Bartending, now serious business in India
Shatbhi Basu, arguably India’s first professional female bartender, who started her journey 35 years ago, says people are now becoming far open to cocktails and bartending as a profession as they are travelling a lot more and noticing international trends.
“People are travelling a lot more, they are seeing a lot more and therefore they are far more open to cocktails than before. The market has also opened up. We have many more trained bartenders since the last 15 to 20 years, as opposed to when they were just put behind in the bar,” said Basu.
She said that bigger brands are “exciting” bartenders by “holding competitions and pushing them to the limits so that they become aware of their own potential”. According to Shatbhi, who also founded India’s professional bartending institute called STIR Academy of Bartending, the number of people who want to become bartenders is increasing every year.
“There are more and more (people) every year who want to do this as they realise it is a specialised skill. Being a bartender, you get noticed much faster. It gives you the opportunity to travel abroad and to work on cruise ships. So, yeah, a lot more people are choosing this profession,” she added.
Bartender Roger Gomes from Ek Bar, Delhi, and Chong Sherpa from PCO, Delhi, who won the recently held Ultimate Bartender Championship, said that alcohol appreciation in the country has improved in general.
“With the arrival of different international spirit brands, a cocktail bartender’s ammunition has increased massively. In top Indian bars, now you would get to taste what we call forgotten classics and tiki cocktails made with the finest ingredients and finest spirits,” said Gomes. “In a bartending school, a student is trained about the different aspects of bartending such as knowledge about wines, spirits, cocktails and the different skills required to make drinks,” he added. Sherpa believes that Indians have finally started taking wining and dining seriously.
“Different styles of bars and pubs are opening up and we get the opportunity to educate the guests about different styles along with the product knowledge and even the history behind it. And the best part is that guests also want to learn from us,” explained Sherpa. He says that it is imperative to make young “understand the joy of mixology”.
“I have seen that in India people don’t take bartending as a profession because they think that it’s only hard work. What we need to make them understand is that bartending is a fun job if you have confidence in you, and confidence comes with knowledge and understanding the flavour profile of different ingredients to give them an idea of what pairs well with what,” Sherpa added.
Shweta Jain, India Marketing Head at William Grant & Sons, said that “bartenders play a lead role in creating awareness and generating trials for a new brand”.
“Events such as cocktail festivals are a great platform for consumers to expand their cocktails repertoire. These platforms are great for bartenders to showcase their skills to a wider audience,” said Jain.
As far as skill sets are concerned, Basu believes that there are “not too many who push the skills, but some do”. She remained optimistic about the future and believed that the “next generation will be better”.