Modern artisanal cocktails that go back to Indian roots
Come for the masaledar mixology and stay for comforting sips of spirits infused with all-too-familiar flavours of the country.
In the vibrant landscape of India's culinary renaissance, artisanal cocktails are making quite a fizz in the world of libations. The very definition—a drink made with fine ingredients and utmost care—mirrors the country’s approach to hospitality. But in a recent wave, bartenders and mixologists have emerged as modern alchemists, infusing Indian nuances into cocktails and crafting entirely new concoctions that play on familiar flavours.
THE ART OF ARTISANAL COCKTAILS
“Artisanal cocktails are handcrafted cocktails that are made with high-quality, carefully selected ingredients and a focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail. These cocktails are often created by skilled mixologists who have a deep understanding of flavour profiles, balance, and presentation,” says Mr Shubam Pathani, Head Bartender at Home, Delhi.
“Indian variations of artisanal cocktails have gained popularity in recent years due to their unique flavours and cultural influences. The introduction of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and flavours like paan (a betel leaf-based concoction) and mango has added a distinct twist to traditional cocktail recipes. These Indian-inspired ingredients not only provide a burst of flavour but also offer a glimpse into the rich culinary heritage of India,” he elaborates, hinting at a shifting scene in the country’s cocktail culture.
But it's not just about the ingredients; it's about the thoughtfulness woven into each sip. Home’s very own 16th century, a coming together of rabri and a martini is a prime example. It combines the creamy sweetness of saffron curd with the smoothness of Gin, creating a Dessert drink. The ingredients for this cocktail include saffron, gin, yoghurt, lime juice, simple syrup, and lavender flowers. At Copitas, Four Seasons Hotel’s bar and lounge in Bengaluru which made it into the list of Asia's Best Bars for the second time, you can sip on Leaf, an artisanal cocktail that infuses the flavours of betel leaf with tequila, saffron, honey water and lime juice.
NOSTALGIC FLAVOURS WITH MODERN MIXOLOGY
Just as India's kitchens boast an array of spices and ingredients, the cocktail scene is embracing local flavours that go far beyond the ubiquitous negroni or margarita. From the palates of Punjab to the coasts of Kerala, mixologists are traversing regional cuisines to uncover inspirations for their creations. “The Dilli 6 at Khi Khi and the Titlie Paloma are classic examples. The Titlie Paloma uses a homegrown agave spirit paired with local citrus and curry leaves. The Dilli 6 at Khi Khi is a homemade thandai liqueur with almond milk and shaved mango ice,” says chef-entrepreneur Tarun Sibal.
“‘Alcohol-forward cocktails’ is another trend that I see. Appreciating bold, unabashed celebration of spirits at the heart of cocktails. India has moved its way through fruity, sweet cocktails to understanding the nuances of spirit-forward drinks,” says Yash Bhanage, Founder & COO at Hunger Inc. Hospitality (The Bombay Canteen). Rear View, inspired by Mumbai’s iconic kaali peelis (cabs), this cocktail comes with innovative ingredients like black garlic (kaali), honey (peeli), ginger, tequila, and a squeeze of lime; the Waiting List (inspired by the long queues at an Udipi restaurant in Matunga), is an aromatic coconut fat washed, a tequila-based cocktail with house-made curry leaf soda and curry leaf salt rim. “At The Bombay Canteen bar, we have a soft spot for the flavour of basil, and Rising Star is an alcohol-forward, aromatic, clear gin cocktail with clarified basil cordial and orange bitters,” he adds.
“At Rick's, we have a gin-based drink called the Apricot Gibson. A Gibson is the ubiquitous sister of a martini, made with gin and dry vermouth, garnished with a pickled onion instead of an olive. Our version uses 15 ml of Apricot pickle brine. It incorporates traditional Indian pickling techniques and native Indian apricots called Jardulu, mainly cultivated in the North-Western region of India. Pickling is a traditional Indian home and community ritual and each household has its own distinctive style and traditions attached to it. The use of native Indian apricots adds a distinctly local touch, celebrating indigenous ingredients while offering a new and intriguing flavour profile from the pickling brine. With the help of this drink and similar drinks like this, bars are able to showcase the depth of Indian mixology and encourage a broader appreciation for the art of cocktails,” says Ms Anushka Bagchi, bar manager at Rick’s, Taj Mahal, New Delhi. Just like the country's diverse cultural mosaic, the cocktail scene is transforming, one carefully artisanal sip at a time.
Inputs by Ruchika Garg