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A bar takeover celebrates local produce with creative drinks

One of Asia's top bars, Lair in Delhi, will be in Mumbai for a takeover with drinks that champion regional ingredients

Black and Gold, one of Lair's signature cocktails.
Black and Gold, one of Lair's signature cocktails. (Lair)

Mixologist Navjot Singh’s foray into bartending started with random experimentations at home. He would often steal some rum to create different drinks and it didn’t take long for him to realise this was not just fun, but also something that he wanted to know more about.

His family is into sugarcane farming, and supplies it to rum distilleries in Punjab, Singh had seen how some beverages are made from the ground up. When he enrolled into a hospitality course, unsurprisingly it was the beverages that he kept his eyes on.

Also read: Legendary bartender Dushan Zarić in Pune

For Singh, getting into bartending was a leap of faith and it proved to be the right career path. Now, he is the beverage director at Lair, Delhi which is one of India's top bars. In January, it ranked third on the India-based drinks award platform 30 Best Bars. In 2023, it was featured on the World's 50 Best Discoveries list. On 28 March, Singh along with mixologist Sandy of Lair will take over Mumbai’s popular restaurant and bar, Akina.

The two mixologists aim to tell stories of diverse regions through their signature cocktails. Co-founder of Akina, Ryan Acharya says the bar takeover is timely as cocktail culture in India is going through a “seismic shift”. He adds modern bars menus are about cultural authenticity fused with global influences. Talking about the highlight of the event, Lair’s signature cocktails, he says, “The use of locally sourced ingredients and traditional spices brings a unique twist to classic recipes.”

Singh talks toLoungeabout how their cocktails highlight regional specialities, experimental menus and India's unique cocktail culture.Edited excerpts:

Could you talk about some of your favourite ingredients and how you plan to use them?

Our menu at Lair is focused on showcasing India through cocktails and we will be bringing our signature drinks to Akina. Particular regions of India are famous for some foods. For instance, mangoes from Ratnagiri are well-known and loved. So, we make Ratnagiri Collins, in which fresh Alphonso is blended with wine and served with vodka as well as a pinch of saffron and cinnamon.

There's the Madhurai Martini, which is a twist on a martini with curry leaves-infused gin and sandalwood. The food in Madhurai generously uses curry leaves and we pay tribute to that practice with this cocktail.

The drink named Black and Gold, celebrates black pepper—a spice found abundantly in the Andaman and Nicobar region. In this fusion, black pepper is blended with rum to create a fiery concoction.

One of the cocktails we are proud of is the Nagpur Valley for which we make an in-house liqueur from oranges sourced from Nagpur in Maharashtra. All these are also low-sugar drinks.


Mixologists Navjot Singh (in the photo) and Sandy will be taking over Akina Mumbai this week.
Mixologists Navjot Singh (in the photo) and Sandy will be taking over Akina Mumbai this week. (Lair )
Mixologists Navjot Singh (in the photo) and Sandy will be taking over Akina Mumbai this week.
Mixologists Navjot Singh (in the photo) and Sandy will be taking over Akina Mumbai this week. (Lair )

What are some of the cocktail-making techniques that will be part of the takeover?

An important technique we will be showing is throwing, which is also called rolling. Some delicate ingredients cannot be shaken such as drinks infused with tea so we use a cocktail preparation technique called throwing. In throwing, also called rolling, the drink is mixed by pouring the ingredients from one vessel to another. This helps in the aeration of the drink and opens up the flavour.

One of the interesting things that we have learnt from experience is that the Indian palate is drawn to sweet and spicy flavours. Umami notes are not preferred. So, we will be focusing on drinks that bring out these flavours in the right way.

What are your views on India's current cocktail culture?

The cocktail culture in India has grown rapidly in the last three years. The consumers, specifically, have changed. People are more aware now of what they are putting in their bodies. They are also well-travelled and want to know exactly what they are drinking.

Also, India has limited resources in this space so you have to get creative. For instance, even the alcoholic beverages we get in India have lower alcohol content compared to those available in other countries. Hence, we have to do things differently and come up with innovative cocktails to pack a punch. The constant experimentation that bars across India are doing is something to watch out for.

What is one thing about the cocktail space in India that sets it apart?

One thing that sets India apart is our use of spices. We have grown up using spices in everyday cooking, so we know how to use them in the right way. For guests who taste them in a cocktail, it’s a familiar yet surprising experience.

I have come across bars dedicated only to cocktails during my visits to other cities, especially London. That’s something I would want to see more of in India. Today, we have bar counters at restaurants, but cocktail bars take it one notch up and create a space only for drinks and nibbles. I think we will see more of that in about two years.

The bar takeover will take place at Akina, Bandra West, Mumbai on 28 March.

Also read: What's behind the trend of bar and restaurant takeovers?









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