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We ask the mixologists: Luke Neale

Our ask the mixologists series explores the fascinating world of cocktail making with interviews to those who know best: the mixologists.

How did you get into the drinks business and what’s the best of it?

I got into bartending at uni and carried on – I have worked in busy party bars, refined cocktail bars and night clubs, I then started to work in restaurant bars and enjoyed the level of hospitality and the type of customer interaction. I found a niche for myself developing the quality of drinks in this environment. The best part of the job is sharing the joie de vivre, whether it be first hand customer service or slightly more backstage ensuring great guest experiences across all our outlets.

What’s the best of working at Las Iguanas?

There is a real family environment – everybody is approachable from the board down and everybody shares a similar outlook on life (and work). We are all pretty good at what we do but can also let our hair down and enjoy it whilst we do it! 

What is your favourite cocktail of all times?

Difficult – those who know me well would say ‘whatever is closest’, but I would say it depends on the time of day: espresso martini before breakfast, mimosa with breakfast, bloody maria with brunch, dry martini before lunch, tequila negroni before dinner and a manhatten after dinner.

What is your ‘magic’ ingredient when cocktail making?

Simplicity – the best drinks in the world are simple and rarely have more than3-4 main ingredients; too often bartenders try and overcomplicate things, I use the best ingredients the budget allows and let them do the talking – this also means that in a live bar situation you can spend time with the guest rather than have your head down focusing on complicated concoctions.

How is the process of developing  a new drink /drinks menu?

Again this isn’t a simple question to answer – if the cocktail is for a competition or for pleasure then the focus is on the ingredients and how to make them work the best – sometimes I will have an idea of what the final cocktail should taste like and work backwards from there but more often than not I will start with a central ingredient and build around that.

Writing a cocktail menu is a different ball game – it’s all about balance, providing the best quality whilst being commercially viable at a price your consumer wants to pay and is good value. In addition to that there needs to be balance in the style of drinks too. The key is to design drinks for your guest and not yourself, too often you see bars with a self-gratifying cocktail list which alienates guests.

The look of the drink is almost as important as the taste, how do you come up with delicious but also nice looking cocktails?

There is so much available now in terms of service-ware, weird and wonderful fruit, edible flowers etc. that garnishing and making a drink look good is not difficult. The 2 most important things for me are freshness and relevance - the garnish should enhance the drink not detract from it.

What pieces of advice would you give to people who want to get into the cocktail making at home?

Don’t spend too much on base spirits – buy the best you can but vodka, rum and gin can all be bought for around £15 a bottle for decent quality, more like £20 for tequila and whisky – then spend a little more on modifiers (liqueurs, vermouths and bitters) and buy the best and freshest fruit you can afford, these will normally have more of an impact in the final cocktail than spending £40 on gin!!

Any trick for an impressive homemade garnish for your drink?

Use your garden, thigs like lavender, sweet peas, roses etc. can all be used as garnishes – don’t fall into the trap of fruit being the only option. 2 or 3 different thigs with different textures and different heights will create a good effect. Maybe sprinkle with a little icing sugar or even glitter for extra bling!

What cocktail trend/s are you excited about?

The biggest trend that is exciting me in the passage of cocktail culture into the mainstream – people expect there to be a cocktail offering in most drinking establishment nowadays which means the consumer is becoming more educated and therefore demanding – great for someone like me as it keeps me ion a job!

You can enjoy Freixenet and Freixenet based cocktails at Las Iguanas nationwide

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