As one of India’s foremost bartenders, Yangdup Lama has built a legacy for himself. The success of his bar, Sidecar, in Delhi is an example of how hard work and perseverance pay off. The bar was ranked number 14 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars and number 26 in the World’s 50 Best Bars.
While his passion keeps us consumers marvelling at the drinks he creates and mixes, wouldn’t it be interesting to know what ignites his passion? Very recently, right before he was in London to collect the award for best bar, Yangdup was in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, for Ziro Music Festival, India’s biggest eco-friendly festival. He was there to create an immersive cocktail experience like never before with Signature whisky.
The man who has travelled far and wide has gathered many experiences that reflect in his vocation. We wanted to know what fuels Yangdup Lama, bartender extraordinaire’s inspiration and what his experiences from Ziro were.
1. How was your first experience at the Ziro festival, and what was it about the festival that stayed with you?
The beautiful landscapes that we experienced through the five-hour drive from Lilabari to Ziro, the serenity of the Ziro valley itself and finally, the festival setting. Every element was nature-inspired, right from the use of local bamboo to local artisans, local food, music and most importantly, the discipline maintained as regards respect for nature at every step. I have never experienced any music festival with so much all-around substance. It was absolute bliss.
2. What was unique about your association with the festival this year?
That I could use my creative skill to do something purely inspired by nature in a space that had all of it intact and not just uses bold words. My association with Signature whisky and how we could work on this project to bring something that was purely original, local, and inspired by nature. It was indeed one of my best cocktail creations that brought immense happiness to me and to all the people who experienced it as well. Indeed, something that was never done before.
3. Can you tell us about some of the signature drinks that you created and what was the inspiration behind them?
The Signature Apong was the ‘hero at Ziro’. It was inspired by the Apatani tribe’s local beverage, Apong (a fermented millet wine). It had an element of local kiwi puree, local honey and Signature premier that brought out the boldness of the local beverage, keeping all of the Apong’s sweet and tangly nature intact yet making it fruitier and more full-bodied.
The Salty Bay was another signature cocktail with local bay leaves (some of the best bay leaves come from Assam) and Himalayan pink salt and sugar syrup. These were, again, east Indian flavours sourced locally from nearby Assam and made for an all-rounded sweet. The salty nature of the cocktail was complete with Signature whiskey that brought in the essence of a fine spirit in a delicate mix to bring out the right balance of taste and texture.
4. What are some of the undiscovered ingredients from the Northeast that you’d like people to know more about?
Fermentation and pickling are crucial, but most importantly, the Northeast is known to have a wide variety of lime (lemon) and chillies. These are ingredients used extensively across the Northeastern belt and bring out the best of all preparations (mostly in meat). The spices used are milder, hence do not overpower the main ingredient. It keeps it intact yet compliments the richness of the core ingredient.
5. How was the masterclass at Ziro, and what were some of the experiments that stood out for you?
The masterclass was a super hit, and let me tell you that at one point, it felt like the stage (made of local bamboo to hold 20 people only) would collapse. While I loved to narrate the stories of each ingredient and what it does to all the drinks, I also loved the interaction and participation of the crowd. They seemed equally enthralled with the idea of nature-inspired cocktails made with local ingredients using one of the finest blends of whisky. Overall, I think it made for a great experience, not only for the people who came for the festival but also for everyone who was there to make it all happen.
Salty Bay cocktail recipe
- 45 ml Signature premier whisky
- 10 ml Himalayan pink salt and palm candy syrup
- 30 ml bay leaf water
- 10 ml lime juice
- In a cocktail shaker, filled with ice, mix all the ingredients together.
- In a cocktail glass, serve straight up.