8 Bartenders From India’s Bar Evolution You Must See In Action

On World Bartender Day, we spoke to nine of India's happening bartenders and mixologists about their favourite poisons.

Published On Apr 11, 2022 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024


If chefs are artists creating masterpieces on a plate then bartenders and mixologists are nothing less than magicians concocting elixirs that enthrall and excite. On World Bartender Day, we reached out to nine of India’s top bartenders who will happily have a quick chat with you and mix you your favourite drink.

A legendary mixologist and an entrepreneur, everyone who loves a good cocktail knows Yangdup Lama. He started his career with Hyatt Regency, New Delhi and now over two decades years later he has a bar service and beverage consultancy company along with two commercial bars.

Sidecar, an artisanal cocktail bar, is his latest venture and is making waves in the country for its incredible drinks.

The last decade has been great for the global bartending scene and India is not far behind on that front. I have seen budding Indian bartenders who are experimenting and exploring the cocktail world from every angle. The level of enthusiasm is tremendous and most importantly the Indian bartender today is well respected both by the industry (employers) and the consumer and that paves the way for a wonderful future for bartending in India.

The diversity of our country should help to raise the bar and the cocktail culture despite constraints in the alcohol space. The new generation of the Indian consumer is very experimental and it is just right for the bartending scene in India to show the world what we can offer to the global cocktail trend.

I love making a Manhattan and its variations—I love cocktails that are served straight in a coupe or a cocktail glass. The Manhattan-style of cocktail could apply to any spirit. It’s simple, clean and most importantly it does not require too many ingredients. The classic Manhattan is a simple whiskey (Rye or Bourbon) mixed with aromatic bitters and sweet vermouth. The taste of the three ingredients put together and stirred with ice has all the nuances of a well-made full-bodied cocktail.

Bourbon for sure.

Cinnamon is my favourite spice. I also love ginger.

Tongba from the list of Sidecar Signatures. As long as there is a steady supply of hot water, fermented seeds can be stretched into several rounds of warming, yeasty beer. Tongba is a drink of the ethnic group from the mountainous region. It is prepared for ceremonious celebrations and religious offerings. 

At Sidecar it is made with aged rum, fermented millet juice, fresh lime, dried cranberry puree and a good squeeze of a fresh orange wedge. It is a tribute to my grandmother who was probably the finest brewer of the Tongba of her times.

The sole lady on this list, Kanchan Fartiyal is the star at The Hong Kong Club, the concept bar at Andaz Delhi. She has grown within the Hyatt brand to be a team leader and a bartender extraordinaire and features amongst the best bartenders in Delhi

The Indian bartending scene was predominantly a male domain, however, it is very encouraging to see more women pursue their passion and take this as a chosen profession. From a bar culture point of view, people want to engage and enjoy the story of the cocktail being prepared right in front of their eyes, hence the community bar tables and bar counter seating are gaining popularity. Also, the art of mixology showcasing locally-sourced seasonal ingredients is here to stay as it allows bartenders to bring their personality to life through fresh and local ingredients with compelling stories.

Simplicity is the key to the goal of being a great mixologist. Indian bartenders possess a keen sense of flavours and textures owing to the rich cultural legacy that allows them to adapt and evolve as per market dynamics. They seem to have a natural instinct when it comes to blending distinct flavours from local spices to exotic herbs, infusing local spirits with artisanal spices and more. They can grow across the globe owing to their heightened sense of tastes and multicultural experiences.

It will be the humble Mojito—this was the first cocktail I learnt during my college. It’s my favourite because of the simplicity of the ingredients and how it has sustained generations and still continues to be a favourite for many across the world.

Whiskey would be the chosen one as it’s not a clichéd neutral spirit and crafting a cocktail with whiskey is a challenge that always excites me. I love the bold flavours and the personality that whiskey lends to any cocktail.

Passion fruit is one of my go-to ingredients for cocktails. Its compliments an array of spirits and the end result is always refreshing and delicious.

I would recommend the Cardinal inspired by the Chinese Zodiac Rat – it is also my Chinese Zodiac. It’s special because the personality of the clever rat is well embodied in the gin-based cocktail, which is not only an all-season favourite but also has plenty of botanicals.

