Every once in a while you discover a game changing book, one that not only teaches you new things but alters the way you think. Drinks by Tony Conigliaro is one of those. I would rate it alongside The Fat Duck Cookbook but obviously tailored towards drinks instead of food. Tony not only shows how to make world class cocktails, reimagined classics as well as his contemporary creations, but also explaines the reasoning behind them and why they work. He also explains how to use modern science and equipment to take the entire craft to the next level.
The book opens up with one of the strongest introductory chapters I’ve ever read. Tony explains his underlying philosophy, how he approaches the design of drinks and how to produce as good an end result as possible. One of his cornerstones is the use of absolute precision and technology to produce the desired result each and every time. Only then can he convey all of the feelings and sensations designed in the original drink, he calls this concept “emotional functionality” and it’s very similar to how Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller approaches culinary arts.
It isn’t a reference guide on cocktails, in total there are 60 of them with varying degrees of approachability, some very simple to make and others a bit more challenging. There are a few classics presented alongside his spins of them; the Manhattan and the Daquiri, for example. What I like about the classics is that he has exactly no background information at all for them. They are just presented for reference together with how to serve up a perfect one. Instead, every one of his own creations are described with back story, his thoughts behind them and his process to develop them in addition to the actual step-by-step recipe.
One of the fascinating parts is that the actual assembly and serving of the drinks are not often that complex and something almost anyone could do (as it has to be in a bar with actual guests). It’s in the prepping most of the work and the more complex steps are hidden, but this can be overcome with a little time and equipment for most aspiring mixologists.
There are a few different subset of drinks with common themes; the classics (as mentioned), culinary methods, perfume and scent, savoury and concept drinks. The classics and spins are the most approachable but there are both entire drinks, components and techniques from the others that are within reach for the amateur as well.
What I particularly like about Drinks is the equal, if not bigger, focus on Tony’s thoughts behind both the craft and the cocktails to the actual making of the drinks. This makes this book a stepping stone for those who wants to push the art of mixology even further or to translate it into some other craft. But it’s also usable for the home bartender who wants to serve up something nice for his friends on a Saturday night. It really is one of the most important books written on the subject.
Drinks by Tony Conigliaro, $20.83, also known as The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the mysteries of Flavour and Aroma in Drink (with imperial measurements), is available from Amazon.