When Dandelyan at London’s Mondrian hotel won World’s Best Bar at this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars awards, it didn’t come as much of a surprise – its creator, bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana, has a habit of winning awards. The big shock was that, just days before, he had announced he was closing it down. “The landscape and conversation have shifted since we opened four years ago,” he said on Instagram. “It makes sense to burn it down and start afresh.”
Dandelyan is likely to close in February, with a new incarnation to follow – still under wraps, but certain to be one of 2019’s most hotly anticipated openings. In the meantime, Chetiyawardana (aka “Mr Lyan”) is launching his Time Capsule cocktail service: a one-to-one session where clients get to plunder his private collection of more than 600 rare, old and unique spirits and wines and create a one-off bespoke bottled cocktail.
I have my Time Capsule consultation at Cub, another of Cheti’s award-winning venues, in Hoxton. Sitting on mustard banquettes, we begin with a quick overview of my likes and dislikes. Next, he maps my palate by giving me small strips of paper to place on my tongue, revealing my sensitivity to sweet, sour and bitter tastes.
Then we move over to the neighbouring table, where he has lined up an army of intriguing bottles for me to try. There’s a 1955 Glen Grant scotch, spicy vintage vermouth, oak-smoked water from Welsh artisans Halen Môn, a jalapeño distillate from the avant-garde Danish distillery Empirical and an astonishing amontillado from 1920. I taste a 1940s cognac – opened specially for the occasion – and a rare Bowmore that explodes with sweet, fruity smoke. There is even a sample of ambergris, an ingredient more commonly used in perfumery.
As we taste, memories start pouring out: the smell of pretzel stalls and Twizzlers from my childhood in New York; the juniper smoke that filled my grandmother’s Lakeland house; a memorable meal in Tokyo; a musical tour of Mexico with my husband. Cheti asks me to envisage how I might share the final drink – will it be with one other person or a group? Joyously at 6pm or at the end of the evening, in a more reflective mood? I realise that we are building up a picture not just of the drink but of myself.
The Time Capsule cocktails are explicitly designed for laying down: he once did a recipe for a friend’s newborn to open on their 18th birthday. The point is that they, like you, evolve.
A fortnight after our session, my Time Capsule arrives in an antique, wax-sealed bottle, bearing a Japanese washi-paper label illustrated and annotated by Cheti himself. What he’s created is a haunting twist on one of my favourite drinks – the Sazerac – made with 45-year-old single-cask cognac, 1940s Scotch, a homemade absinthe from “Mama Cheti’s garden” and touches of douglas fir, fino sherry and ambergris.
Prices start at £10,000 – which might sound a lot for a single bottle of booze. But I have a hunch that the memories it stirs up will go on resonating, long after the liquid is gone.