IN FOCUS: India – Home to a Burgeoning Cocktail Culture

With the recent appearance of bars like Sidecar and Aer in some of the most coveted international lists, we turn our attention to India, where a cocktail culture is simmering under the finest mentorship and a solid crew of committed bartenders. 

India is brimming with keen bartenders displaying varying levels of talent and proficiency in the craft, and while some have journeyed on to make their mark internationally, the next generation of bartenders is diligently burning the midnight oil, walking the slow and steady path to a successful career as bartenders.

With the likes of Indian origin bartenders like Aashish Sharma, Devender Kumar Sehgal, Sandeep Kumar, and Hemant Pathak (to name a few), and their global success stories inspiring a whole generation of bartenders in their home country, it is evident that the talent exists, as does the willingness and fortitude it takes to be the best in the business and be recognised for it.

India has a peculiar trait that makes it both alluring and intimidating to the world. Known for a rich culinary culture, a torrid love affair with spices, and fertile plains that are home to an abundance of produce, India is a tremendous blank canvas, one that is being sincerely explored by a new breed of bartenders.

We try to give you a glimpse of some of these young men and women who are learning from the best, approaching the craft with humility, and sharing their experiences with their peers in a way that helps nurture the community as a whole. There’s no skipping the queue here and they’re all firm believers that there are no short-cuts to success.

Vedant Mehra (@ve_drinks)

Vedant Mehra

Vedant is a Bangalore boy who wears his heart on his sleeve, just the way we like it. Having recently completed a stint as Bar Manager at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mumbai, Vedant began his journey as a bartender at Bootlegger in Bangalore, where he was previously a frequent guest himself.

Vedant fondly remembers his first year as a bartender, when a trusting leader recognised his potential, took a leap of faith, and offered him the opportunity to step into the shoes of bar manager upon the departure of a colleague. This was a defining moment in Vedant’s journey as a bartender, and he firmly believes that with the right leadership, mutual trust and respect, it becomes possible to exceed expectations and push the envelope. He looks to the likes of Shreyas Patel (Owner – Bootlegger) and Pankaj Balanchandran for inspiration, and believes they have been pivotal in shaping his view of the bartending world.

Vedant is keen to champion Indian produce and hero ingredients found locally, and is constantly looking for ways to bring guests on a journey that will help them discover their palate through the world of cocktails.

Cindy Lalramngaihzuali (@lrzcindy)

Cindy Lalramngaihzuali

Hailing from the lovely hills of Mizoram in North East India, Cindy has called Hoots and Perch in New Delhi her home for almost 2 years now. She works both bars with her head on her shoulders and is keen to deliver the best guest experience. Her idea of success as a bartender is to be able to take each guest on a journey that they will remember as being remarkable for its high standards of service, hospitality, and balance of flavours. 

Cindy is very clear about the fact that having a trusting bar owner like Vaibhav Singh who allows them the freedom of expression they need to shine in their roles, encourages people like her to put their best foot forward. She has been mentored and has great regard for veterans Pankaj Balachandran and Arijit Bose, who she believes have steered her in the right direction along this journey. When asked about what advice she has for her peers, Cindy’s response is direct and simple – get your basics right and give the classics the respect they deserve. 

It is Cindy’s goal to eventually open a bar and restaurant closer to home, in North East India. 

Lopsang Galchen Lama (@lopsangalchen)

Lopsang Galchen Lama

This is a face nobody forgets once they’ve been to Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy in Gurgaon. A child of the hills of Kurseong and hotel management graduate, Lopsang has found his way to the bar by learning the ropes and building a firm foundation. A student of the Cocktails & Dreams Bar School by day and a barkeep apprentice by night, his early bartending days were inspired by veteran Yangdup Lama. 3 years on straddling a full time bartending role, Lopsang is still grateful to his then bar manager Prajwal Rai who was instrumental in helping him transition in his journey from server to barkeep in his early days at CnD Speakeasy. Lopsang is no stranger to “Best Bartender” accolades and awards and has earned them with true hard work and commitment, under the able guidance of friend and mentor Rohan Matmary (Sidecar)

According to Lopsang, success is defined by humility and knowledge and it is his goal to keep learning, while keeping his feet firmly planted in the ground, and wearing a smile through it all. 

Arati Mestry (@the_negroni_moron)

Arati Mestry

Arati is a face known to Bangalore for the love that she pours into the drinks she makes. Those who know her from her time at Byg Brewski will testify to her talent and passion as she stirs up a storm behind the stick. Arati is currently ready to take the reins at an upcoming project by the Taj group of Hotels where she is crafting a cocktail menu that has been inspired by all she has absorbed in her bartending journey. She believes that a success story in this field is defined by happiness and contentment, as well as recognition for the quality of one’s work. A voracious reader of all things spirits and cocktails, Arati is a firm advocate of constant learning which she deems irreplaceable and is inspired by the flair and style with which bartenders like Amanda (aka Bad Birdy – House of Machines LA) conduct themselves.

Devi Singh Bhati (@mixandtravel)

Devi Singh Bhati

Devi made his foray into the bartending world 4 years ago, from humble beginnings in the city of Jodhpur. Convinced by a friend that Goa was the place to be, Devi packed his bags and soon found himself waiting tables at a beach shack in the sunny coastal state. As someone who spoke very little English, Devi quickly realised that he needed to up his game and picked up Russian and English solely through guest interaction, shedding all inhibition and securing himself a comfortable spot in the hearts of guests he met. Being someone who loved to cook, Devi found synergies between the kitchen and the bar and went on to explore his love for the craft of cocktails, keeping flavour and technique at the heart of his process. Today, Devi is well known in Indian bartending circles as a hard-working bartender with an eagerness to be the best host, tell the most colourful stories, and bring guests on unforgettable journeys filled with flavours. He is a firm believer of originality and advocates the need to stay inspired, but to also develop an identity of one’s own through the craft. Chasing titles and awards is seen as a distraction and Devi has his heart set on making lifelong friends in this world by staying humble and honest, much like his inspiration Yangdup Lama, who he sees as a hallmark of success and humility.

While this list is by no means comprehensive, and bartenders like Santosh Kukreti, Ankush Gamre, and Harish Subramaniam are diligently pushing the envelope and sharing their learnings, we are keen to watch this journey from the best seats in the house. India is rich with possibilities and these young bartenders are keeping their heads down, putting in the hours, chasing the right goals, and are the building blocks of a community that is bursting with potential.

Give them a follow and look them up when you travel to India. Show up thirsty.

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