Bartenders now are no longer just mixing drinks together, their enhanced knowledge about ingredients and the art of mixology has turned them into skilled professionals known as mixologists. This issue of Food & Hospitality World covers the global trends in mixology and how it is picking up as a profession in India’s hospitality industry
As India’s food and beverage industry evolves through changing preferences, the profession of bartending has also graduated to mixology, wherein bartenders are expected to have more knowledge of ingredients and add innovation to their drinks. This advancement has given mixology its long due attention as a profession as more young professionals are looking to follow it as a career option. Many hotel bars and restaurants now hire professional mixologists to create innovative menus with the right mix of ingredients to add a new dimension to their service. A notable personality in this space and India’s first female mixologist, Shatbhi Basu describes it as a journey of knowledge and discovery, from when she began in 1981. She shares, “To take mixology in isolation is a mistake. It has no relevance unless it has a person who understands every element of what goes into the final culmination of liquid in glass. It combines history, geography, technique, science and art. Alongside there’s observation, communication skills, psychology and listening skills. Finally an ability to smile through it all. It is this magical combination that allows you to use your skills of mixology while keeping in mind the heritage of the products you are working with and the palate of your consumer. This is what the kids today are beginning to realise. This holds the key to its future in India!”
Hemant Pathak, mixologist and bar manager at Junoon New York believes that mixology as a profession is booming in India. He is also responsible for creating Junoon’s cocktails, spirits and beer programmes, including all the purchasing and inventory control as well as staff training and education. He says, “Creating cocktails is getting bigger by the day and Indian bartenders are looking at international techniques to make their menus unique and creative. Every hotel management college has beverages as the main subject where they cover the basics of bartending. But apart from this, we have quite a few training institutes only for bars in every big city like Sandy Bar Academy in Delhi, Flairlogo in Pune and Cocktail and Dreams in Delhi and Mumbai and few more around the country.” Pathak continues to host workshops where he shares his experience and also teaches the basics of cocktails. His focus is mainly on rare herbs, teas and spices found in various parts of Asia, mainly India. He adds, “At Junoon, mixology is all more spice inspired as we serve it with Indian cuisine.” By engaging in hours of conversation with Junoon’s chefs, tasting their dishes, and listening to their ideas and inspirations, Pathak creates striking and innovative libations, what he calls “glasses of experience,” that best complement Junoon’s culinary offerings.
Molecular and flair bartending dates back to the first cocktail book written in 1862, Bar-Tender’s Guide by Jeremiah P Thomas. He created an assortment of cocktails with unique concoctions, including drinks like the blue blazer. Aman Dua, head mixologist, Massive Restaurants (the parent company of renowned restaurant brands such as MasalaBar, Farzi Cafe and Pa Pa Ya) feels that mixology neither saw innovation nor recognition, till as recent as less than a decade back. He shares, “At most you would witness to a bit of fire play or some smoke being added for instant attention, neither of which really did much to enhance the flavour of the drink or the experience of the guest. Over the past few years in India, beverages, along with food, have received prominence from both diners as well as restaurateurs. With globalisation and innovation seeping into the field, guests are open to experimenting with flavours, exploring new horizons and the art of mixology in its true sense. In the past couple of years, conscious efforts have been made by innovative concepts like Farzi Café, Pa Pa Ya and MasalaBar showcasing innovation in the field of drinks.”
MasalaBar uses scientific equipments like rotary evaporators and distillers to derive new concoctions, while also looking at infusing spirits, mixers, etc, with spices for days at length or using dry ice and liquid nitrogen to bring forth aroma of a specific ingredient.
With Indians coming in contact with various liquors and ingredients during their travels across the world, and even through the television and the internet, there is a further opening up of the industry. Right from molecular mixology to mixology in non-alcoholic drinks, and even combining mixology with performing arts like fire-eating and juggling bottles to enthrall the audience. Pathak comments, “The only thing that limits a skilled mixologist these days is his imagination. After many new developments in the advanced mixology world in last few years, the current trend I can see is that simple, classic cocktails are trendy. Chefs are working very closely with bartenders to bring their culinary expertise into cocktails; ice game is pretty big. Simplicity, but artful presentation is in trend.” Affirming this, Basu adds, “Indians are very savvy and well travelled. They woke up to being adventurous more than 20 years ago. It’s that bars have finally understood their customers better and are appreciating trained bartenders more than ever. Consumers are the reason that we are able to experiment and showcase our skills.”
Mohammad Ali, founded The Mixologist in Goa along with his creative head Joel Pires. He also judged last year’s Mixology Championship at the Food Hospitality World exhibition in Goa and was surprised to see the upcoming talent. He however believes that the props are equally important during a show. Talking about India’s mixology trends, he comments, “Bartending props have stolen the show with regards to ongoing trends. With unique glasses, trays and equipment being used by bartenders to create their cocktails, props have changed the landscape of the bar. Moreover, the magic of mixology has become a big deal. Illusions behind the bar, science, the use of liquid nitrogen in cocktails, using clear ice and within India, the most notable trend has been the creation of Ayurvedic cocktails. The trend is also quickly spreading to Europe and America. With healthy living coming to the forefront in pop culture, this trend couldn’t have come at a time more right.”
