Ago Perrone

Ago Perrone: Balancing Tradition and Creativity

Ago Perrone is one of the forefathers of modern bartending. Currently Director of Mixology at The Connaught, he was also head judge at World Class Global Bartender of the Year in September 2023—fostering the next generation of groundbreaking mixologists.

We caught up with him to discuss the philosophy behind his mixology:

Ago, you’re widely recognized as a trailblazer in modern mixology. How did your journey start?

After finishing school, I initially wanted to become a photographer (I was obsessed with National Geographic), but I ended up working at a bar in Lake Como. Engaging with guests there, hearing their stories about places like London, Brazil, and Japan, made me want to explore and travel even more.

Then, as I delved into the spirits behind the bar, I learned the history of cocktails and mixing ingredients from different countries. It was fascinating for me! So I started looking for bars where I knew I could really, really learn. I bought a one-way ticket to London and never looked back.

 

You also helped to revolutionize the hotel bar scene. Tell us how it happened.

In 2008 I got the call from The Connaught and at the beginning, I thought that a hotel bar wasn’t for me. Hotel bars weren’t known for cocktails and mixology then, so it was a big challenge; they wanted to set a new pace, and vision.

I had to merge creativity with elegance, shaping a new vision. We focused on classic cocktails with a modern twist, maintaining the bar’s history and essence while opening doors for a new generation.

And aside from the mixology, the other learning curve was the style of service. We wanted everything to be for the guests, so the spotlight was on the customer, not the mixologist.

And in the end it was successful. The vision I had 15 years ago was the right one—we refused to be distracted by external trends and did not follow what other people were doing.

The Connaught Bar is famous for balancing both tradition and creativity—how do you achieve that?

Our aim is to create unique taste profiles that evoke familiarity, yet pique curiosity—we make our own interpretation of classic cocktails.
So, a balance of ingredients with aromas that you recognize, so you feel comfortable, but at the same time flavors that you know but you cannot describe. So they make you curious, that you want to go back to. Something that’s on the tip of your tongue.

We play with that a lot, without being overwhelming.

Let’s talk about your signature cocktails…

The Vieux Connaught is a good example. It has elements of a Vieux Carre, but reinterpreted.

When we were working on this recipe, it was the era of the smoked cocktail. Everyone was using woodchip or cherrywood, which is quite harsh. We found that it completely ruined the palate and the drink.

So, we started to experiment with different aromas and different botanicals instead. We tried smoked saffron, and it worked because saffron is also one of the ingredients in Benedictine, which is one of the ingredients in the Vieux Carre cocktail.

The Mulata Daisy is probably my most famous signature drink and still alive after 15 years.

It is very unique in its taste profile, but without gimmicks. A Daiquiri with rum, lime juice, sugar and fennel seeds. I was opening a can of fennel seeds one day (which I love, because they remind me of South Italy), and I thought ‘Why don’t I add some of this into the rum?’

Add the cacao and Galliano in the glass, and it becomes an aromatic daiquiri, then chocolatey without being sweet allowing the herbal aroma to come through. The flavor keeps evolving as you drink.

These kinds of cocktails are a palate experience and more exciting than making cocktails that look good on paper.

What is the most important component on The Connaught Martini trolley?

That’s a tough one! First of all, you need to use good products. Make a martini with a bad gin you’re going to feel it. Then find your proportion. Your ratio martini is very personal and tailormade.

Ice is one of the key ingredients for sure; bad ice makes bad drinks. And then the final component is, well, the hands that make the drink!

At The Connaught we all make martinis with exactly the same ingredients, so there is no room for a different dilution ratio. But the way you do things can be different. It’s not whether you turn or mix into spirit, but the intention behind it.

Most importantly, you need to make sure that you’re balancing the ingredients. The Connaught Martini is the expression of that.

What is your favorite ingredient to work with?

Both gin and vermouth. They symbolize my journey from Italy to England! Gin and juniper are especially British, while the vermouth is Italian—I love the wine base with the bitter herbal aromas.

You recently judged the World Class Global Finals. What’s the toughest part of being a judge?

I think you need to be fair, because sometimes you know the bartenders and sometimes you don’t. Also having empathy—understanding the stress bartenders face while showcasing their skills. You have to develop a sixth sense to understand if they’ve made a mistake because they weren’t ready or because they were just stressed.

Have you got any advice for aspiring mixologists?

If you put the willpower into it, you’ll get there. You have to find your way to make it. I was lucky. But I was looking for my luck as well. My passion was stronger than any barriers—so they need to keep going until they make it!

If you hadn’t become a master mixologist, how else would you have explored your creativity?

Photography, 1000%. Curiosity is the common denominator in both photography and mixology—travel, people, and new experiences. It’s still my passion, and I’m planning a few exhibitions and collaborations at the moment.

Finally, what’s your favorite modern classic cocktail?

The Tommy’s Margarita. I have so many emotional connections to it! Thanks to the inventor of the Tommy’s Margarita, Julio Bermejo, I met my wife. And when I first arrived in London, I became part of this new wave of bartending that was like a big family—tequila and agave were a big part of this.

Give people a good sip of tequila, a good margarita and you make them happy, it’s as simple as that.

 

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