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Holi shaken, stirred and served in a cocktail glass

Mixologists are creating special Holi cocktails—‘bhang’ or no ‘bhang’

Rose Nariyal Thandai by Capiz Bar at Grand Hyatt, Goa
Rose Nariyal Thandai by Capiz Bar at Grand Hyatt, Goa

We started out thinking this story would be about bhang cocktails—after all, the sweet, thick thandai laced with Cannabis indicais the beverage of choice across north India during Holi and is also sold by licensed shops. But when we reached out to bars, asking if they were creating bhang-infused cocktails, the unanimous response was “we don’t have the licence". Well, there goes our story, we thought, but, as it turns out, bars across the country are paying homage to Holi through a colourful array of ingenious cocktails referencing the thandai and incorporating its creamy texture, nutty essence and saffron-y taste.

Traditionally, bhang-laced thandai lends Holi celebrations a certain joie de vivre, while for the palate, it announces the arrival of hot weather with refreshing, aromatic ingredients like khus and fennel seeds, and this is the spirit mixologists are trying to capture with their Holi cocktails.

At the Capiz Bar at the Grand Hyatt, Goa, bar manager Abhijeet Kumar Badatya is experimenting with three cocktails modelled on the thandai: signature thandai, and kokum and coconut versions, which incorporate “a touch of Goa". These drinks are a cold blend of milk and dry fruits, muddled with flavouring agents such as rose petals, saffron and cardamom, mixed with vodka, strained and served in roly-poly glasses. For the kokum version, coconut milk replaces the regular variety to avoid curdling. An artful garnish of fresh rose petals or saffron completes these drinks. The signature cocktails are available for a limited time from 8-14 March.

Mumbai pub Madeira & Mime, which trained a team of differently-abled restaurant and bar staff with hearing impairment even before the word “inclusivity" became trendy, is also on board with Holi cocktails. Their drinks embody the spirit of summer with a nod to flavours associated with the Indian bacchanalia: they have a paan-flavoured and vodka-infused Benarasi, a whisky-and-mango blend called Aamras, and a saffron and white rum muddled Somras. Then there is the creamy and rich cocktail called Holi Special which mixes Bailey’s Irish cream and coffee liqueur. “Although our focus is on taste, the look and feel of each drink is equally important," says Ranjan Chakraborty, director and chief operating officer, Squaremeal Foods, the hospitality group that manages Madeira & Mime. The drinks are available from 4-11 March.

Gunjan Pal at Foxtrot
Gunjan Pal at Foxtrot

Gunjan Pal, head mixologist at Azure Hospitality, which runs Foxtrot and Sly Granny in Delhi and Bengaluru, has created two special Holi cocktails: the Gulal, which is served in a wine glass and has a marble-sized edible ball which dissolves when vodka is poured into the glass, creating perfect Instagrammable drama. Called an “edible bath bomb", the ball is made with baking soda, pop rocks, and colourful edible sprinkles, and is available in different flavours like kiwi, blueberry, orange, and passion fruit. “It’s a happy, bubbly drink," says Pal, who grew up in Kolkata. During Holi, he would visit members of his extended family with packets of colourful gulal. The visual memory of those colourful packets has translated into Gulal, the drink, says Pal.

Pichkari cocktails created by Gunjan Pal
Pichkari cocktails created by Gunjan Pal

His Rangoli Gola is a vodka-laced popsicle with fresh frozen fruit bits dipped in sparkling wine. Pal went to college in Mumbai, where he was introduced to the colourful, shaved-ice balls called chuski or gola in various parts of India. But that wasn’t the only inspiration for the cocktail. “When we were kids in Kolkata, during Holi, my mother wouldn’t let me and my friends into the house, with colour all over our bodies and clothes. She would arrange for us to take a bath outside the house and bribe us with something sweet, like an ice cream. Basically, this drink is inspired by both these memories," says Pal. The special cocktails are available at Foxtrot in Bengaluru and Delhi from 9-16 March.

Meanwhile, at the Beep Gastropub in Agra, bar manager Sunny Singh has created colourful jell-o shots with vodka and gin with dry fruit extracts in flavours like paan, raspberry, strawberry, green apple, and watermelon. These shots are available from 7-10 March. “You will taste the flavours first, and only when you swallow the shots does the alcohol taste kick in," says Singh.

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