Most bars in India are filled with the tried and tested recipes from the West. Few give a shot at crafting desi cocktails successfully
I know I am spot on when I tell you the bar you went to last weekend most likely had the usual suspects in the cocktail section. Kamikaze, B52, Bloody Mary, Martini, Margarita, Singapore Sling, Planter’s Punch…you name a tried and tested recipe from the West and you are sure to find it listed in our bars.
I agree it gives you the respite of knowing whether you will be getting your money’s worth, but it can also leave you somewhat with a missed taste of sipping something unknown, untested which you can truly call a desi mix. No, I am not talking about the products of fusion we see these days, like the Aam Panna Martini or an Indianised Mojito. What I am referring to is pure desi cocktails that have sprung out of our traditional mixes.
Looking for such concoctions can be frustrating. While there has been considerable progress in terms of Indian food meeting originality and imagination, the same can’t be said about our bars, at least not yet.
And then, I find one such bar in the city which boasts of the brews I am somewhat looking for. It definitely needs more finesse but a salute certainly is to be given to it for fresh thinking. So, not wasting any time, and wading through heavy traffic and rainwater filled roads — a bane that we have to live with now with the Delhi Chief Minister telling us to pray to the rain god to stop water-logging, I reach Rang De Basanti, a bar-restaurant that serves dhaba food, on the first floor above the new multi-level parking at the Sarojini Nagar market. Only to find its bar trainer, a young Vaibhav with a charming smile, all set to show me his cocktails.
I count 10 of his signature cocktails in the beverage menu card. Yes, it does have Aam Panna Martini, Jaljeera Margarita and Imlichoor Mojito but what catches my eye are interesting concoctions like the Suneheri Lassa, Teekha Sharaab ka Chaunk and Gulabi Bebo. All of these priced at Rs. 275 before taxes.
Vaibhav first makes for me Teekha Sharaab Ka Chaunk. He plonks some ice cubes into a shaker and somewhat surprises me by brandishing at the bar named Bhaiyankar, a matka suddenly, saying, it has chach made 5-6 days ago. The chach also has the tarka of haldi powder, cumin and red chilli powder, a touch of asafoetida, mustard and coriander seeds. About 150 ml of chach is poured into the shaker before adding 60 ml vodka and given a hard shake. The concoction is then decanted into a kullar. The garnish is a spot of boondi and a deep fried red chilli.
My eyes stare at the drink in admiration even as Vaibhav goes on to make Suneheri Lassa. In a blender, he pours 200 gms of yogurt, 10 ml sugar syrup, 4-5 drops of rose water and 5 ml of Rooh Afza before giving it a good churn with some crushed ice. The pale pink blended brew is then tipped into a beer glass. Vaibhav carefully pours on it about 60 ml of “vodka infused with saffron for about 4-5 days.” The vodka creates a delicate layer of light reddish pink that crowns the drink. The garnish is a spot of chopped almonds.
The final drink he makes for me is Gulabi Bebo. A Martini glass is chilled with lots of ice cubes. Meanwhile, he puts 60 ml gin, 45-60 ml pomegranate juice, 5 ml rosewater, a dash of lime juice and sugar syrup and a pinch of cardamom powder into a shaker and given a solid shake. The brew, a rich pinkish-red in colour, is then shifted into the chilled martini glass after discarding the cubes. The garnish is a fresh lime rind.
In a chat later, Vaibhav, a graduate of the Institute of Hotel Management, Jodhpur, brings out his moments of inspiration. He refers to his mother in Dehra Dun who used to make litres and litres of chach during festivals. “She usually adds a layer of cream on the chach. That gave me the idea to add a layer of vodka to it,” he says. As to Rooh Afza, it was pure nostalgia of growing up in a small town and having it as a must-have during summer.
Vaibhav points his fingers at some other signature drinks — like Kesari Vodka, which he makes by infusing the drink with saffron. He goes on to describe another drink, Khoon da Ghoont. I however, shift attention elsewhere, to two kids playing on a tractor placed inside the restaurant, to a Gold Spot signboard pasted on a wall, to an award it won last year from the Indian Restaurant Association for having the most creative menu.
Suddenly, I hear him say that a group of diners visited the bar-restaurant some days ago and ordered a repeat of 16 drinks for Sunehra Lassa and Teekha Sharaab ka Chaunt. Well, I have every reason then to leave Rang De Basanti with the hope that desi cocktails can indeed be a viable option. As to whether it would pick up as a popular trend, a lot depends on how creative our bartenders get.