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Spotlight on bartending in India

Is bartending in the land of spices coming of age?

The modern cocktail revolution is truly global and is a seemingly unstoppable wave that rolls on. Access to bartending knowledge and trends via the internet, expectations of the ‘global’ cocktail consumer, and investment from the major drink players pushes the wave forward, and India is the latest nation to feel its impact.

India has long been a land of spices and exotic flavours, but India’s bar scene and bartending practice have not always kept pace… now things are changing. Indian wine and Indian whisky are starting to gain a global recognition of quality, and now, finally, the bartenders and bars are too.

On a recent jaunt to Delhi, a few of us international visitors explored its bar scene – with us were a couple of India’s most innovative bartenders - Arijit Bose, a well-travelled cocktail and drinks consultant, and Devender Sehgal (award winning bartender from Ellipsis in Mumbai) – good people to know!

Highlights were PCO, India’s first speakeasy and a real hit, the beautiful Library Barat the Leela Palace Hotel, the classic 1911 at The Imperial, Smokehouse Grill, and the stylish Blue Frog, with its new outside courtyard.

India's bartending scene sees growth

India already has its own dedicated gin and craft beer bars, and a recent influx of overseas consultants and partnerships – Hakkasan brought the iconic London venue to India, and recently Ellipsis in Mumbai, with connections to Death & Co New York, are bringing global bartending expertise and influence. With all this diversity, with local twists on modern cocktail culture, now is a great time to explore the bars of India.

I left with a sense that there are as many bartending challenges as opportunities. In the great bar cities, it is the bartenders that make the difference. India is still a tough place to bartend – low wages and long commutes make it difficult for bartenders to build their bartending skills and socialise in other bars, which helps forge a sense of community spirit.

Bartender training programmes, like the Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail competitions like World Class, and independent accredited training platforms providing education and inspiration will all be crucial elements in the mix, as will spreading the word around the world. The cocktail tsunami may have rolled into India, but soon we’ll see India’s bartending influence reach around the world.

By Andy Gaunt for Drinks World Asia, a quarterly trade magazine for the Asian beverage industry.