Varun Sharma is an award-winning bartender with over 12 years of experience in the beverage industry, with highlights including Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, Soda Bottle Openerwala and Roseate House Hotel, Delhi. He is currently the beverage manager at Comorin in Delhi where his focus is on craft cocktails, house-made liquors and infusions, as well as a distinctive range of coffee, tea, and soft beverages.

Indian drinking culture is at an evolution stage and so is the bartending community. Now, more and more bartenders are presenting innovative fusion cocktails using various ingredients. They are now going against the traditions of the trade and thinking of more innovative ways to prepare cocktails.

Bartenders have already made their mark on the global map with the arrival of upcoming international spirit brands. In top Indian bars, you can now get to taste what we call the age-old forgotten classics, made with the finest ingredients and finest spirits. India is now in the top 10 list of innovative cocktails and the day is not far when the world will know India as a country of great bartenders and mixologists.

Gin and Tonic! Gin is one spirit that can be moulded into many styles and flavours. It is a beautiful spirit to create interesting cocktails.

My all-time favourite is Gin. As a bartender, I really enjoy working with the spirit.

Your Go-To Flavour in a Cocktail

Indian Sarsaparilla. It is an aromatic root commonly known as ananthmoola.

Sous vide Gin and Tonic is one of the hot-selling cocktails on the menu. Sous vide is a cooking technique of infusing the liquid with different flavours. It is a simple yet delicious cocktail with immense flavours.

Bar manager at one of Delhi’s most popular watering holes, Prabhakar Tiwari started his career with Pride Plaza Chennai as an assistant bartender. He then moved to The Park’s Aqua as a bartender. Prior to joining Whisky Samba in 2016, Tiwari was the bar supervisor at I-Kandy, Le Meridien Gurgaon.

The industry is at an evolutionary stage where the Indian bartending community is going to great lengths to match the trends of the world. In the last five years, Indian bartenders have been on the world stage at various cocktail competitions such as World Class by Diageo. The exposure has been to such an extent that the Indian bartenders are able to cater to the taste profiles of international guests with their hard work and various cocktails made and sourced from homegrown local ingredients.

India is ready to cause an explosion with its influence on the global cocktail culture. According to industry experts, India is one of the fastest-growing luxury markets with an upcoming cocktail culture. Bartenders in India are creating drinks with local flavours, ingredients and spices and I have no doubt that will lead to a huge Indian influence globally in the next few years.

My favourite cocktail is an all-time classic, Old Fashioned. I like it because of the use of aromatic bitters in it, which do not make the drink bitter but actually binds the flavour of the drink.

Whisky, of course.

Homemade syrups and orange.

Whisky Samba Sour is our version of the classic whisky sour. The ingredients that we use, especially Amaretto, makes it special.

Santosh Kukreti hails from humble beginnings in the state of Uttarakhand. He has worked in some of Mumbai’s coveted restaurants before moving to Macau to further hone his skills as a bartender. 

Earlier, bartenders in India used to copy cocktail and follow prevalent at international bars but now it’s the other way. International bars and bartenders are taking inspiration from India.

There is a lot more exposure for us; Indian bartenders are travelling to different countries doing guest shifts representing our country and our bars. I travelled to Hong Kong to do a guest shift at a bar called Whisky & Words.

My favourite cocktail is a Sazerac, which is also known as the king of all cocktails, simply because it's a very simple cocktail but with intense flavours. It uses cognac, whisky, Peychaud Bitters and absinthe.

I love using Gin and Tequila in my cocktails.

Tea or any berry

It’s a tough question, but if I had to pick one cocktail will say Beet Tapache. It is a drink made from Tequila fermented beet, salt and honey. The fermentation process makes it different from other cocktails in the country.

Varun Sudhakar spent more than five years behind the bar at Aer, Mumbai’s favourite rooftop bar at Four Season’s Mumbai. After winning Diageo World Class Best Bartender two years in a row, the world was Varun Sudhakar’s oyster. He then went on to head the bar programme at Gourmet Investments—the company operates The Project Series as well as Typhoon Shelter. Sudhakar has now set up his consultancy, Bar Bundle 

The last decade has been the best for bartending in India. More and more bartenders have been exposed to international events and competitions, which has helped change the quality of bars. Bars in India can now compete with any other international bars in the Middle East, Europe, and South-East Asia.

