“A Drink is Not Just a Drink Anymore, it’s an Experience” – An Interview with Mixologist and Author Tony Conigliaro
It’s been nearly a decade since the New York Times pointed out “the word curate no longer belongs to the museum crowd.” The term, once referring to the quite specific role of the person who takes care of a museum or art collection, has entered mainstream speak as, in a way, we all have become the gatekeepers of our own personal exhibitions thanks to the infinite gallery that social media has given us.
For Tony Conigliaro, multi award-wining bartender, author and founder-owner of London’s innovative Drink Factory, this feature of our zeitgeist is extremely interesting as it allows for an unprecedented levels of variation.
“With this new world of people curating their own life, we make more choices about how we want things,” he says in a conversation we held at Dublin Bar Academy during his recent visit to Dublin for the launch of Schweppes 1783, a range of high-end tonic waters and mixers inspired by Jacob Schweppes, the pioneer who developed the world’s first carbonated mineral water and founded Schweppes in the year that graces the range’s labels.
This trend towards bespoke living is strongly noticeable in the way we drink. Tony, who studied art history and arts, takes inspiration from many sources to create innovative cocktails both for his five bars and as part as the consultancy and research & development endeavours he manages through The Drink Factory, a project that he started in 2014 as a blog and which then became a physical space. Tony points out celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal as one of the names he has worked with in the past.
When asked how to bring the name to a different age group, especially this generation of life curators, he points out that “a product like this lends itself to that kind of way of living and idea, so it will thrive.”
His words have weight, as he knows how to please an Insta-friendly crowd of thirsty millennials. Not only we discovered that at the event’s masterclass where there was plenty of recording and hashtagging, but in the stories he shares, like how he went through 32 different colours of potential table tops to choose the one that looked the best on Instagram, “this is what you need to do to stay ahead”, he adds.
Precision and Drinks
Tony can relate to Jacob Schweppes, “a watchmaker who then started making drinks” as his story combines two of his favourite things, precision and drinks. “We spend practically every day being very precise about what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it and there’s a definite overlap.”
This routine involves a very eclectic creative process with various starting points. “Sometimes we start with a concept, we create a narrative and then work with that to create a drink. Other times we stumble across or actively search for certain ingredients or processes that will allow us to produce something new. Other times we’ll have a product that we’ll take on board and start to work around that.” Film, music and art are also recurrent sources of inspiration for Tony and his team.
We devour culture at Drink Factory. Half the conversations are about film, music, books, art, just as much as drinks.
He finds it hard to point out a particular piece or movement that he prefers over the rest. “I have a very wide scope of what I like and what I don’t like. I can like a piece of photography in a small gallery in Hackney, or a major retrospective. I think art is art and you find interesting things in different places and movements and styles.”
Cocktail and Gin & Tonic Trends for 2018
Instead of a major trend driving the cocktail scene in the near future, Tony believes “there are lots of micro-trends and ways of doing things and people are being more expressive about how they want to say things and what they want to say, so you can literally go up one street in London and you’ll have twenty different variants that work in different ways.”
He points out that high end drinks, food paired cocktails and seasonal drinks coexist but “one thing that is fairly regular is you’ll find classic drinks from Gin & Tonics to Martini as a constant.”
One of the reasons for the success of the Gin & Tonic in its modern rendition is how versatile it is. For Tony, there are not limits to what a G&T can be, and he has high praise for the Spanish, who have been pushing the envelope for several years, “flavouring the copas and using different aromas and flavours within the gins and the tonics. It’s very interesting. Schweppes 1783 is aligned with that.”
He points out that the glossy G&Ts we’ve become used to could have only been invented in Spain, as “the way they drink is very different, it’s like Italians and coffee”, meaning, the enjoyment transcends good flavours and has become experiential. For Tony, the Spanish twist on the G&T has become as idiosyncratic as the aperitivo, something to be enjoyed socially and without rushing.
How do you drink your G&T?
“Two parts to five parts. Very good ice, meaning ice that is not white. Very clear and hard ice, which takes longer to melt and the drink will retain its flavours for longer.”
What’s the secret to make great G&Ts at home?
“Get good ice, chill the gin and the tonic. If you’re making drinks at home it make them how you want to make them, find the proportion, find the style you like and say I’m gonna make myself that kind of drink.”
What has been the biggest recent innovation in the cocktail industry?
“Tying drinks to experiences rather than just flavours. A drink can tell a story. The perfect example is the Vespa from Casino Royale, which people started ordering after the James Bond movie. The experience can be meaningful. We look at our own experiences when creating a drinks, creating a crossover with emotions and experiences to create something something that has an effect.”
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.