Not another Cosmopolitan for heaven's sake. After decades of cloyingly sweet (and often ridiculously pink) cocktails, Indian bartenders and mixologists are finally fighting their way out of the ‘Classic Cocktail’ box. While Long Island Ice teas, mojitos and margaritas will never go out of style, it’s refreshing to know that our mixologists are determinedly developing an identity of their own.
It’s about time too. Brazil has its Caipirinhas. France has Kir Royale. Italy has Negronis. What are our favourite contenders from South India?
The Curry Leaf Mojito
At The Leather Bar, The Park Hotel
Drawing inspiration from the dominant flavours of the South – raw mango, curry leaves, coriander, tamarind, tender coconut etc – the mixologists at Leather Bar have worked on creating a line of cocktails inspired by everyday cooking in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Their main challenges were figuring out how to use the region’s powerful ingredients in such a way that they work with alcohol. Tender coconut, for example, needs to be matched with a mild alcohol to ensure the flavour of the tender coconut is not overwhelmed.
Besides the Curry Leaf mojito, you can try their Mirchi-featuring Chilli-infused vodka with passion fruit pulp. The Green Garden, with fresh coriander. And the Thalaiva, made with vodka, tender coconut water and grenadine. Pair them with The Park’s cheese fondue ‘paniharam’; tempura prawns with curry leaf aioli and fish ‘kozhambu’ tartines, featuring mini tartines filled with Madras fish curry and topped with a garlic foam. Dessert has to be their liquid-nitro-cooked ‘elaneer payasam’ mousse.
Ingredients: Fresh curry leaves 12, sugar 2 tbs, lime wedges 4 nos. White rum 60ml. Crushed ice 2 Scoops. Soda to top up.
Method: Muddle the wedges with the sugar in a large glass. Bruise curry leaves and put into the glass. Fill glass with fine crushed ice. Pour in rum and stir. Top up soda water. Garnish with a curry leaf string.
The Jasmine Cocktail
At The Raintree Restaurant - Taj Connemara
The Raintree team’s experiments with traditional Chettiar spices led to a line-up of surprising drinks with a Chettinad twist.
Their menu includes Art Beet, with beetroot and vodka. The Elaneer Mojito, with coconut flakes, blends lime chunks, mint leaves, gin and fresh tender coconut water. There’s the Aachi Remix, an inspired twist on the traditional and very popular Bloody Mary: Carrot and celery juices are fused with the mix, along with the combined heat of mustard, horseradish and fresh chillis. The spice route continues with their Hot n Sour Mix: Dark rum, lime juice, tamarind and date syrup all topped off with a deadly slit red chilli.
The most dramatic cocktail, however, uses jasmine, inspired by a jasmine tree next to the Raintree restaurant. Capturing the flower’s distinctive personality in a cocktail, without overpowering the drink with its heady perfume, was the key challenge – solved by figuring out a careful balance between jasmine syrup and lime juice.
Drink this with the Raintree’s Tiger prawns roast and juicy Karuvepilai scallops, tossed in mild chilli, coriander seeds, pepper corns and cumin.
Ingredients: Fresh lemon juice - 30ml. Homemade Jasmine sugar infusion - 60ml. Vodka - 60ml.
Method: Blend all the ingredients with lots of ice cubes in a shaker. Strain into martini glass.
Madras Mirchi Cocktails
At Willows, The Westin
The Westin team’s in the middle of a love affair with Chennai. And their ‘Chennai Fritters’ inspired by Marina Beach’s chilli bajjis are one of the results. Inspired by the drama of these chillies, their Madras Mirchi cocktail is a spicier version of the traditional martini. It uses the flavours of chillies and pepper infused vodka to reinterpret the martini.
They also have a tamarind vodka cocktail, inspired by the fact that most South Indian cooking is balanced by the distinctive flavour of tamarind, and lemon juice. Which makes this an easy cocktail to recreate at home, provided you have the vodka on hand – even your grandmother will have the key ingredients in her larder. The Westin team suggests teaming it with murukku and medu wada, served with tangy tamarind chutney. If you’re in party mode, try their pepper-infused vodka shooters.
To complete the experience, there are mirchi bajjis, chila bajjis, murukkus, mini cocktail medu wada and podi idlis.
Ingredients: 350 ml Pepper vodka, 45 ml dry vermouth, crushed ice, slice of fresh Madras chilli, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced, 1 whole chilli sliced in between for garnish
Method: In a cocktail shaker, combine the vodka, vermouth, sliced de-seeded chilli and crushed ice. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with sliced chilli.
The Guindy Blossom
Park Hyatt: The Flying Elephant
With a line-up of contemporary global cocktails, the team at Flying Elephant was stumped for a minute by our request for a drink rooted in South India. But just for a minute. Over the next few days, they customised a new cocktail for us, using their favourite local ingredients. And that is how the Guindy Blossom and Kaapi Martini were born. They suggest you go completely traditional with food when you’re trying these two: think Kothu Parottas, Meen Varuval and Kozhi Varuval.
Ingredients:Vodka- 60 ml, Coconut water- 90 ml, Mint- 8 sprigs, Lemon juice - 30 ml, Sugar syrup- 30 ml, Black salt- 1 pinch