Today, bartending in India is moving towards a more curative and exclusive path with craft cocktails, cordials, bitters, vermouth and a lot more, extensively created on an outlet level. If regulated distillation is allowed on bars (only brewing is happening in specific regions of India). Bars in India can go a notch higher and the possibilities of curating specific spirits for cocktails with a lot of ingredients (herbs, fruits, vegetables) can increase.

Negroni—it's simple to make, hard to get the balance correct and can be consumed for any occasion.

Rum in its different variations would be my personal spirit of choice.

Definitely pineapple, it is one of the most versatile ingredients and goes well with almost any spirit.

Drunken Rose at Typhoon Shelter is inspired by the tea-drinking culture in China. It has a special balance of flavours created using a dry rose tisane infusion combined with umeshu and sweet vermouth. 

From Mangalore to Mumbai, young Rohit Hegde’s journey has been an eventful one. From being a cashier at a restaurant at the young age of 18-years-old to being the head bartender at one of Mumbai’s hippest bars, Hegde has taken every opportunity to grow and evolve. He says that The Daily Bar & Kitchen has given him the chance to explore and create and now he is heading operations for The Daily Mumbai as well as Pune.

Alcohol consumption has drastically evolved over the years since consumers are showing interest in innovative, experimental options; making the jobs of Indian bartenders more than just opening beer caps. Bartenders are now pushing themselves to gain skills to craft appealing drinks to up their mixology game.

India is so culturally rich, and the cuisines are filled with unique flavours; it surely gives Indian bartenders’ the chance to concoct drinks from locally sourced ingredients. It won’t be long till Indian bartenders getting their respected restaurants placed in the world's top 50 cocktail bars list in the coming years.

My favourite cocktail is the Margarita because the warmth of the tequila mixed with tangy and luscious citrus flavours with the crunchy salt rim just gets me going. It's so well balanced that I can feel all the flavours just calling out to me.

For me, it's always been gin because I love to play with the flavours that are already present in them. The botanicals are so well macerated that helps the other flavours create a balanced cocktail.

Personally speaking, Elderflower makes for a perfect flavour for me. It has that interesting, herby flavour and has a slightly sweet finish that ends on a musky note.

I would recommend the ‘What the Wow’ cocktail. It's been the bestseller at The Daily and it was invented at the bar itself; it’s my personal favourite too.

Bartending in India has evolved along with the booming cocktail culture. Consumers in India are always looking for novel exclusive experiences, which has further helped push bartending in India. From a culture that relied heavily on classics to an experimental one where innovation with spirits is of prime importance. There’s also better access to source a wide range of ingredients, locally and otherwise, which has been of immense help to learn about and explore newer flavour profiles.

The sky is the limit for bartenders in India! Thanks to our rich and diverse culinary practices, there’s a wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped into when it comes to creating innovative combinations or playing with existing flavour profiles and take flavours rooted in all things Indian to a global scale.

Berry Pistachio Martini as it uses natural and fresh ingredients to create a simple drink that is both refreshing and unique.

Gin or vodka as they are neutral bases allowing room for creativity with mixers, flavours, spices.

I enjoy incorporating herbs in cocktails. A little goes a long way and helps bring an added element to the whole cocktail experience. It’s versatile too–one can choose to infuse herbs with spirits like gin or vodka, make syrups to flavour classic recipes or simply torch a sprig of sage to impart a delicious smokiness to the flavour and nose of the drink.

Island of Martinique at Bastian. It is a rum-based tiki cocktail. This drink is a play on the classic Martini and uses cachaca, Bacardi gold, honey, housemade falernum along with fresh citrus flavours.

The Musk at One Street focuses on using local, seasonal fruits, the chef created a play on gazpacho using a blend of melon, almonds and olive oil. We shook things up, literally, by adding a musk melon infused tequila and grapes!

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