You don't need a fancy lab and bizarre ingredients to concoct extraordinary cocktails. Stuff from your local shop will do. To prove it, Alexi Duggins took Mr Lyan - the world's best barman - shopping for Marmite and mint sauce.
The International Bartender of the Year is in a cornershop. He's in a cornershop and he's surrounded by cat food, fish sauce and bits of dead shrink-wrapped pig so unappealing-looking that only the leader of the Tory Party could fancy them. 'This is fun!' he says. 'Way more fun than using super-posh ingredients!'
Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, is no stranger to 'super-posh ingredients'. In 2014, he won Best New International Bar of the Year with White Lyan - whose drinks are made from his own custom-created spirits, distillates and tinctures (and which we voted London's best cocktail bar). In 2015, he bagged the same award with Dandelyan - a super-swish bar in South Bank's Mondrian hotel. But, as chance has it, he's also just released 'Good Things to Drink': a book of simple-to-make recipes using easy-to find ingredients. Why? 'I'm excited about getting people to actually make drinks,' he says. 'A guide to distillates? Fuck, no! That would be boring as shit.'
We set Ryan a simple challenge: to devise cocktails using only ingredients from a cornershop. We wanted techniques that a culinary moron could follow and equipment you'd find in an average student kitchen. Anything goes. 'Except cat food,' says Ryan. 'Oh, and cheap vodka. There's a weird funk to it.' Okay, best to avoid the own-brand-vodka Whiskas martini, then. Here are four of Ryan's Happy Shopper happy hour creations...
Cookies and milk punch
You know how the milk in your breakfast cereal ends up all creamy and sugary? This cocktail is a bit like that. 'But with loads of whisky in it!' says Ryan, as he strains a bowl of cookie-filled milk into a cocktail shaker. Don't worry if owning a shaker seems a little too fancy for you. 'You can do it in anything,' he says. 'I've used old jam jars at parties before.'
¼ of a pint of whole milk
3 mini Cadbury Choc Chip cookies (or one normal-sized one)
2 shots (50ml) of Famous Grouse or other scotch
3 teaspoons sugar syrup (made of 100g sugar and 50ml water)
1. Pour the milk into a bowl and finely crumble the cookies into it. Leave to infuse for five minutes if you can. If you can't, don't. No one will die.
2. Pour the water and sugar into a saucepan. Heat until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Sieve the cookie milk into a shaker.
4. Add the whisky and three teaspoons of the sugar syrup. Bottle the rest (you can use it for the other recipes).
5. Add ice, shake vigorously and drink.
Verdict: It's milky, it's sweet, it's like a mouthful of kitsch liquid awesomeness. The big problem, though? Fighting the compulsion to have this for breakfast.
Beetroot and vodka sour
'Sour and earthy,' is how Ryan describes this bright pink twist on a nineteenth-century US cocktail classic. You know what else tastes sour and earthy? Cat-piss-drenched soil. So we are not particularly optimistic in advance. 'Erm, yeah: that doesn't make it sound great,' he says. 'It should taste really good, though!'
1 egg white
Juice of one lemon
2 slices of beetroot
2 shots (50ml) of (decent) vodka
4 teaspoons sugar syrup (as above)
Dark chocolate, to garnish
Rosemary from Ryan's garden, to garnish
1. Crack the egg and separate it. Put the white into the cocktail shaker.
2. Add the ice and all ingredients, except chocolate and rosemary.
3. Imagine someone trying to nick your bike. Shake your ingredients like they were that scumbag.
4. Add a light sprinkling of dark chocolate shavings.
5. Head to Ryan's garden, pinch some rosemary and clip it to the side of the glass with a clothes peg.
6. Or skip the rosemary. Up to you.
Verdict: Beetroot isn't a flavour for everyone. If you're not into earthiness, this tangy, complex tongue-tingler may be lost on you. Otherwise, you'll love it.
Honey and Marmite old fashioned
The old fashioned is a classic nineteenth-century cocktail, deliciously rich and sweet. Focus on this, rather than Ryan's key ingredient: 'Marmite-and-honey water. It has to taste better than that sounds, right?
¼ teaspoon of Marmite
3 teaspoons of honey
3 teaspoons of water
2 shots (50ml) of Jack Daniel's
1 Led Zeppelin CD case (optional)
1. Chuck the Marmite, honey and water into a mug.
2. Stir until Marmite has dissolved.
3. Add a tablespoon of Marmite-and-honey water to a glass. Add Jack Daniel's and ice. Ignore sarcastic writer saying that your cocktail will taste like cold gravy.
4. Stir, smile in satisfaction at gobsmacked writer drinking the best old fashioned of his life.
5. Or make it somewhere that's free of sarcastic writers. That's probably a better idea.
Verdict: Amazingly good. The Marmite's only role is to provide a killer depth of flavour. The honey beautifully brings out the natural sweetness of the Jack Daniel's. And the Led Zep CD case it sits on? Adjust according to taste.
Gin and mint-sauce fizz
'This is gonna stink, I'm afraid,' warns Ryan as he boils up something that could pass for salad dressing. Still, no problem. At first, there's just an untroubling vinegary tang, but after a couple of minutes... why are my eyes burning? 'Sorry about that,' he says. 'Got to cook off the vinegar.' Then he shakes it all up together.
100ml cider vinegar.
1 shot and 1 teaspoon (30ml total) of white sugar.
3 teaspoons of mint sauce
2 shots (50ml) of gin
1 egg white
Lemonade, to top
1. Put the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and boil for three minutes.
2. Add the mint sauce. Continue cooking until the room smells like a chemical weapon has been detonated and the vinegar has lost its acridity.
3. Add one tablespoon of the vinegar mix to a cocktail shaker/jam jar. Chuck in ice, the gin and an egg white, then shake.
4. Pour into glass, top with lemonade and drink.
5. Exclaim: 'Woah! How did something this delicate make me feel like I'd been mustard-gassed?'
Verdict: It's surprisingly fresh and creamy. And, weirdly, it tastes brilliantly like a liquid ice lolly. Burning eyeballs? What burning eyeballs?
'Good Things to Drink with Mr Lyan & Friends' is out now, £20, from Frances Lincoln.
Photography: Rob Greig
Want more experimental recipes? Here's what happened when we asked a top London chef to turn turn Creme Eggs and Wotsits into a gourmet meal.
For something more palatable, take a look at the best cocktail bars in London or take our quiz to find out what kind of London drinker you are.
Or watch Jamie Oliver take a cocktail masterclass for more boozy inspiration.