We’re beginning our Lush Life “How to Drink” season by delving into one of the most subjective of topics: flavor. What you might like, I might hate and vice versa. So how do you even begin discussing flavor? By inviting the King of Zing on the program!
As the founder of World of Zing, the Pritesh Mody is renowned as one of the UK’s leading drinks experts. Launched in 2014, World of Zing has quickly become recognised amongst Europe’s most innovative cocktail businesses.
If you haven’t tried one of his bottled cocktails yet, you are in for such a treat. He adds that special something to a cocktail to make it sing, or should I say zing.
He was the obvious choice to start off my new season – Who better to talk about flavor with me.
On this episode, you’ll discover:
- How Pritesh was born into flavor
- How World of Zing was born
- How to even start when it comes to talking about flavor
- How to make Pritesh’s favorite cocktail zing
This episode originally aired on March 9, 2021.
You can listen to this episode here, or any of your favorite podcatchers.
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Pritesh. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
This transcript is sponsored by:
It’s super exciting to have you here, because we’re going to be talking about flavor, even though that is so nebulous and subjective, but before we do, please introduce yourself.
Pritesh: Cool. My name is Pritesh Mody. I launched a company called World of Zing back in 2014. It doesn’t feel like a lot, but it’s insane! Seven years which is absolutely crazy. Fundamentally, we’re about pre-batch and bottled cocktail. I’d like to think we were the first company out there to really do it on any scale, any serious scale. We set up a whole facility and all that back in 2014. I guess the cornerstone to us is about flavors, pioneering flavor and innovating with flavor and just playing around and having fun with flavors.
Susan: Before we get into that, we have to know who you are because this is Lush Life. We have to go back before we go forward. We have to know a little bit more about you. While you’re doing that, by the way here, I’m plugging you. I’m trying your Passion Fruit Margarita in my glass right now. While you’re telling me about yourself I will be sipping this.
Pritesh: Fantastic. Not that I’ve ever been on Tinder or one of these dating apps, but it sounds like one of those. “Tell me about yourself.” Born and raised in East London, I grew up in the food and drink industry. My family is one of the oldest spice merchants in the country, a lot of them major Indian restaurants, Asian restaurants in the UK. They’ve supplied the ingredients to them for decades.
I’ve always grown up around really interesting food and drink and chefs particularly. And like I said, literally grew up in the restaurant industry. I would go to restaurants with my dad from as long as I could walk. We would walk straight into the kitchen and just hang out and see and feel the buzz and the lively feel of a kitchen and a restaurant. That’s all I really know. I studied law for my sins very randomly .
Susan: So it wasn’t just a fait accompli, a decision that you were going to go right into the hospitality industry with your family?
Pritesh: God, no. I mean, coming from an Indian background, what I do isn’t considered a job. You have to have a profession. Do you know what I mean? I studied law. I enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong. I think actually it was an incredible education which still allows me or has allowed me to ground out what I do now.
It’s a fantastic springboard to what World of Zing is now. I think it was an incredible thing to do. It’s really funny, up until I was basically about 30, my dad would introduce me, I have a younger sister who’s a doctor. If he was to introduce us to someone new, he would say, this is my daughter who’s a doctor, and this is my son who studied law, not who is Marketing Director of a number of drinks companies.
Susan: That’s so funny, because you were still in business though. You were in business.
Pritesh: Yeah, I had a good job. It was paying the bills and having a good time and but, yeah, it wasn’t quite professional enough for him to understand it.
Susan: Why do you think you were drawn right into that world? Marketing for drinks, brands, or drinks brands themselves.
Pritesh: Well, I started in Marketing and PR soon after university, and I got a job for a Marketing/PR company and they happened to specialize in restaurants and drinks. I started off just where I guess my life should have gone, back into the restaurant world.
Drinks is the sexiest part for me anyway. I really love food, but there’s something about a good cocktail, which is for me another level of a food and drink experience.
Susan: Oh, I totally agree. I totally understand. Did your mom and dad make Indian food or very flavorful food at home?
Pritesh: Yeah. I grew up in a spice warehouse. Two, three times a week, I’d be in a warehouse.
Do you think that made your palette global or keener, more agile, than maybe someone who might not have grown up with those flavors?
