Since it opened in 2009, guests at London’s acclaimed 69 Colebrooke Row have been trying to figure out just how Tony Conigliaro and his staff produce their wildly inventive cocktails—from the Prairie Oyster, which is slurped from an oyster shell, to the Terroir, which involves a distillation of clay, flint and lichen.
Well, you no longer have to wonder or reverse-engineer these creations. A few weeks ago, the American edition of Conigliaro’s book, The Cocktail Lab, was released, and it’s full of his signature recipes and advice on using high-tech tools like rotovaps and dehydrators. The volume—whose measurements he’s fortunately converted from milliliters to ounces—was also named Best New Book at the Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans last month.
We were pleasantly surprised that a number of the concoctions are fairly simple to fix. And Conigliaro was quick to remind us that “at the end of the day, we’re making drinks. We’re just having fun.” And despite his lab, which is around the corner from the bar and is packed with cutting-edge equipment, he still wants his cocktails to be “more romantic than scientific.”
But that doesn’t he mean he isn’t laboring over the tiniest of details for each formula. The Rose, which calls for a sugar cube, microliters of a rose essence and Perrier-Jouët Champagne, took him two years to perfect and involved learning how to make perfume. “That one took forever,” he admits, but it’s now always available at 69 Colebrooke Row (and it’s in The Cocktail Lab if you’re feeling up for a challenge).
However. the Rough Diamond Martini actually holds the record—it took a 12-year hiatus for him to obtain the technology needed to finish the recipe. The vermouth is frozen into a rock shape (like a rough diamond) and slowly melts in the cocktail. “It’s quite beautiful,” he says of the creation. But even if you don’t know how much effort he puts into the process, he says, “I like the idea that the drinks stand on their own.”
Writing the book, by comparison, was relatively quick; he finished it in about a year and a half. (The UK version was published last October.) The work also made us curious about Conigliaro’s own personal library. Over the years, he put together a pretty large collection of about 100 vintage cocktail and spirits books, which he found mostly in secondhand stores. But he actually sold almost all of them. “It was becoming a museum,” he says. “I kept my favorites,” including David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, Frank Meier’s The Artistry Of Mixing Drinks and Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink.
(Reprinted with permission from The Cocktail Lab by Tony Conigliaro, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo courtesy Addie Chinn)