Cocktails, like fashion, keep changing with time. We are living through a revolutionary age in terms of the cocktail culture. Many of the drinks we sip and relish today have a long and bright history attached to them, and were crafted more than a century ago.
With more avenues making travel an inexpensive indulgence, more and more Indians have been globetrotting and bringing varied cultures to the huge melting pot that is India’s F&B sector. The cultured and tasteful Indian consumers are now on the constant lookout for experiences that are modern, globally inspired and absolute. This particularly has helped in the evolution of bartending from a mere “open a beer can” culture to a rather experimental one that involves restyling spirits, for both the eyes and palate of the drinker.
Bartenders are more honoured today and make efforts in reinventing and recreating their roles and craft, encouraging patrons to bank on them and their skills. The current cocktail culture in India has seen a boom like no other era. This is mainly because of young Indians travelling and experimenting with their palates. With cocktail culture skyrocketing in other parts of the world and Indians experiencing this global cocktail culture, the demand has now watered down all the way to India’s non-metros, which is quite fascinating.
Indian cocktails today are as well-made and fascinating as any cocktail done in the West. Bartenders here have been using a range of Indian ingredients—such as tamarind juice, aam panna, kokum, masala tea, shikanji, jaljeera, jamun kala khatta, sugarcane juice, gol gappa pani—along with international ingredients like elder flowers and more to create heady mixes.
Many places that earlier used to offer just mocktails, are adding alcohol to these classic drinks, which spells an enlargement of flavours for the palate. Today’s millennials and new-age drinkers, however, want everything to be modern, fresh and rule breaking and cool. So bartenders oblige, conjuring up unusual combinations, serving them in unique styles—even in steel tumblers, copper glasses and beakers—and topping them with uncommon and rare Indian and international garnishes. The result is something that makes the customer sit up, take notice and savour the drink right away.
There was a time when whisky drinkers would not venture and go beyond Scotch and single malts, and rum fans stuck to their favourite brands. Now, even connoisseurs and experts of straight drinks are venturing into the cocktails territory to sample and sip something new. To order a cocktail with flowers, scent or a drink with regional and Indian flavours is the most fashionable thing to do at the town’s trendiest bars. To cater to the ever-growing demand for “something new and fresh, alluring and exciting” from the been-there-done-that customer, Indian bars are focusing on drinks that are way off the cocktail charts.
The best way to achieve this is through exotic or hard to find ingredients. From home infusions of whisky with mandarin and vodka with rose petals to vegetable extracts, herbs and spices making their way into cocktail glasses, all artificial syrups and crushed-ice fixes are taking a backseat. For example, my Dragonfly team did the most unique cocktails by introducing the Manga Mixology. The Manga menu is inspired by the well-loved tradition of Manga comics or graphic novels developed in Japan in the late 19th century. We have taken up this fantastic art form and paired our exquisite roster of handcrafted drinks with some of the most iconic characters of popular Manga culture, each with their own unique story. In a cocktail called Lust, we have given the classic mojito a Japanese makeover with apple-infused sake.
Cocktails are mainly a combination of three elements—a spirit, a sweet or a sour ingredient and the main ingredient which mostly is a bitter. So what you need is a unison of flavours for that perfect taste. The cocktail segment in India has received a major boost with the entry of many foreign liquor brands along with the fact that Indians are travelling a lot and getting exposed to a variety of drinks abroad. The current trend is focused on giving the drinker a memorable experience of cocktails that titillate all the senses.
The author is founder, First Fiddle Restaurants, which owns brands like Dragonfly, Plum by Bentchair and Lord of the Drinks