Millennials would use the adjectives go-getter and hustler to describe the legendary bartender Dushan Zarić. Although he is one of the top bartenders in the world now, he didn't begin his career in hospitality. In fact, he landed in New York from war-torn Yugoslovakia in the early nineties. A story about Zarić by the online drinks publication Difford's Guide says he was in a band, but it had no future in a country devastated by ethnic conflict. When he moved to the Big Apple, he found a job as a bouncer, and was drawn to bartending. He became famous in the city for pioneering craft cocktails. His nearly two-decade old bar, Employee's Only, is one of the top places for drinks in New York. Along with being an entrepreneur, he holds inspiring masterclasses for young bartenders.
Zaric has been invited to India for a masterclass and a pop-up by the newly launched Pune-based beverage consultancy, Cocktails of Tomorrow run by Karan Khilnani, Vijeta Singh and Mayur Marne. They aim to support the bartending community and elevate the cocktail scenario with masterclasses, such as the one with Zaric.
It will take place at Elephant & Co. in Kalyani Nagar on 9 and 10 October, and will end with a pop-up on day two. Zarić talks to Lounge about the unique masterclass, the cocktails and mixing techniques he will share, and the most popular cocktails of 2023.
I was into rock-and-roll and heavy metal. I was the frontman of a music band, and discovered early on that my ego liked the attention. I graduated as an engineer from a university in Serbia, and I won a green card (for the US) in a lottery. I moved to New York and tried looking for engineering jobs, but it didn't really work. The doors were closing. I started meeting friends in the city, and discovered the bar culture in the United States was quite different from the one in Europe at that time (in the nineties). The bartender was like a rock star. It was the first thing that attracted me. But, I realised very quickly that it was not just the attention that felt good, but the feeling of making drinks and letting people have a good time was even better. Somehow, I intuitively knew what will work in a drink; it was like a gift that changed my life. I like hosting people and creating fantastic drinks. It makes me feel alive.
We will ease into this whole thing with some history of cocktails and how they gastronomically work together with food. We will cover different techniques, modern and classic. It’ll be quite an in-depth and geeky class. I will also talk about how to focus on speed and efficiency while maintaining high-quality drinks and how to get the bar set up right.
Making a cocktail is like a good thriller story: What is the beginning? What is the end? Does it make you discover more with every sip?
The idea is for all the participants to be better bartenders than me. People don't just go to a bar just for good drinks. Bartenders who are hospitable play an important role. Guests want to go somewhere where everybody knows their name and is happy to see them.
We are experiencing a global shortage of staff after the pandemic because people are pursuing restaurant jobs. This is the situation in most of western and eastern Europe, the United States, and South America. It is a difficult time for restaurants to find people who are interested in mixology and bartending.
Today, the most popular cocktail in the world is Aperol. It is a beautiful refreshing summer drink. The Italian bitters brand, Aperol started the advertising campaign in the United States about 12 years ago and it was fascinating to watch the growth of their cocktails and products. Before that, it was Old-Fashioned, followed by Margarita, and Cosmopolitan.
Now, there is a trend of cocktails that are high in alcohol, but no calories. Many modern consumers are willing to sacrifice taste and flavour for low-calorie drinks.