road rage. A psychologist named Dr Bryan Raudenbush, at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, found that the smell of fast-food wrappers and freshly baked bread makes drivers become hungry and therefore irritable and thus likely to drive too fast. The sensory cues send, to some fairly primitive parts of the brain, messages that can be translated as: "It's time to eat a hamburger. Hurry up."
What does this all have to do with tasty beverages? Well, the West Virginia research found that other odours induce calm, concentration, and clear thinking. The four mentioned are coffee, lemon, cinnamon and peppermint. It is no coincidence that three of those ingredients play a major role in liquid diversions. Nor is it any wonder that I'm thinking about them now, when the summer heat makes us long for drinks that combine refreshment with a kick in the pants.
Kick number one comes from iced coffee. Please make it from beans that have not had too dark a roast; bitter notes will be accentuated by the cold. Brew it with a smaller amount of water than you'd normally use; important as the coffee will be diluted by the ice. Pour the coffee off its grounds immediately, and store it once cool in the fridge.
There are two general approaches to iced coffee: the virtuous and the self-indulgent. Though a virtuous type by preference where hot coffee is concerned, I have to confess a weak spot for indulgence when ice cubes enter the picture. Sugar in abundance, and a bracing dribble of single cream, make iced coffee into an American-style treat.
But if it's real indulgence you seek, consider my variation on the New Orleans classic called Café Brûlot: sugar, citrus peel, cloves, cinnamon, and sometimes vanilla. The solids are heated with brandy, a portion of which is flamed with a sugar lump, and strong black coffee is mixed in before it is served hot in small cups. You can rig out a cold version of Café Brûlot as follows (to serve four adults): put 60ml of brandy in a bowl or small saucepan with a small stick of cinnamon, several generous wodges of lemon and orange peel, two whole cloves and (optional) a 2.5cm stick of vanilla pod. Heat on the hob or in the microwave until the volume of liquid is reduced by around half.
Leave it to cool, then strain into a jug. Pour in cold coffee to taste, around 400ml. Stir well, then pour into straight glasses filled with ice. If you stir in cream, you will get something that's not a million miles removed from Irish coffee .
Kick number two comes from iced tea, another drink at which Americans excel. Iced tea is better suited to the virtuous approach - although I think the sugar is essential, because cold temperatures accentuate the tannin in tea. But I'm willing to make an exception for the Alabama Iced Tea described in Sheila Hibben's American Regional Cookery (1947): strong tea and fizzy water in proportions of 3:1, over lots of ice with the juice of half a lime squeezed in. It tastes great with lemons too, and with a sprig of peppermint as garnish. Added aromas to keep road rage at bay, just in case your thoughts turn to burgers while you're driving down the M1.
Top Corks: Barbecue-burger reds
Campo Viejo Crianza 2002 (£5.99, Tesco, Oddbins, Sainsbury) Large but usually very consistent producer, starring here with a lightly oaked, easy-drinking Rioja.
Capitel dei Nicalo Valpolicella Classico Superiore Appassimiento Breve 2003 (£6.99, Sainsbury) The name's a mouthful and so is the wine. Lightly dried grapes; stern acidity; stiff tannic backbone. Wonderful.
Château Grand Champ 2003 (£27.14/case of six, down from £34.14, www.tesco.com) A miniature Bordeaux, Merlot dominated and jam-packed with very New World-style sweet fruit flavours. Fantastic at the sale price.