Pritesh: Your palette is your palette Right. All it did is open my eyes from day one to possibilities in flavor. There’s only so much you can do. You can learn to appreciate flavors and aromas, etc., but what you’re born with is what you’ve got.
It’s actually about how you maximize the knowledge and I guess it just from day one, from as long as I can remember, there was always something new, interesting. I’d walk into my dad’s warehouse and be intrigued as to what that smell, what that spice did or the touch and feel. I was always getting quite tactile with ingredients from day one.
Susan: Did you have a favorite or were there things that you were always drawn to?
Pritesh: Not at all. I’m always, even now, I don’t have a favorite anything. It’s always constantly evolving and developing. Otherwise life just gets a bit boring, right?
Susan: When did you decide to jump off that diving board into working for a company to creating your own company?
Pritesh: Basically I spent the best part of 10 years in Marketing and Comms for a lot of drinks brands predominantly, and I guess I got to a career juncture where one of my key contracts was not playing ball with me. I was just getting frustrated.
At the same time, I was getting paid by clients to advise them on drinks trends and opportunities and markets, etc., as a marketing professional does. I spotted this trend for bottled cocktails or, not even bottle cocktails, but ready-made cocktails.
This is going back to 2012, 2013, 2014. Number 1, there was the start of the trend for barrel-aged cocktail, barrel-aged Negronis, all that stuff, Old Fashioneds. I thought, well, if you can age something and it’s a completely stable product, then why can’t you bottle it. Why can’t the average consumer at home enjoy a barrel aged Negroni?
Number 2, I spotted around that time, as well, that a lot of the best bars in the world actually had prep kitchens. A lot of the cocktails were being pre-prepared to different degrees of completeness, which makes perfect sense.
If I called it ready-made at that time, you’d go, “Oh, no, I’m not paying! What do you mean it’s ready- made?” You’d sneer at it. But if you say it’s pre-prepared, it’s no difference from a restaurant, right? Preparation, mise-en-place in the best Michelin star restaurants, they do the preparation all during the day.
All they’re doing is finishing the plate off basically at service time. And that’s what the best bars were doing. I was privileged to see behind some of the best bars in the world. I started seeing the level of completeness that was going on and I said, hang on, this is basically a ready product.
Susan: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Like White Lyan in London.
Pritesh: Well, White Lyan was the first bar to be actually open about it and say, we were pre-preparing everything, but no one else was openly saying it, but a lot of places were doing it. That was just because they were fearful of the stigma. The point is that they were developing a level of quality that was putting them at the world’s best bars in the top 50 with a very fastidious preparation program which allowed them to create consistent, incredible liquid.
I’m a big foodie as well, to be honest, I really love enjoying new food and drink. I was always at food markets every weekend. Again when you go back to 2010, 2011, around then that was the start of the food market street food thing, and I always noticed that there were never any spirits.
You’d always have person selling fine wines. You’d have cheese, bread, blah, blah, blah. I’m not really a wine person. I don’t really care for beer either, but I like a good cocktail, spirits. There’s no representation there. I thought what I want to create is a bottled cocktail program.
Initially aimed at these street food markets for the same person who’s into fine wines and craft beers and cheese and sourdough bread. They will understand the provenance of a really well-crafted cocktail. I always thought my audience wasn’t a spirits person, necessarily. It was someone who was into craft food and drink. That’s where the whole concept came about in a really long-winded way.
Susan: It’s so amazing to have a bottled cocktail in my freezer or my fridge. I don’t have to make it myself, even though I have tons of spirits and also to trust the one that I have is going to be good.
Pritesh: Sure. The other thing you’ve got to realize is part of the reason you go to a restaurant or a bar is for the overall experience. Whilst in many on some occasions, it’s great to see a bartender doing all the shaking…
Shaking and stirring.
Pritesh: I think it’s just as important for the server or the bartender, if you’re sitting in front of the bartender, to be able to interact with you. I’d rather have a smile and some interaction with the bartender than them turn round, almost turn their back to me and sit there doing all of that stuff. There is a time and place for it, but I think 9 times out of 10, you just want a really good drink yesterday with a smile, right?
