The queen of mixology, Shatbhi Basu is by far one of the most spirited women one might ever come across. And while she made her name after being awarded by the President of India as India’s first female bartender, she is much more than that.
Beginning her career at the young age of 21, Shatbhi Basu has been rocking the world of bartending with her exceptional knowledge and skills. Her desire to share her knowledge and experience with aspiring bartenders led to her setting up the STIR Academy of Bartending in 1997. She is also a renowned beverage consultant, consulting for over a few hundred brands and restaurants all over the world.
Apart from cocktails, Shatbhi also takes her mocktails seriously. In 2020, she published a book called “The Can’t Go Wrong Book of Mocktails”, in which she talks about the skill of making unique combinations that are just as delicious as they are uncomplicated.
In a candid conversation with LuxeBook, Shatbhi Basu talks about the evolution of the bartending industry, her favourite pairings and more.
1. What are some of the major changes in the cocktail industry today?
The most important change is that there are a lot more people wanting to drink cocktails. That in itself, is a mark of recognition and respect for good bartenders. The range of products available to play with has increased, and the bars we work on are far more efficient. We can now choose from a wide array of glassware too, which wasn’t the case when I began. We were very limited back then, but still managed to put up a decent show.
2. You’ve often spoken about keeping recipes simple and uncomplicated. How does one do that?
Some of most popular drinks are those with very simple inputs like the Old Fashioned, Martini, Margarita, Gin & tonic or Cosmopolitan. Simplicity when treated right can give you amazing results. Elucidating the flavour of the drink is key, as is using good technique. Not complicating it with multiple ingredients.
3. How does one avoid mistakes when learning mixology?
Depends on the kind of mixologist you are. I believe to be a great mixologist; you need to be a great bartender first. You must be soaked in the history, heritage and processes of the liquids in the bar. You must understand the nuances of the flavour of the elements that make your cocktail and find the balance. Know the right technique to apply, and the perfect receptacle for that final work of art. And that last masterstroke that will light up the eye. Those that have built from there are likely to not make mistakes.
4. What are some of the biggest trends in the cocktail industry today?
The return of the classics, the renaissance of bitters and tinctures, the attention to technique and great ice are a few trending aspects of the industry today.
5. What is the one thing you would like to change/bring back into the industry?
I would like to see bartenders smile more, while also paying better attention to guests. Bringing back the little tricks we played on the bar to engage the guests and to bring a smile to their face, beyond just making them a drink.
6. How important is equipment in cocktail making?
Very, it makes us look professional like any other skill or art form. They’re tools of the trade. They allow us to create great drinks using fine technique along with a little bit of flair. Some bartenders today are seriously invested in the most scientifically advanced equipment to take their game up many notches, like setting up a micro-distillery within the bar.
7. What’s your opinion on sustainable cocktails?
I think sustainability is not about just great cocktails as it is a concerted attempt to reduce wastage and learn from it. How you use it to enhance a drink is what matters. Dehydrating fruits, peel, herbs, pulp all still continue to offer great flavour, colour and aroma. Think of a sprinkling of beetroot or curry leaf dust on a delicious cocktail. Adds both colour and flavour. An orange peel sugar dusting to the rim of a deeply citrus cocktail. Or turning peels into powerfully aromatic syrups or preserves. The opportunities are amazing.
8. What are some of your all-time favourite cocktail pairings?
I love doing fun pairing of cocktails and tapas/small bites. They offer you an infinite variety of spirits and flavours to work with a wide range of cuisines. That is the challenge. Finding the right balance that will either complement or contrast the palate while being true to the chosen cuisine!
9. What according to you are some of the most absurd/quirky pairings?
The ones that are done without real thought. Or, in my case, those that challenge you to another level leading to a blast of flavour. My most quirky experience was a pairing of Cashew Feni & Feni cocktails with a Portuguese-Goan dinner. It turned out great in the end, but it could have gone a different way! That was a big learning step.
10. Do you remember the first cocktail you made?
I do and it terrified me. It was the Martini, classic, dry. Theoretically, I knew everything but the bar didn’t have any dry vermouth so I had to improvise. It worked and that was the beginning of the best journey of my life.