September: 69 Colebrooke Row

And so the London Cocktail Society was born…

After a month or so of planning and signing up members, Tuesday 7 September 2010 saw our first ever meeting at the rather wonderful 69 Colebrooke Row.  So popular was this event, we had to hold a second meeting the very next day to ensure everyone had a chance to come along – about which we were naturally delighted.

We couldn’t have chosen a more suitable venue to kick off proceedings. Tony Conigliario, joint owner of 69 Colebrooke Row and one of the world’s top bartenders, had agreed to join us, so the pressure was on for the evening to be a success. On top of that it was our inaugural meeting, so we were nervous about everyone meeting for the first time – would it seem completely random? Apparently not, as despite a wide range of backgrounds, everyone just got down to getting to know each other and before long (or about as long as it takes for a cocktail to hit the spot) it was as if they had been friends for years.

At this point, Tony offered to take the first group up to see his secret laboratory, which was a real privilege. After all, it’s not every day you get a top-class bartender showing you how he creates some of the finest drinks you’ll ever taste. Crammed into a surprisingly small space were bain-maries, rotavapours, jar after jar of experimentations and shelves of ingredients, some harder to identify than others. It was like a crazy but wonderful cross between an academic’s study and a mad scientist’s lab.

One piece of kit that caught the attention of many members was the rotavapour. This allows spirits to be re-distilled with added ingredients for flavour at low pressure and temperature, allowing a very natural flavour to be extracted. The end taste of the spirit is much improved compared with traditional methods of marination. As an example of this, we were provided with a tasting of the horseradish vodka. Now I’m no adjective-laden wine buff but its depth of flavour, and in particular the prominent raw vegetal notes had us all fantasising about having our own rotavapours at home. Even more so when we tasted it later in a preternaturally tasty Bloody Mary…

By contrast, we then tried some rose hydrosol (a water-based rose solution) which is used in the Gonzales cocktail. The flavour was incredible, completely natural, and it lasted so long I could still taste it on the way home. Once Tony had answered all our questions, everyone came back downstairs inspired by how they could use some of his ideas at home.

Next on the agenda was a tasting of the house cognac. Specifically developed by the bar to be used in their Spitfire cocktail, it’s yet another example of Tony’s quest for taste perfection. Apart from the fact that it was a cracking cognac in its own right, Tony had worked closely with the distillery to create a flavour profile with lots of peach/apricot notes to complement the ingredients of the Spitfire (’69’ House Cognac, Crème de Peche, Lemon Juice, Sugar, White Wine).

The rest of the evening was a heady mix of good conversation and great cocktails. The bartenders, Ryan, Matteo and Stu all rose superbly to the challenge of “make me a drink, anything, as long as I like it!” There aren’t many bars where you can do that and be guaranteed something special but 69 Colebrooke Row is one of them. It’s a shame that the society is growing at such a rate that further meets at Colebrooke Row would need to be week-long affairs to fit everyone in. Maybe they’ll open somewhere new just for us!

For more information on the experiments visit their blog.

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