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Renowned Indian bartender and trainer, Yangdup Lama talks to us about his career, the rise of the Indian bar scene and how Diageo Bar Academy has played its part in developing the industry in India.

My story

22 years ago, after my time in hospitality school I was looking to work in the food and beverage industry and opted to join the Hyatt Regency Hotel as a waiter. For the first six months I only served drinks as a waiter on the floor. At this time there were not too many cocktail bars in the city and our hotel bar, Polo Lounge Bar, was amongst the finest cocktail bars in India complete with a live band.

Six months into working at the bar, I approached my supervisor to ask him to give me an opportunity to go and work behind the bar. He agreed to my request and from that point on there was no looking back.

After the first two years at the Polo Lounge I had the opportunity to be a part of the opening team for the launch of one of India’s finest bars called Djinns. It was one of the best experiences I ever had. I was working in a bar that could seat 250 guests and was extremely busy especially on the weekends. In 1996 I was awarded the Indian Bartender of the year award by H&FS (the hotel body in India) and that gave a great boost to my bartending career. Subsequently in 1997, I was awarded the “30 Under 30” award by Susan & Field Associates for being one of Asia’s finest hoteliers under the age of 30.

In 1999 I left the Hyatt as I wanted to start a new journey as a freelance bartender within India and set up my own mobile bartending company (Cocktails & Dreams). It took me six months to get my first break.

By 2013 I was undertaking training sessions, bartender relationship programmes and quite a lot of consumer experiences for spirit brands in India. I eventually went on to set up my dream project, India’s first bartender owned cocktail bar with the concept of a speakeasy. It’s been a fabulous journey.

My advice for bar staff

Education is a never-ending process and when it comes to bartending there is no exception. It is as important as experience. Good education imparted to bar staff helps bring in a good combination of knowledge with the right implementation. Since this is a more practical oriented profession, good education is the base for being the best. Without having a good basis of education then I would not be where I am today, I truly believe it is a fundamental basis to successful career.

Diageo Bar Academy has been instrumental in exposing bar staff to the right skills in India, from technique to character building, it gives a great platform for amateur and budding bartenders to shine in the industry.

I was involved in the first Academy training in April 2011 and I remember it was a tough challenge to educate bartenders on the skills required to upgrade their career. Back then, there was just a handful of bartenders who had made their mark in India. Today, having trained over 3000 bar professionals, India and the local industry is more defined and has all the finesse it requires. Diageo Bar Academy has been the reason for knowledgeable bar staff fixing drinks and extending great experiences to its customers all over the world. The focus on education is now seen as being extremely important; through training and other educational resources, the skill of bartenders in India is continuously on the rise.

The Indian cocktail scene today

The Indian cocktail scene has come of age and it is not too far behind from say New York or London in terms of technique and flavours. The advantage here is the diversity of culture and the length and breadth of the country. From sweet to sour, using spices, herbs and botanicals, India is rich in terms of flavour offerings. The last five years has seen the growth of quality cocktail bartenders. The global finals of WORLD CLASS 2011 in Delhi, India have been instrumental in promoting quality bartending and gave recognition to bartenders in the country. Most cities are booming with bars and restaurants and apart from food, the focus is now on cocktails and a complete bar experience for its customers.

Lately the Indian cocktail bartenders have been using a lot of flavours from home - mostly spices and local fruits. The lack of availability of big spirit brands is a big challenge bartenders face but there are enough locally produced flavours to play with and substitute if we know how to use them in the right way.

Future trends in India

We are falling back to the classics, but with a more intelligent approach. We see bartenders being more technically sound and a lot of research that goes into selecting each of the ingredients used. Industry professionals are playing with all kinds of stuff from technique to use of ingredients and presentation. Last but not the least; it is about being unique in style and flavours - go more local in your produce.

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(*One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol)