Vampires and zombies, ruined castles and gloomy dungeons: the scary tropes of Gothic horror, which first terrorised the world 250 years ago with the publication of Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, still colonise our imaginations today. What better way to celebrate the anniversary than by mixing yourself a Silver Bullet or Nosferatini and settling in for a Twilight marathon or to re-read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?
It's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science and alcohol.
Tony Conigliaro is one of the world's top mixologists, a genius/lunatic whose legendary creations are more like sensory works of conceptual art than cocktails. His London-based drink and flavour research collective, The Drink Factory, just released the first issue of its new, limited-edition quarterly magazine, taking the Gothic imagination as its inspiration.
I visited Conigliaro in at his laboratory (housed in Pink Floyd's former recording studio in Islington) to marvel at the shelves full of glassware, strange ingredients (freeze-dried peas! beaver anal gland secretions!) and high tech equipment.
Over a shot of horseradish vodka (which would be excellent in a Bloody Mary, as well as The Drink Factory's more avante-garde Prairie Oyster cocktail), Conigliaro explained that the Gothic theme resonated with his perception of creativity as a dark force — one that provokes discomfort and challenges its audience.
The magazine itself is work of art, with the photography and staging turning each cocktail into a mini-narrative. Conigliaro showed me the fish tank filled with leeches and the specially warped glass in which they shot Renfield's Kitten, a classic dry martini made with roasted locust-infused vodka. (Renfield, of course, is the possessed lunatic in Bram Stoker's Dracula who consumes flies for their life force.)
For the Black Rose, a champagne, black pepper and rose liqueur cocktail, Conigliaro and his team decorated the glass stem with edible thorns, each handmade from pink pigment-dusted caramel. "The idea," he explained, "was play on haptic sensations, not just visual cues and taste notes."
The creepiest example of this was the Silver Bullet, a stunning, shimmering cocktail served in a glass with a hairy stem. "The prosthetic artist we worked with gave us a choice of yak hair or human hair," Conigliaro said, holding samples of both out for me to stroke.
Obviously, the home drinker is unlikely to be able to make the Story of O, whose ingredients include "skin aroma" and whose serving instructions call for a Japanese bondage expert to tie knots across the rim of a large martini glass. Instead, Conigliaro sees this collection as the cocktail equivalent of haute couture — something to inspire his fellow bartenders to think differently about the forms drinks can take, and the ways in which they can be served.
That said, some of the cocktails are currently being served at his London bar,
69 Colebrook Row (a.k.a. The Bar With No Name), and there are several recipes, including one by Aleister Crowley himself, that a keen amateur could definitely recreate at home.
The Gothic issue is available here for £25 (roughly $US42) plus postage and packing — it's pricy but gorgeous, and will undoubtedly be a collector's item before long. Give these two entry-level (and delicious) stunners from the Gothic issue a try, and stay tuned for the next issue, with an entirely different theme, coming in July.
15ml Dry Martini
2 drops Drink Factory blood solution*
Add the gin and vermouth to a cocktail tin filled with ice and stir to dilute. Double strain into a chilled small coupette glass, and garnish with 2 drops of blood.
*Drink Factory Blood Solution Recipe
44g Red food colouring
0.3g Iron supplement tablet
7g Caster sugar
Powder the iron tablet. Weigh out all ingredients and stir together to combine.
15ml Kummel Wolfschmidt
15ml Colloidal silver*
Combine the gin, Kummel Wolfschmidt and colloidal silver in a bottle and store in the fridge to chill before service. Serve the mix directly from the bottle in a chilled large liqueur glass with a hairy stem.
*Colloidal Silver Recipe
100ml filtered water
2 pieces solid silver wire
Place the water in a glass and cover with cling film [U.S. translation: Saran wrap]. At opposite ends of the glass push the silver rods through the cling film so that they are half exposed and half submerged. Attach a 6v battery to the exposed ends of the rods and set a timer for 30 minutes. Remove battery and rods once time is completed and store water in a vacuum-sealed bag. Make sure silver used is solid and not plated silver.
Lead picture: Bela Lugosi as Dracula (image still from Dracula, 1931). The Drink Factory "Gothic" magazine cover courtesy The Drink Factory. All other photographs by Nicola Twilley