Tony Conigliaro pours a mean cocktail. Not only is his London bar, 69 Colebrooke Row, consistently named one of the best in the world, he's also been Heston Blumenthal's go-to guy on matters mixological. Before a drink makes the list at Colebrooke Row, Conigliaro researches it meticulously, testing it in his lab, sometimes for years before it appears on the bar. He shuns the term "molecular mixologist" but is nonetheless a champion of progressive approaches to drink-making. His new book, The Cocktail Lab: Unveiling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes, is a treatise made for tipplers both casual and professional alike.
Conigliaro was in Australia recently to collaborate with Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky, so GT sat down with him over a few drinks to talk mixing, whisky and the art of the good time.
GT: What's the secret to making good drinks at home?
Tony Conigliaro: Just make it really simple, don't use too many ingredients. If you've got guests coming over and you're having a drinks party or a cocktail party, at the end of the day you want to be hosting your party as well as giving them something that's nice. If you could do something that's simple and effective to showcase what the spirit is all about you've the ideal situation.
What ingredients are necessary for the home bar?
Ice is essential in any bar as is having drinks allocated a specific area. There's nothing worse than trying to make drinks in the kitchen and everything is all over the place. When we've done drinks parties at peoples' houses, we've tried to allocate a place, preferably near a sink, and work from there. Make sure the glasses are clean and equipment is at the ready.
What is the bare minimum, equipment wise?
You can make-do mixing drinks in spaghetti jars if you have to. It's an easy thing to do as long as you have a jug or a decanter. You can use what you've got, but having a cocktail shaker and measuring cup is essential because a lot of bartenders measure by eye and that's something not easily done by people at home.
What would be your ultimate drink?
I love whiskey sodas. I know it's so super simple. Soda is really nice because it's got the CO2, which enhances the flavour, softens it, and brings out the spectrum of the flavours. Apart from that, I love Whisky Bugs: whisky, lemon juice, sugar and it's supposed to be ginger ale but I prefer ginger beer.
If you could magically remove any drink from existence what would it be?
Over-complicated drinks. Drinks that have too many ingredients. I'm kind of like the 'anti-snob' of drinks because I like things that are weird and odd; sometimes you can make things that are really great, so I never really discount them. There are drinks that were sometimes given in bars where there are so many ingredients that you don't know what the base ingredient is or where you are in terms of flavour. There's no flow because it's just so complicated. I think complexity in drinks should result in the final drink being simple. It's about putting simple flavours together with expertise.
How do you feel about being called a "molecular mixologist"?
I don't particularly like it because it doesn't really describe what we do, it's very narrow. We choose to use science to make our drinks, but they are not all scientific. I prefer to see them as more 'romantic', in way, because we look at the stories and narratives of drinks, the structures of drinks, and it's about the beauty of those structures and what story we're trying to tell. So I think it's about being creative or making more creative drinks.
Do you make drinks for yourself at home?
Everyone always jokes with me that I never have any ingredients at home; I don't even have a cocktail shaker. You know, when I'm at home, I'll be cooking with a glass of wine and that's' about it. I know it's not much, but work is work and home is home.
When you're not cooking with a glass of wine what's your favourite cocktail and food paring?
I did this great project with Bruno Loubet called The Brainstorm, where we spent six months pairing a cocktail tasting menu with food. When the food menu goes out at The Zetter Townhouse there's cocktails appearing with that and it's quite unexpected. There are dishes that just work so well. My favourite is probably a lobster Bloody Mary, which is literally a Bloody Mary that we pour over a cooked lobster.
Is that your most difficult project to date?
No, that would have to be The Rose. Imagine it as sipping Champagne and walking through an English rose garden. It took two years to perfect. We had to learn how to make a food-grade perfume to make that drink. It was like an obsession because I couldn't get it to work until I'd learnt all the different components and understood how they worked together. It was literally learning how to make perfume and how that structure would work inside a drink. That was a real challenge. By the time I got that to work I fell asleep for six months after that.
How do you handle hangovers?
Miso soup and lots of it. It's my go-to hangover remedy. It just works, it's got all the vitamins and sustenance you need. I always have a big bag of miso paste in my house. Oh, and it's good for you.