Sharing an interesting insight, Amanpreet Matharu, director of restaurants and bars, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, which houses the city’s renowned AER Bar & Lounge, states, “The average age of the customer consuming alcohol ranges between 22- 32 years, a demographic that is well-travelled and knowledgeable about global trends in food and beverage, coupled with a zeal to try something new every time. Mixologists too are upping their game to create a unique showcase of their cocktails which becomes a visual experience for the discerning customer. Innovative cocktails are definitely on the list of must-try as the Indian customer today ventures out for a more sensory experience.”
In the recent years, due to the emergence of mixology as a career, there has also been an increasing need for professional institutes. Basu’s STIR Academy of Bartending, in Mumbai, was the first academic institution in India to impart training in the art of bartending. Sharing more, Basu says, “We at STIR Academy of Bartending were the first to set up a training school for bartenders in 1999. We started the programme as early as 1997 with a seminar and competition for the beverage industry. Since then many more have gone our way. The big brands have also seen the relevance of training and have followed through well. They are investing in building brand loyalty through dedicated teams and master classes. This can only be good for young professionals wanting to build their careers.”
Alongside Mumbai and Goa, one of the most happening hot spots for mixology in India is Bengaluru, due to growing pub culture and huge IT industry presence. Bar Square Academy in Bengaluru is a well established bartending academy in the city. Rohan Carvalho, director of Bar Square feels that liquor companies have understood the potential of the India market and are showcasing their premium segment products in cocktails applications via mixology competitions and promotional activities, ultimately raising the bar of mixology in India. He adds that the training focus is getting better. Carvalho says, “Many beverage companies (alcoholic and non alcoholic) have hired experienced bartenders as brand ambassadors whose key responsibility is training service staff on mixology nationwide. A lot of importance is given to upscale the mixology skills of bartenders through extensive trainings by brand ambassadors. They have realised that the success of the brand also depends on the person serving it. Bartending institutions/ schools have also contributed immensely in producing well trained bar professionals.”
Basu and Carvalho have also been part of the jury of Mixology Championship at Food Hospitality World show at Mumbai and Bengaluru respectively. Debuted in 2016 at FHW Bengaluru, the championship has been lauded by budding mixologists and established professionals.
Although the positives are outshining the hurdles, there are still several challenges existing in this field of art. As Basu points out, lack of a wider range of products to play with is the biggest challenge. The levies on imported products, FSSAI norms, the fact that each state has its own excise laws and taxes – all make it extremely difficult for specialty products to come in. Whereas, on the talent front, Dua comments, “There is no dearth of talent among bartenders and mixologists in India as young F&B professionals are well trained in hospitality schools and stay updated with global mixology trends and techniques. However, one roadblock that mixologists commonly face, when creating a cocktail menu, is the unavailability of certain exotic ingredients that are hard to source locally.”
The rapid flourishing of restaurants, bars and pubs has also resulted in numerous job opportunities. According to Basu, within the country the opportunities are quite good with many standalone bars opening doors; hotels too provide ample opportunity. “However, salaries in India being very low, more and more bartenders prefer to work on cruise ships, the Middle East and even migrate to other countries in search of a better growth,” she points out.
The way ahead
A study of the 2012 alcohol consumption numbers by Euromonitor revealed that India consumed about 1.2 billion litres of whiskey, which was almost half of the total consumption of whiskey in the world. And the consumer spending in India is estimated to rise to US$ 3.6 trillion by 2020, which is about three times the spending numbers of 2010, Pathak mentions, “India is one of the largest markets for liquor business and many liquor companies are helping us with world class training for the bar professionals. The future of mixology is very bright as the awareness about the bar mixed drink is quite strong. People already started looking at the bright sight of it. We still have to look at the global mixology to find out new things so I can’t say if the one can explore the new trends in India as but definitely Indian bartenders are working hard to get there.”
Ali shares, “In my opinion, India has just opened page two of the first chapter of its mixology handbook. The industry is still nascent but is consistently picking up steam. Millennials understand that it is an art and can be further perfected and experimented with and are highly interested in it. India is also a great market for international brands to get involved with. It is a growing market for them and they can take advantage of the increased awareness and knowledge in this market.” Adding to that, Dua comments, “The future of mixology in India is promising and will continue to appeal to the evolving tastes of adventurous gourmands and delight old-school connoisseurs as well. With the new age, well-travelled diners, bartenders and mixologists can showcase their creativity by creating exotic drinks, with unique flavour combinations and explore the art of mixology to complement their culinary experience with innovatively prepared cocktails.”