Recall the pretty pink Cosmopolitans from the Sex and the City series? Cocktails have been eternally popular not just for their good looks, but also as a way of inducing a celebratory feeling, a party mood. No wonder that the tribe of cocktails drinkers is ever-growing.
Last week, I was on the jury at the Monin Cup cocktail competition 2016 for South India. Twenty intrepid bartenders from cities across the South gathered at Shiro to show off their flaring, mixing and shaking. By the end of the day-long high energy event, three young men were judged winners, set to participate in the national finals and jet off to compete with their peers at the international finals.
With the crowd cheering around me, I watched with interest. Here was a wide range of finalists – bartenders with diverse skill sets and personalities and a common yen for creating cocktails. Was this an indication that the bartending profession is coming of age in India?
Founder of beverage training company Tulleeho, Vikram Achanta who was present too, confirmed that things are evolving. “Earlier anyone at a bar could double up as bartender; it was an interchangeable job with no pre-required prowess. Things changed around five years ago when restaurants realised that beverages were an important part of their revenue.” Professional training was needed. This was soon provided by leading beverage brands, along with the exposure to international bartending competitions. “This was a tremendous opportunity for bartenders. It gave them a first-hand look at the international scene and propelled them to a different level. Many performed well and have become very successful at the international level.” While it’s clear that bartending is attracting talent, trends show that top performers still come from bigger hotels and restaurants where they get most exposure and experience.
What qualities make a bartender so good that he’s the guy you seek out each weekend to fix your martinis? I’d say thinking on your feet; staying calm in high pressure situations or during bar-related catastrophes; having a cheery personality and ability to connect with customers are some important ones. Plus, the talent to create beautiful flavourful cocktails which delight both eye and palate. Fellow judge and co-founder of the popular cocktail-centric Bootlegger bar, Shreyas Patel has also watched the bar scene evolve. “There’s a growing new breed of well-travelled young bar owners around India who are investing in equipment and training their bartenders, giving them freedom to experiment,” he says, “Still, there’s a long way to go before we catch up with the rest of the world.” His idea of a great bartender? “Besides engaging with the customer, he must understand what the client needs and deliver on that.” Agrees Achanta, “Fundamentals would include a thirst for knowledge along with the ability to learn new things, being open to new ideas. And of course, a creative mindset and a constant ability to innovate.”