In a candid conversation with FoodService India, American Whiskey Ambassador, Yangdup Lama shares his views on the various aspects of mixology and how India is a potential market for American Whiskeys.
How did you come into this profession and how long have you been tending bar?
I did my Hotel management from Kolkata in 1995 and then went on to join Hyatt Regency Hotel Delhi as an amateur bartender. The journey began from there. It’s been 22 years since I entered the bar.
What did it take to establish your reputation and identity?
Sheer hard work, passion and a little bit of luck. Great guidance by the seniors who trained and mentored me and good discipline helped to make it all possible.
What is it about this profession that makes you happy and feel fulfilled?
The fact that there is no end to whatever you choose to do in this field. Whether it is learning, researching, creating and, most importantly, meeting people from all walks of life and striking a great conversation over a good mix.
What’s it like being a mixologist? How does one go from being a bartender to being a mixologist?
Being a mixologist is fun and at the same time it’s challenging and complex and quite competitive but it all falls in place if you have a good foundation. It happens over a period of time. It is purely an experiential thing that comes as one keeps working and learning as time passes by. The important thing is to keep the fire alive within you and, like I said, a little bit of luck is very important.
What are the ingredients you use in your cocktails? Do you have a certain philosophy when it comes to what you put in your drinks?
My key ingredient is ice. I always look toward good quality ice. If the ice is right, the drink is quite there. With good knowledge of ingredients, good ice, right technique and the right flavour balance, I think we are good to go.
Which new concepts, innovations and experiments you have tried out that have proven successful and popular?
Well, infusions have worked well for me. I love making infusions and at my bar we have a whole lot of them. Interestingly, most of my infusions call for bourbon or rum, unlike most other bartenders who stick to a lighter spirit.
In-house bitters and syrups too make most of my cocktails unique and, lastly, I love to combine spirits (for e.g. a dark rum with an aged whiskey, to incorporate different characters present in them) to make my creations.
What do you think makes one a good bartender and mixologist?
One needs to have a combination of everything from being knowledgeable to creative, technically sound, a people’s man with the right conversation skills (a story teller is always a good bartender). You need to have great speed and be well organised with the right body language and be a good listener. Another important aspect of bartending is discipline. Without discipline one would be directionless.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging thing about my profession is keeping in tune with the changing times. One has to be always aware of the new trends, innovations and experiments that is going around in bars across the globe. Last, but not least, being able to come out with solutions to non-availability of many spirits and ingredients and using the best of whatever he can get hold of and still come out successful with the final product.
What do you attribute the growing popularity of the premium Bourbons, Rye and Tennessee among discerning consumers in India?
These have tremendous growth potential amongst the Indian consumer, simply for their versatility to be consumed in whichever way one could. With the consumer getting more aware and having a much better evolved palate, American whiskey will certainly have its place in the Indian market. Also, the fact that the cocktail culture is taking off quite well in India. American whiskey, being an integral part of most classics, will certainly get a boost in the Indian market in the days to come.