Profile: Tony Conigliaro

Described by some as the Heston Blumenthal of drinks, Tony C has under his care 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Townhouse. Lucy Britner caught up with him at his Drink Factory

This is not just a converted warehouse full of offices in north London. No, Britannia Row used to be Pink Floyd’s recording studios. Now though, a receptionist, a flower arrangement and a labyrinth of corridors hide all sorts of businesses.

One of these is Tony Conigliaro’s Drink Factory, a laboratory/office that plays headquarters to Tony C’s inventory of imbibing. Behind that door there’s a large kitchen area that has been taken over by water baths, centrifuges, florence flasks and all manner of little bottles. Inside these bottles there are more smells than you could ever imagine existed. And this is what Conigliaro is passionate about: smell and taste.

“The Drinks Factory started as a blog over the past seven years. This has put me in touch with people I wouldn’t necessarily meet,” he says.

Opposite the kitchen area – or lab as it looks and is called now – are high shelves with rows and rows of jars containing everything from gin botanicals, different woods, several types of honey and loads of different teas. On the floor, there’s a pine tree branch and the air smells a bit like Christmas.

When I ask Conigliaro, 40, about inspiration for drinks, he takes up a pen and paper and draws a kind of flow-chart as we talk – he did attend art school after all. In fact, we’re sitting on a sofa, with a clear perspex ‘black’ board in front of us and he’s talking about the types of people that have passed through the Factory door – “fashion designers, set designers”, he says.

Perhaps he’s more Andy Warhol than Heston Blumenthal. “Drinks start like a story,” he says, and draws. “The Woodland Martini, for example, was inspired by a walk in the woods in Portland, Oregan. First the light, then it becomes darker the deeper into the woods you go and then there’s the woodland smell.”

He describes the sunlight as citrussy notes in gin, umami from sherry and the woodland as bitters made from wood in the lab. “Rather than look at bitters as providing top and bottom notes [to a drink], we made it with all base notes,” he adds.

Really Conigliaro began walking down that forest path 13 years ago, after a conversation with chef Bruno Loubet about applying elements of cuisine to drink. Incidentally, Loubet is the chef behind Zetter Hotel, the home of Conigliaro’s second bar, Zetter Townhouse (or ZTH).

Food v drink

So why did he pursue the drinks side and not food? “I see it as a hybrid, really,” he responds. “No one had done it with drinks. It’s about creating that experience and language but with a much shorter parameter.”

After all, usually people don’t spend a few seconds chewing a drink. Conigliaro attempts to arouse the same kind of taste sensation in the time it takes for the drink to pass over the tongue and slip down the back of the throat.