Tripstillery. The first-ever DIY cocktail bar and distillery… with a “Franciscan” aperitif.
Now we really have it all. A do-it-yourself distillery to produce, bottle, and even label your drinks. In downtown Milan, for all to see, and even legal! Tripstillery is the first-ever cocktail bar with an alembic still available for anyone wishing to transform a taste he/she has in mind into a unique and limited-edition spirit or liqueur, under the supervision of a master distiller (Francesco Zini). We have met Sabina Yausheva, Best Barlady according to the 2022 Identità Golose Guide and Tripstillery’s enthusiastic director. A “free-spirited” but very serious young woman when it comes to work. She runs Tripstillery with the founder and bar manager Luca Vezzali as well as Francesco Pagliara, Luca’s right-hand man and creator of the cocktail list.
PN: The first-ever cocktail bar with an in-house distillery open to the public. How does it work? Is there a minimum quantity of bottles required to get the alembic still running?
SY: The “private” production requires a minimum of 42 bottles (and up to 90) at 22 euros/bottle. We recommend booking in advance to count on the presence of Francesco, our master distiller who guides the customers in the creation of the final recipe, based on an initial aroma – juniper, lavender, chamomile, etc. This briefing step also includes an olfactory test of the spices so as to identify the right notes to compose the recipe.
PN: Do the interested customers come in with a clear idea of the spirit they wish to produce?
SY: It depends. As well as random clients, we also work with small pubs and stores that, for instance, have a perfume they wish to turn into liquor to give their own customers as a Christmas gift. Then there are the gin enthusiasts, wishing to create their bottles and give them to their friends on birthdays or celebrations.
PN: Do you only distil gin?
SY: It’s the drink of the moment, but we have just produced a series of bitters with an original green colour instead of the usual amber. We shall soon produce liqueurs too.
PN: What can go wrong for an improvised distiller in his garage?
SY: The heads and tails are the most hazardous parts, but all the product contains alcohol, which is flammable and very volatile. As well as risking an explosion, you may also get burnt with the ingredients. As for us, we are extremely supervised, safe, and work in a context forbidden to non-experts. My advice for home-distillers is to make limoncello, at most.
PN: You once stated that a bartender is a bit like a chef, only that the latter works with dishes, while the former works directly with the public. Could another analogy be with deejays, who adjust their music to the feedback from people in the dancehall? After all, they mix ingredients too. And speaking of deejays, do you accept requests, like “can you add more gin”?
SY: Since I no longer work at the counter you can say I left the turntables to become a manager (or a producer). Our priority is to present our drinks and our ingredients. A mojito, for instance, is not our style, but if you ask us for one, we’ll advise a valid option. We strongly advise against adding liquor to cocktails so as to respect their balance and because Tripstillery has a different mission to a chiringuito at the beach.
PN: Mixology is experiencing a boom, where experimentation and contaminations between beverages and cuisine seem limitless; so much so that cocktails based on anchovy oil or pork’s blood have emerged. Do you have a few provocative drinks too?
SY: Since we do not have a kitchen, but a laboratory, the food is ready-made, and we only work with fruit, vegetables, and spices already accepted in the world of distillation. In the past, I worked at places that presented drinks “contaminated” by cuisine but without using “extreme” ingredients. If I improvise, and my top dish is pasta with tomato sauce, I could make a Bloody Mary decorated with durum wheat chips and basil.
PN: What brought rosemary to the gin tonic?
SY: It is a trend set by a famous Italian brand looking for Mediterranean scents. We are very minimalist: we may use lemon, an olive, my beloved tea leaves, or even dried fruit and flowers. Personally, I like the “floral-fruity-sweet” fragrances, but ones that aren’t excessive, like elderberry or chamomile. I am not, instead, a fan of rose, which I have banned from our cocktails.
PN: As well as the natural and local ingredients, what are the actions that define Tripstillery as an eco-friendly business, even on a daily basis?
SY: All of our materials are plastic-free, thus no straws, paper tableware, and strictly glass bottles. Moreover, we consume the bare minimum, and only stock the products we know we will use not to generate waste.
PN: A commitment in line with Portanuova’s mission. Speaking of which, do you like the district?
SY: I came to Milan 10 years ago and I can say that Portanuova is my favourite area. I am originally from Kazakhstan and have worked a long time in Rome; this district reminds me of New York, the City of London, or Dubai.
PN: Do you have any aficionados?
SY: We haven’t been open for long, but we have our fair share of daytime visitors from the offices and district residents who come here for an aperitif or after-dinner. Some of them come by relatively often. They’re mainly Millennials, thus between 25 and 40 years old.
PN: Does the Milan happy hour of the ’90s still exist?
SY: It had a boom, then crashed, because serving lucullan banquets for the price of an extremely cheap cocktail is a business model I struggle to understand. How can it be convenient? The aperitif was born to tickle the appetite without fully satisfying it; it needs to make you feel a bit peckish before you go to dinner. Our aperitif is “Franciscan”, with bread and salt garnished by the fabulous olive oil made by a small farmer in Foggia.
PN: Do people savour your cocktails or chug them down?
SY: The lockdown has educated people who, when the clubs and cafés were closed, attempted to mimic the drinks at their homes; they realized how much research, time, and work there is behind a well-mixed cocktail made with high-quality ingredients. Speaking of gin tonic, people have also learned how to distinguish between tonic waters, and they often ask us about their features and origins.
PN: What are your bestsellers?
SY: Gin Tonic and Martini, even out of the curiosity to try our products. Then there is, of course, the Spritz, and the Ginger Mule.
PN: Is it possible to pair a dish with a cocktail as you do with wine?
SY: You can work on contrast, by balancing acidity and sweetness. Desserts, instead, may be served with a drink based on the same, reinterpreted ingredients.
PN: What is your favourite cocktail?
SY: I am a big fan of the Manhattan and the Rob Roy, both with a whisky base – one peated, one “sweet”. I enjoy them like cuddles, especially in the winter.
PN: Do you offer any events at Tripstillery?
SY: Every Thursday we have tastings with a DJ mix to accompany the aperitif, and guest bartenders from all around Italy or even abroad in the future.
PN: Tripstillery’s eco-friendliness finds expression in its herbs farmed and dried at its privately-owned land at Lake Iseo. Have you been there?
SY: Not yet, but I plan on visiting Brazil, where we may farm our own Coffeelery coffee one day, who knows?!
Tripstillery awaits you in Piazza Alvar Aalto from Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.