I just like some acknowledgement that I’m here and maybe tell me about the drink, something like that, I’m not too fussed whether the person is mixing and messing around in front of me. Most of the time, unless there’s something really, really exciting, it could be an interesting garnish or it could be something in the drink that makes me just want to go, well, what is that? We can talk about it.
Susan: Yes, now you’re about to start this company and we’re talking flavor here. How did you even know where to start or what flavors to begin with in your own company?
Pritesh: Our first four drinks were in order: Bordeaux Cask Aged Negroni. We literally got hold of fresh Bordeaux wine casks. We still had a bit of wine in the barrel, which was amazing.
Number 2 was a steel aged Manhattan, a super classic. What we did with that, along with the aging – Manhattans to me can be quite heavy on the palette. This was our first proper foray into just playing around with ingredients, but we decided to infuse Szechuan peppercorns into it. It lifts the flavor on your palette. It’s a lighter Manhattan experience. The ABV, the ratios, everything is as a classic Manhattan.
Number 3, I believe was our Persian Lime Nori Margarita. What pushed it even further was putting seaweed into a margarita and it was quite mind-bending back then. Interestingly all three of those drinks, we’ve done dozens and dozens of drinks in that time, but those first three drinks are still available now. We can’t take those three drinks off the site.
Susan: Did you personally know where to start because I like a margarita and I may have done marketing for a drinks brand, but I wouldn’t know to add peppercorns to a Manhattan. Was this just something that came easily to you?
Pritesh: Yeah. Well, we started off with asking ourselves what are the drinks we want to do. As I say, those were and still are amongst my favorite drinks. I mean, back then, the world had gone, I had gotten Negroni mad. Right. It was 2013, 2014.
Gin was just kicking in and the Negroni was the King. We just looked at it and went, okay, what can we do? We’re not about reinventing. We’re about evolving. A lot of people say, “Are you being Heston and stuff? We’re absolutely not Heston. We’re not trying to reinvent anything. We’re not trying to mind bend you. We call it flavor beyond ordinary. You start with the ordinary and we just take it a step beyond.
We’re not trying to be extraordinary. We’re not trying to be wowzers. What is we want is to appeal to a broader audience and then just take them on a smaller journey into different areas to show what happens if you just change small components of it. What a huge difference it can make to texture, aroma, whatever it is, to the interior overall experience.
So that’s how we started. We started with those drinks and just thought what can we do to each drink to elevate it to an experience that a normal consumer can’t have at home.
Susan: I know personally they’re some of the best bottle cocktails I’ve ever had. If not cocktails I have ever had, especially the margarita, which is right behind me and the one that I’m drinking now, which I haven’t tried before. Whatever you’re doing is fabulous.
Now let’s talk about this nebulous idea of flavor for the home bartender. For someone at home in lockdown, not in lockdown, who is starting from scratch. They’ve bought a bottle of gin. They have this idea of being a home bartender. They want to make bring friends in, make cocktails for themselves, and they want to start to create cocktails. They’ve read Robert Simonson’s 3 Ingredient Cocktails and they know those.
Now, they’re ready to start creating and working with flavor themselves. This is such a tough question, but how do you start? What is your first step into creating flavors? Or maybe are there specific flavors that you start with? I don’t even know if you can even answer that question
Pritesh: It’s a tough question, but how I try to do it is – what do I feel? I never make the same drink twice. I never even when I cook. Cooking’s a big part of me and I don’t go off recipes. I’ll never be able to recreate a dish. Often my wife will say, “God, that was amazing. How did you make it?”
I’d forgotten by the time I’ve eaten it. You’ve already forgotten the tweaks or the little secret things. Those steps that when someone tells you a recipe and you try and recreate it and they say, “It doesn’t come out like them.” Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about this bit. And that’s how I do a drink.”
You start off with a drink. What do you like to drink? You like to drink a margarita. We all know how to google, how to make a margarita, right? You’ve got ingredients. Then suddenly you just look in the fridge. You ask what can I do to twist this? What can I do?
Look in your store, cupboard and ask what makes sense here? I’m a big fan of using jam in cocktails, for example, because it’s preserved fruit. Say a flavored Mojito, for example. Say for a Strawberry Mojito, instead of adding sugar syrup and blitzing some strawberries or muddling strawberries, take a tablespoon of strawberry jam and suddenly you’ve got a strawberry Mojito now. Then you look at the mint, right. And then you go, okay, mint’s cool, but what other green things could I put in? What other aromatics? What works?
