Indian cocktails have traditionally been made with western recipes and ingredients. In the past few years, though, with the focus shifting to local ingredients, you now have drinks that come steeped with Indian lime and green chilli, jasmine cordial and clove syrup, vetiver and jaggery.
I have never been a cocktail person. Mixing spirits with artificial flavours doesn’t work for me, and I usually steer clear of the cocktail menus; however, this has been changing slowly. It started with a version of gin and tonic flavoured with bela sherbet and local lime on a scorching June evening in Bikaner’s Narendra Bhavan. The earthiness of the cordial, fragrance of lime, and the punch of gin, created a symphony I had been oblivious to. It will be an exaggeration to say that I was converted, but I opened up to cocktails since—only if they came with my preferred local flavours. And it seems I am not the only one; in the past few years, there has been a growing appreciation for Indian-inspired drinks across the country.
“There always has been acceptance for regional flavours. People want and like familiarity, especially in cocktails,” says Yash Bhanage, Founder & COO at Hunger Inc. Hospitality.
His award-winning cafe and bar, The Bombay Canteen, has been one of the front runners in introducing local ingredients on its bar menu.
“Since cocktails are a newer addition to the Indian drinking culture, local and familiar flavours and ingredients play an important role in getting people to try a serious, alcohol-forward cocktail,” he said.
So, from using local spices to make bitters or using locally grown souring ingredients like Hibiscus or Kokum, the familiarity of the ingredients convinces the guest to choose a cocktail,” said Bhanage.
He would know; his collaboration with Stranger & Sons brought to India its first single batch distilled and bottled cocktail, Perry Road Peru, inspired by the seasonal pink guavas of Mumbai.
Mixologists, sommeliers, and bartenders have become much more mindful of the produce and products they put on their menu.
“Consumers are conscious about supporting local producers and reducing carbon footprint by consuming locally sourced ingredients as far as possible,” says Varun Sharma, the Beverage Manager at Comorin, Gurugram.
In Comorin, a modern restaurant known as much for its bar as its food, most ingredients used in the beverages are either local and seasonal or made in house. From infusions to flavoured sodas to blends like vermouth, negroni to coffee and fennel liqueurs, everything is created by Varun and his team. They also aim for zero waste and use leftover fruit pulp to create fruit leathers and garnish for the drinks.
Toast and Tonic, a local ingredient-inspired restaurant and gin bar, was among the first to bring organic flavours of fruits and flowers while making its shrubs and tonics. Their signature offerings include Indian basil, jasmine tea, elderflower, and grapefruit. They are served with coriander-orange ice or rose petal-cucumber ice, all made in-house. The love for fresh, seasonal, local, and regional produce, with provenance at the fore, is reflected clearly in the menu and loved by their patrons.
Here to stay
Today, consumers are well-read, understand flavours and ingredients, and are open to experimenting. And so, the future of the Alcobev space promises to be interesting.
“The past few months have seen many beverage-led establishments that focus on the technique,” said Bhanage. “This trend will continue to evolve as long as bars and restaurants look at Indian ingredients not just from the point of view of adding more diversity on the menu but getting the idea of familiarity of ingredients for guests on their menus,” he concludes.