2021 is already looking rosé-tinted. Vaccines are rolling out, ready to take down the pandemic. Maybe our social lives will soon return to normalcy. That's the bottle half-full perspective. The other, emptier half would point out that we are still not there just yet.
So, we begin with an ode to all those still taking precautions, mixing drinks at home gatherings or even that solo day drinking binge. To aid in that quest, I turned to the experts.
Evgenya Prazdnik: Nature
For Prazdnik, inspiration is often found in nature. As a beverage consultant, she developed the drinks menu at the iconic Mustard Goa and forages for microgreens, fruits, and other wild ingredients to develop cocktails that best complement their dishes.
Recent addictions: Sarsaparilla, Dukshiri Feni, and nannari root.
What’s next: Good rum and visits to the distilleries in Goa.
Mustard Sour: Add 50ml of a bourbon like Jim Beam, 15ml passion fruit syrup, 15ml of lemon juice, one egg white, and a bit of grainy mustard paste to taste. Shake well and serve on the rocks.
Vaibhav Singh: Classics
Perch Wine and Coffee Bar, led by co-founder Vaibhav Singh, is well known for their stylish drinks in Delhi and Mumbai. He says for the at-home inventor, a good start is often with the classics. Use a long-standing recipe as a base, then find your own way to add a personal zing, whether that is by substituting an ingredient or a new technique.
A lockdown learning: Don't overindulge.
What's next: Stone fruits and berries that come during spring.
Mulled Wine: Add 80ml water, 4 star anis, 8-10 cloves, 2 sticks cinnamon, 80 gm honey, and 10 orange slices into a pan on low heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes to extract the flavors. Add 100ml orange juice, 750ml red wine, and simmer for another 5 (avoiding a full boil). Add in 90ml gold or black rum and remove from the flame once warm. Serve in a wine glass with a slice of orange.
Hemali Bendre: Social media
Our next stop is The Bombay Canteen with bartender, Bendre, who often finds inspiration while surfing the internet. She explores cocktails by top bars around the world, but is especially motivated by the work of female bartenders as Pippa Guy, Bannie Kang, & Shatbhi Basu—a very personal note of inspiration. Once an idea sticks, it is time to figure how to bring it home.
Now reading: The Flavor Thesaurus to explore taste pairings.
What’s next: Reimagining the honey-ginger drink, Penicillin.
Lady of the Lakes: Into a stemmed glass, add 30ml chilled pink guava and grapefruit cordial (substitute: fifty-fifty guava and grapefruit juice), 60ml gin such as Bombay Sapphire, and top it up with grapefruit tonic water. Garnish with a lime peel and grapefruit slice.
Eeshan Kashyap: Waste
Eeshan Kashyap, of PCO fame in Delhi, was motivated to stick to zero waste during the lockdown. His leftovers became infusions and peels transformed into nifty garnishes. At PCO they've also been experimenting with ageing drinks in clay pots, imparting a funky earthiness. During these trials Kashyap asks two questions: how to balance the potency of the liquor? And, what is the occasion for this beverage—is it a fruity, effervescent bubbly fit for brunch, or a hearty whiskey for dinner?
Ingredient reimagined: Pineapple, not only the juice but even the skin for a fermented drink, tepache.
What's next: To refocus on local flavors, like jamun.
Bitter Bourbon Tepache: In a whisky glass, add 60 ml bourbon, 15 ml pineapple tepache (substitute: pineapple juice), and a few dashes of angostura bitters garnished with a couple dehydrated orange slices or peels. Give it a gentle stir with ice cubes and serve.
Nightcap is a weekly column on drinks. Varud Gupta is the author of Bhagwaan ke Pakwaan and Chhotu. @varudgupta