I look at food for a lot of my inspiration. I look at a recipe. I look at a dessert recipe. I don’t cook sweet things, but I look at a dessert recipe and equate that to a cocktail constantly, or whenever I’m looking at food recipes, I always look at ingredients from a drinks perspective, not from a food perspective.
When you’re reading a recipe and you understand why the ingredient is in there, something interesting. Pomegranate molasses, right? Sour, sweet replace lime juice with pomegranate molasses for that tartness in a cocktail. There’s loads of ways, I think, and it’s so important to understand ingredients in a food context which helps it in a drinks context.
Susan: You said something that I want to come back to. You said find out what works with that. What works with that? If you are new to cooking or making cocktails, obviously there’s trial and error, but are there any rules about knowing what works with what ?
Pritesh: I don’t know maybe it’s experience, but we just play around. One of our best-selling drinks as a Strawberry and Basil Mojito with black pepper. Right. And so that came about just because strawberry and basil and black pepper is a wicked, a beautiful dessert as a dessert pairing.
It works brilliantly, we just thought how can you not turn that into a cocktail? All the flavors are there, it’s just about delving into why different components work together. One of my favorite drinks at the moment is – I just started drinking coffee with ginger beer.
But you go, what’s that!? Coffee and tonic is a thing. Right? If you look at what ginger is, a good ginger beer, it’s still got that bite of tonic, but it’s got the sweetness. It’s got this warmth that plays really well with coffee. If you get a medium dark roast coffee, a shot of medium, dark roast South American coffee, you’ve got dark chocolate flavors. Dark chocolate and ginger works right. Really well. Suddenly you’ve got almost a ginger, nutty long drink. It’s banging. It’s so nice.
Susan: Yeah. I’m thinking a mocha and ginger beer would be fabulous.
You’ve got that chocolate component as well now. All right. As I said, it is nebulous, this idea of flavors, nebulous. Now when you hear of viscosity and richness in a cocktail, how does one add those things in? Or what should people be looking for when they’re creating a new cocktail to get that richness and viscous?
Pritesh: Well, different textures have a time and a place, right? With some drinks, you want it. A gin and tonic, you don’t want real mouthfeel necessarily in terms of viscosity in there. You want it light and fresh. Certain drinks like a martini, you take a gin martini and just temperature alone gives it viscosity. Stick the bottle of gin and vermouth in the freezer. Keep it super, super chilled and you’ve got a lovely texture, that lovely viscous mouthfeel.
Then you think about aeration, you can think of Dante’s (a club in NYC) Garibaldi. He blitzes the orange juice. You’ve got this aerified Garibaldi. It’s really about what you’re trying to achieve. Last summer, we did a drink and I don’t know why no one has really done it. We were commissioned by London Essence to create a load of serves. We came up with a frozen cocktail using sparkling tonic.
At time, well, I’ve never seen anything frozen with a sparkling component, and it turns out when you put something sparkling into a slushie, it holds the bubbles for longer and it releases the bubbles slower. When you’re drinking, you get longer bubble bursts.
It’s not quick, rapid fire. It was the most incredible, incredible thing. I worked with some really awesome bartenders and no one had seen something that before, but that was just us experimenting and having fun. Texture is important on so many levels, but it’s down to the drink.
A whiskey sour, that egg white, that silky, silky texture up against some bourbon is a thing of beauty. Right? It just elongates the flavor, almost elongates the taste of the liquid. Yeah, everything got a space for it.
Susan: You talked previously about adding some jam into your cocktail. Do I first melt the jam? I was also thinking about spices. Say I wanted to bring turmeric or something that I have on my shelf, cloves, spice, into a drink, and I just have the spice. I don’t just dump some spice in, so just for technique, how do you do that?
Pritesh: I just create a sugar syrup. I’ve done “Old Fashioneds” at people’s houses where they have no bitters whatsoever. You literally just go for their spice cupboard, fruit cupboard, and just knock up a quick sugar syrup with orange peel, lemon peel, just literally chucking cloves and cinnamon in.
