Decoding Drink Factory with Tony Conigliaro
Tony Conigliaro, who took home the International Bartender of the Year award at last year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and who opened his own bar, 69 Colebrooke Row, last year in London. He also heads up The Drink Factory portion of the London Bar Show, coming up June 15-16. Tony C., the Artful Dodger of the international bar scene, sat still long enough to check in regarding the next Drink Factory.
NCB Mix: The seminars for Drink Factory this year at the London Bar Show, at least on paper, seem to be pretty advanced. Did you set yourself a particular goal this year in terms of where to take the program?
Tony Conigliaro: I would not say they are advanced; I would say we are trying to show different or new ways of looking at cocktails and their environment. The goal this year was to extend this and follow up on new developments since last year.
NCB Mix: Are these sorts of seminars — chemist Dr. Andreas Sella's "With a Vesper and a Bang," which you promise to be explosive, and your own session, "Through the Mixing Glass" with Harold McGee — sort of master's classes on advanced mixology, or are there insights to be had for all levels of bartenders?
Conigliaro: The idea is not to bombard bartenders with bamboozling concepts; the idea is to show — and blow some myths apart — how new applications can make what we do better.
Last year with Harold McGee we talked about how you could keep your mint fresh for longer. Looking at things like this benefits all levels of bartending.
NCB Mix: Your session with McGee promises some interesting insights about the "problems and mysteries encountered in day-to-day bartending." Can you give us a little preview?
Conigliaro: We’ll be looking at how spirits can age in the bottles with reference to things like the aged Manhattans I make (Editor’s note: Conigliaro mixes Manhattans without water, then bottles and ages them for up to five years before serving at his bar.), and how this can benefit a drink. Another topic would be why sugar syrup works better than powdered sugar as an ingredient.
NCB Mix: It's only been a few years since the seriously technical aspects of drink making — shaking theory, notions about ice, molecular mixology — have had a wider forum and audience to speak to. Has this allowed you to do different things with the Drink Factory presentations?
Conigliaro: Yes, although we do focus on the sorts of things that we are questioned about in e-mails, as well as showcase all the ideas we’ve been working on.
NCB Mix: You've presented many times in the U.S. as well as the UK. See much difference in what attendees are looking for, what they can absorb or what they appreciate?
Conigliaro: The concerns are different, although with some overlap, because I think the drink-making styles are different, hence different outlooks and questions. But the interest levels are the same.
The only thing I would say is that because there is more contact with Europe and with chefs like Ferran Adria of El Bulli, et al, the more modern stuff we explore isn’t as much whiz bang fireworks and is based more on solid structure.
NCB Mix: Your new bar has been open about, what, a year now? What sort of advanced drink making is going on there? Have your customers been encouraging?
Conigliaro: The differences [in this bar] aren’t necessarily seen directly on the bar but more in the lab upstairs, where we make everything from orgeat to distillates of horseradish using modern processes that then get used as you would in any bar. We don’t make it a point to show the science off unless asked; a bar is still a bar, after all! We would much rather tell a story or focus on being hosts, rather than pontificate about how clever we are...yawn.
NCB Mix: What's your favorite drink these days?
Conigliaro: Vintage Manhattans, five years old.