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A beautiful accident led to a thriving bartending career

Aashie Bhatnagar will represent India at a premier bartending competition

Aashie Bhatnagar
Aashie Bhatnagar

No matter how long her day runs, Aashie Bhatnagar reads for at least 10 minutes before she falls asleep. It’s reading a wide selection of books that sparks new ideas about mixology in the mind of the 26-year-old bartender at Cobbler & Crew in Pune, who is set to represent India at the Diageo World Class Global Finals, one the world’s premier bartending competitions, in Brazil, next week.

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“It isn’t always a book about cocktails or alcohol… I find any knowledge I gather comes together in some way to help me when I’m creating new cocktails,” says Bhatnagar, who won the national leg of the contest in July. Bhatnagar’s award-winning cocktail, Bee Hotel, was inspired by her reading about declining bee populations and its impact on farming and food production, as well as books about the harmful effects about refined sugar.

“Bartenders use a lot of sugar in drinks. At Cobbler & Crew, we have replaced all artificial sweeteners with natural honey and honey water. It not only gives the drinks a better texture and flavour but also benefits the customers, farmers, local beekeepers and local businesses,” says Bhatnagar, who began working as a bartender in Gurugram in 2019. She’s also created NFC (near-field communication) cards with details about responsibly sourced organic honey brands that she shares with other bartenders and customers, and gives them a sample of honey to carry. “They can drink responsibly tonight as well as start the next day with local organic honey instead of sugar in their chai,” she says. “We’re all part of a wider community and bartenders can help local farmers and beekeepers widen their customer base.”

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Bhatnagar describes bartending as “a beautiful accident of my life”—she signed up for a fashion design course after school, but when the college in Dehradun shut down, she quickly found herself a spot in a hotel management course. While doing her industrial training in Pune in 2017, she watched bartenders at work for the first time. “I knew I wanted to do that—to be able to bring a smile to a customer’s face each time.”Women trainees, though, weren’t allowed behind the bar but Bhatnagar resorted to some subterfuge—she pretended to have injured her leg and asked to be put on clean-up duty instead of kitchen service. “Once the bartenders saw my interest, they began teaching me. And I read everything I could find about bartending and mixology,” she says.

Bhatnagar says she’s excited as well as nervous about the finals next week. “This is a gruelling contest as it tests everything—your knowledge, speed, understanding of alcohol and ingredients. Each drink and each brand requires a different approach to mixology and your cocktail has to have a unique story.”

The reporter will be travelling to Sao Paulo at the invitation of Diageo World Class Global Finals.

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