Whatever you’ve got until you’ve got something that vaguely tastes quite nice. Add your 50ml of whiskey stirred down and you’ve got something resembling an old fashioned. Sugar syrups are the easiest way to integrate, unless you want to start getting into infusions and stuff like that, which takes forever and could ruin your bottle of whatever it is. If you’re trying to infuse the entire bottle of something.
Susan: And it’s so easy to make a sugar syrup. It’s so easy.
Pritesh: Yeah, exactly. It takes minutes and you can taste them as you go along. it’s just a really easy way to play around.
Susan: Now, also you have these ideas of all these different, I’m drawing on Master Chef here, by the way, of every dish needs to have umami and be a little bitter and have some texture and sweet. Is that true for a cocktail? Should you be aiming to have three or four of those flavors in one or just one?
Pritesh: Again, it’s all about you. You could get geeky about every drink and I guess it’s about whether people would appreciate it. For our Persian Lime Nori Margarita, for example, it’s the Nori. We looked at this drink and I love margaritas. It’s probably my favorite style of drink, my favorite classification of cocktail.
Susan: We have that in common. I love a margarita as well.
Pritesh: Honestly, it’s such a thing of beauty when it’s done well. On a night out, a Tommy’s Margarita, just smacking it. Yum, Just all day long and then I’ll go back home to the bourbon, to an old fashioned, right at the end of the night.
Susan: Me too. Me too. Totally. I’m with you.
Pritesh: What I really dislike about a Margarita is a salt rim. Because 99% of the time, it’s executed really poorly. You’ve got cheap salt, crusty and that first sip you have of it just ruins your palette.
Susan: I’m so with you there, I always ask without salt.
Pritesh: Me too, always without salt. So the Nori’s in there to add the salty liquid, the saltiness into the liquid. You’re taking an experience and elevating and improving it and rethinking how you could get that salty mouthfeel without the offensive salt on the rim.
Aroma is huge for us with a drink. If I give you a plate of food, if that first bite doesn’t quite hit the spot, you might have four or five combinations that you can come together and you find your perfect bite. Right? Whereas with a drink, really, you’ve got a start, maybe a middle and an end, and the drink will evolve, obviously through the ice, etc., but you can’t choose at what point you go into that drink for it to be perfect for you. The aromas got to be right there. The initial mouthfeel, the length of the taste on your taste buds, all these things do happen. You have to be very considerate to it.
We do add a pinch of salt in our espresso martinis or coffee drinks, a pinch of salt to even some bourbon drinks. A pinch of salt brings out the sweetness. You’ve got to be considerate as to why you do these things, how do you want it, like going back to the peppercorns.
How’d you want the weight of the drink to sit on the palette? There’s a lot of different components, not the same as food, but I think a drink is under more pressure to perform instantly than a plate of food.
Susan: Absolutely. I was going to ask you about when you get to a bar and you see a thousand things listed in the menu under the name of the cocktail, which you’ve never heard of because it’s created by the masters. Then underneath that there are a thousand ingredients and have no idea what it even tastes like.
You’re nodding. I was going to ask you, is there a guide to this? Is there a way that you can figure out how something tastes from that list of a thousand things?
Pritesh: I just wouldn’t order it. We have our philosophy. When we design a new drink, and this is going back to my marketing and PR days, I write the story of the drink first. I mean, literally, I’ll write about the drink before we’ve even started touching anything. If it reads well to me, then it goes to development. But if I can’t write an interesting story, something that would make a headline, fundamentally, a press release about a drink, then it doesn’t. It doesn’t even go to development. It doesn’t go anywhere. If I’m bored by this story, then, then it doesn’t go anywhere. That’s our mantra for pretty much everything that we do. What is the story? Tell me the story.
Susan: I adore that. Yeah, that’s fantastic. I always ask for the top tips for the home bartender, I know you’ve given so many tips. What is the top tip? But I think you’ve just said it, which is if you’re creating a new cocktail and it’s in your brain, write the story of it first.
Pritesh: Why does it exist? What is it trying to achieve?
Susan: Now I’ve just taken your top, but if you have another top, top tip for the home bartender.
