When it comes to the bar scene in India, Yangdup Lama is one of the most recognised names. With 25 years of bartending experience, he is the Co-Founder of two Delhi-based bars: Sidecar; and Cocktails & Dreams, Speakeasy.
Lama, who goes by the name ‘The Spirited Monk’ on Instagram, is the first Indian mixologist to be featured in the 2020 Bar World 100, a list that features the 100 most influential people from this industry. This list is released every year by Drinks International, a UK-based magazine.
Lama’s South Delhi bar Sidecar has been ranked 16th in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021 list, a phenomenal jump from rank 40 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020. On the occasion of World Cocktail Day, LuxeBook interviews this Darjeeling native, who talks about all-things-spirits!
What are the new cocktail trends?
Asia and Asian flavours are trending. Even in the global cocktail scene, there is a wide acceptance of what Asia has to offer and, of course, India plays an important role when it comes to flavours.
A lot of focus is also on the techniques and style of a cocktail. More and more people are looking for simpler drinks with fewer ingredients. Unlike a few years ago, when the trend was to have several flavours. Now, it’s all about more refined flavours.
The other trend is to use better quality spirit in your cocktail. It’s not just about pouring brands (house pour) of alcohol from the rail at the bar. It’s about using good quality spirit.
Sustainability is in vogue, and the goal is to slowly move towards a zero-wastage bar.
What are the at-home favourite cocktails currently?
A Gin and Tonic is, perhaps, the quickest and easiest to make, which is the reason it is so popular amongst cocktail lovers who can’t go to a bar to enjoy a drink. There are a lot of flavoured tonics that are available in the market and people have been buying these. To top the drink, ingredients from the kitchen like cucumbers or a sprig of mint or aloe vera are used.
Whisky has always been and still is the favourite drink to have at home in India. Making a Classic Old Fashioned cocktail is the easiest drink to make at home. A bottle of bitters may be difficult to source, but people usually stock it stays good for a year. It’s basically whisky on rocks with a dash of some sweetener and a slice of fruit.
Which drink is the most ordered at your bar?
We have a menu, but we always ask the clients if they are looking for something in particular. We have a cocktail called ‘Whatever You Say’ where we ask clients to tell us what their choice of base spirit is and the flavour they like (tangy, sweet, spicy, berrylicious). Accordingly, we customise drinks for them. This has been the highest-selling drink at the bar.
Apart from this, I have observed that clients have grown a liking towards gin-based drinks and shot drinks like martinis and Manhattans.
Rum has been a surprising choice of spirit here. I have had many clients who want to enjoy cocktails that have good quality rum. The most surprising has been the demand for the classic cognac cocktail, the Sidecar. In this part of the world, people don’t really drink cocktails made of cognac. So that’s refreshing.
Which is your go-to cocktail?
I am a Manhattan lover. I like Manhattans made straight up and my inclination is more towards Bourbon or Rye whisky.
Sidecar has been awarded #16 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021 (the bar was awarded #40 in 2020). How does that feel?
I have been in this field for 25 years and it feels fantastic to be awarded and get recognised. This is a fulfilling moment for everyone at the bar. I am ecstatic as I think it puts India on the map and draws attention to the bar scene here. This reassures the notion that Indian bartenders will make an impact on the international cocktail culture.
My staff and I are waiting for the bar to open so that we can celebrate!
How would the post-pandemic bar look like?
Up until 2020, the whole idea of a bar was ‘a Friday and a weekend experience’ and it revolved around partying. This will change. People will step into a bar because they are looking to experience different drinks and enjoy, but not party. Keeping safety in mind, the bars will have to provide experiences that are top-notch as people would come out of their homes only if they trust the outlet and to have an experience that is not available at home.