The Rise of the Midnight Brekkie 

How the Midnight Brekkie became India’s favourite cocktail 

Not that long ago, Bar Tesouro was named #4 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. Not long after that, the bar had to pull its shutters down due to unfortunate reasons we won’t get into. 

But what lived on beyond the walls of the bar, and beyond the complications of operating a bar in a challenging environment, is the drink that stood the test of time – the Midnight Brekkie.

Midnight Brekkie by Pankaj Balachandran

Pankaj Balchandran is a familiar and significant name in India’s beverage landscape and when Pankaj makes a drink, we pay attention. During his time at Tesouro, Pankaj was instrumental in shaping the bar’s wildly popular cocktail programme, churning out quirky riffs on classics and the notoriously popular Midnight Brekkie which almost gained a cult-like following within months of its debut at the bar. The drink has now found a home at Pankaj’s bar consultation project Counter Top’s super impressive lab in Goa. 

We caught up with Pankaj to find out more about the drink that has now been immortalised, and how it all happened. 

Pinkies out with Pankaj

TDA: Pankaj, first off, what’s in this drink that’s making people lose their minds over it?

Pankaj: London Dry Gin, Martini Bianco, Fresh Watermelon juice, Rea’l Strawberry syrup, Malic acid, Peanut butter 

TDA: How did it come about? How long did it take to gain popularity both within and outside the bar.

Pankaj: During the first lock down while we were all stuck at home, I was working on various Countertop projects which involved figuring out new hustles and ways to keep ourselves afloat via late night zoom chats and what not. The late night cravings were usually doused by a well-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich which was always a saviour given the lock down situation. 

Many nights were spent chowing down on them and cheeky shots of some fine rum or tequila or gin. 

In the world of ‘one thing leads to another’ it found a natural progression to “hmmm, could this be made into a drink?” which was possible. From there it went to “can it be made clearer?”. Taking some assistance from Davide Boncimino on how to clarify watermelon juice using its own solid particles, we figured out how to do one drink, it went on to being made as a full batch. A friend tasted it, loved it, asked for a full bottle, and lo and behold we started selling them by the bottle for people who needed cocktails during those dark times. Eventually 8 months later in Goa when the bar opened up, it became the highest selling drink on the menu.

TDA: When did you realise you were on to something and why did this stand out on the menu for you from all the other drinks?

Pankaj: At the bar, initially the Midnight Brekkie was like any other cocktail. It did have a slight advantage that it was the first drink on the menu. As time passed, we soon noticed people recognising the Midnight Brekkie by name without having to refer to the menu. It became the first drink anyone would order whether they were visiting for the first time or bringing their friends or even people travelling in from across states to experience the drink. We’ve had crazy situations where couples would travel for dates overnight and travel back the same night for Brekkie. The Brekkie for the longest time did hold 40-50% of the cocktail sales of the entire menu.

I had a feeling this drink has the potential to be known well beyond the bar. Once we started sampling the drink across the country and for our international shifts, I saw the excitement the drink created and immediately knew we were on to something. 

TDA: Do you have aspirations of this drink becoming somewhat of a modern classic and to what extent do you think that has happened?

Pankaj: Midnight brekkie has definitely become a popular drink across the country. It still has a long way to go to have it made in bars around the world. I am certain I will achieve this feat. Because it’s just the beginning and I am pretty sure the PB&J is not going out of style anytime soon.

TDA: Did the demand dictate the supply or was there a deliberate effort and plan to popularise the drink?

Pankaj: At the bar, the Midnight Brekkie was like any other cocktail. It did have a slight advantage that it was the first drink on the menu. Most of our drinks at the bar were batched and every day we used to batch 25-30 of the brekkies a day. Almost 3 months into operations, we realised that there was a huge influx of people ordering the drink over any other. The batch per day went from 30 to 60. People who visited the bar were suggesting it as a must have when visiting the venue and that became like the first drink every table ordered before even seeing the menu. So, I would say the demand did dictate the supply. Brekkie also made an appearance time and again across the country and abroad.

TDA: So what do you think it is about this drink that has caught the fancy of so many? Why is it so “addictive”?

Pankaj: As a drink, Brekkie plays that “I am going to mess with your head” vibe very well. The appearance of the drink is deceiving.  It looks nothing like how it tastes and vice versa. It’s wonderful to see people’s expressions when they have it for the first time. The first impact is the name – it draws you in, because who doesn’t want a midnight snack? Then the description that intrigues you, and the questions come in, with “How do you get peanut butter into a gin?” being one. Once you’ve tried it, you are sure to tell people about it, and that’s how the virtuous cycle builds. You have to try it.

TDA: What interesting iterations of the drink have you come across?

Pankaj: Oh, too many. People have taken multiple digs at recreating midnight brekkies of their own. Also, various iterations. I know a bartender who kept asking me for the exact recipe with the specs for almost a year and a half. I did give him the ingredients and I am sure he tried and tested multiple renditions. I have seen the same flavour combination with a change in sugar or juice popping in at a few places. Also, a completely breakfast inspired drink. Well, some people outright credit me for the inspiration and some people don’t.

TDA: Where is it currently available/served?

Pankaj: The OG Midnight Brekkie continues to be served at the Countertop Lab in Goa. It is also available at Jun’s Dubai (#44 MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023) in their menu. Midnight Brekkie also made a special appearance in a limited period menu at Elephant Room in Singapore and Sago House and it continues to be available for the shifts we do in India and also overseas.

TDA: How easy/difficult would it be for someone to make this at home? Are you open to offering suggestions to non-bartenders who would like to give it a go?

Pankaj: Obviously, you can create a brekkie at home but to match it to the experience one must rigorously follow all the steps to execute the drink. If the same has been followed it is a straightforward drink which is complex but fairly easy to execute. 

What I have realised though is that the drink doesn’t require any major fancy liquor or equipment. The basic ingredients like peanut butter (has to be the creamy Sun drop peanut butter) strawberry syrup (ideally a Rea’l or Matthew Tessier), fresh watermelon juice and the malic acid which is weighed by grams in a weighing scale should be on point. You shouldn’t really eyeball any ingredient for sure. Keeping a few things in mind you can recreate this drink at home as well with no major equipment other than a simple coffee filter paper. 

TDA: Tell us about three other such drinks by your peers that you think deserve a modern classic status. 

Pankaj: Slip me a Mickey by Michael D Callahan which we served at our bar for a while as a hat tip to Michael.

Ready Fire Aim by Steve Schneider

The Optimist created by Devender Sehgal

We’re confident the Midnight Brekkie will find its way to the bars and hearts of many, just like it found its way to ours.

Ask Pankaj for the full recipe. Follow him on Instagram.

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