Pritesh: Tea! My wife has so many tea bags. I drink PG tips basically, and that’s it. I’m a coffee person. I’ll have a cup of PG with my breakfast and that’s about it. Right. But she’s got all these wonderful teas and I’m always playing with them. You’ve got chamomile, ginger, I don’t know, so many, licorice. Teas are designed to preserve flavor. Right? Fundamentally. it’s an easy way to get hold of incredible ingredients in a preserved format. One of our really popular drinks, this summer just gone, was just an Earl Gray Collins.
All you do is make a classic Gin Collins, and then just drop an Earl Gray Teabag into it. But the drink evolves as you drink it. When you talk about that cocktail experience. I could just create a quick concentrate with the Earl Gray, brew it up and mix it in.
I think it’s far more interesting to see the teabag evolve as you’re drinking it. That first sip to the last sip will be a completely different drinking experience. Yeah, teabags again, everyone’s got teabags. They’re cheap, easy and fun to play with.
Susan: I drink masala tea in the morning. I’m just thinking I should drop that into my sugar syrup. A Chai sugar syrup. Now, speaking about syrups, I don’t want to leave you without talking about your new syrups cause you’re creating syrup.
Pritesh: Yeah, the hot toddy ones for Aberfeldy, that’s right. Yeah, which was really, really cool. Aberfeldy approached us and said, look, we want to reinvent, modernize the concept of a hot toddy.
Again, it’s such a huge category of drinks that is under appreciated; people drink a lot of them mostly badly. You start off with a hot toddy. What is a hot toddy? Fundamentally, you’ve got a citrus component, you’ve got a spice component, you’ve got a sweet component. Right. Then if you start elevating that…well! We took it to Mexico. We use smoking chilies, chipotle chili and chocolate. You’ve got suddenly a chili chocolate hot toddy, which still fits with the fundamental theory of what a hot toddy can be.
Then we did the gingerbread one. Again, that’s just really popular. At Christmas time, at every coffee shop, you cannot move for a gingerbread cappuccino or whatever. Right? You look at the story of gingerbread and it’s what everybody wants, so it’s just a really fun to play, without taking it too far away from what a hot toddy is. All you’re doing really is boosting the ginger in there. By adding a few extra spices in there, you’ve got a hot toddy, but just a much more exciting experience in there.
Susan: I can’t wait to start making sugar syrups. It’s going to be my new thing. Well, this has been so great, but before I leave you or you leave me, I always ask if you could be drinking something anywhere right now, where would that be and what would it be?
Pritesh: Margaritas, obviously and probably just somewhere in Southern Spain, on the beach in Southern Spain somewhere. Some nice tapas yeah. And a margarita, that’s me done.
Susan: I think everyone just so wants some sun. They want some relief. Absolutely anyone who lives in London actually. Well, this has been so amazing. I’ve learned so much. I feel I know flavor a little bit better and it was so great to catch up. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Pritesh: Thank you.
Susan: Thanks so much to Pritesh for joining me on the show today. I’m not sure flavor is any less subjective, but now we know where to begin. We had to pick Pritesh’s favorite cocktail for our cocktail of the week, but remember to add his bit of zing
It’s so simple, but amazingly delicious. The margarita is our cocktail of the week. Add all of the following ingredients into a shaker. Two ounces of tequila, one ounce of triple Sec or Cointreau, three quarters of an ounce of fresh lime juice, and three quarters of an ounce of simple syrup. Then add ice and shake, shake, shake, strain it into a margarita glass with ice or without, and remember no salt. I
If you want to make it a bit more flavorful, Pritesh says to add a bit of nori, you’ll find this recipe, more classic cocktails and all the cocktails of the week at alushlifemanual.com, where you’ll also find all the ingredients in our shop.
Now I’m tasting every cocktail differently, dissecting it. I’ve even bought Nori to add to my margarita. I can’t wait.
So if you live for lush life, make sure you’re giving back to the bars or restaurants you love by donating or taking part in cocktail or food delivery where you live.
Theme music for Lush Life is by Stephen Shapiro and use of permission and Lush Life is always and will be forever produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media Productions, which leaves me to say the wise words of Oscar Wild, “All things in moderation, including moderation, and always drink responsibly ,and wash your hands, and wear a mask.
Next week, we’ll be exploring how to drink liqueurs with an old friend, who is now Bols Brand Experience Manager. And if he doesn’t know liqueurs, no one does.
Until that time, bottoms up.