For a long time, home bars meant a cabinet, stocked with legacy whisky, duty-free spirits and a few glasses to share with friends on special occasions. Today, they are all about spirits from different parts of the world, limited-edition bottles, fancy barware and cocktail-making equipment. So much so that a weekend festival, Vault Home Bar, held in Mumbai last month featured over 100 spirits, masterclasses and cocktails from top bars in the world.
The home bar owner has arrived. Anirudh Singhal, founder of SpeedX, which provides custom bar solutions to restaurants, says “home bars are the new fancy cars”—the segment has grown 10x over the past couple of years, he adds. SpeedX’s latest home bar is a beverage station that combines a coffee station and a cocktail-making space; demand for coffee too shot up during the pandemic. Their next model is set to add a Wi-Fi speaker to the home bar. Singhal is even in talks with builders to add home bars.
For home bar owners today span metros as well as tier 2 and 3 cities. Delhi-based Shreya Soni, founder and CEO of The Ideas Lab, an experiential marketing agency, says: “There’s a joy in discovering new alcohol brands and learning how to make better cocktails. My cocktail sessions are completely weather-driven whilst using a lot of seasonal fruits and herbs.”
For consumers, there has never been a better time to collect their favourite spirits and create a home bar with all the panache bar restaurants pull off. Keshav Prakash, who founded Vault Spirits, which distributes imported spirits, and hosted the Vault Home Bar Festival, says the past three years have seen over 200 craft and international spirit launches. The launch of Perry Road Peru by Stranger & Sons and The Bombay Canteen in October 2021, X by Glenmorangie in March 2022 and Woodburns A Tale Of Oak by Fullarton Distilleries and All Things Nice in October that year specifically targeted home bar owners.
“You are no longer at the mercy of duty-free,” says Prakash. The maturity of retailers and home consumers, he adds, is reflected in the growth of sales from retail, which peaked at 90% during the pandemic. “Home bars became a conversation point and people started talking about their favourite spirits, so much so that drinks became an essential part of home entertainment,” he says, adding that some decidedly fancy stuff is coming in. He gives the example of a classic cocktail shaker called Birdy by Erik Lorincz, made by a Japanese company that has a waiting list of over six months. It’s expected to launch in India later this year.
Indeed, whether it’s the launch of high-end liquor stores, like Mansionz by Living Liquidz in Mumbai, The Liquor Store in Navi Mumbai or Tonique in Bengaluru, that has made spirits more widely available across cities or the fact that gins from Goa have been a constant talking point, consumers are more aware now about what they are drinking. Bartenders at high-end places are having to step up their game to attract customers.
In Faridabad, Haryana, Singhal has gone from using a contract manufacturer who made 20-30 units in a month two years ago to getting his own space to make 10 units a day (in prices ranging from ₹29,000 to ₹1 lakh). “We are confident of hitting 30-35 units a day soon as people are now looking at home bars as a separate category in itself rather than part of the furniture. In fact, we are in talks with builders to add home bars along the lines of a modular kitchen kitted out with space for your bottles, glasses and bar equipment to ultimately increase the value of the property,” he says.
Nikki Karthikeyan, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who runs a food silo warehousing company, Leap India Food And Logistics, says she’s pleased with the home bar setups at her houses in Hyderabad and Coimbatore. “I started looking for home bars in early 2021 and found them to be quite affordable and practical (and customisable). Rather than just having cabinets, it also made me learn more about spirits,” she says. Karthikeyan personalised it with her initials.
Since the pandemic, house parties have become popular. “In any metropolis in India, travelling is a bummer. Having a home bar setup has helped me have more mindful conversations with my friends,” says Noida, Uttar Pradesh-based entrepreneur Vijender Thapar. “I look at everything from a heightened sense of convenience. In case of a house party, I would have people crowding the kitchen for ice or snacks while the drinks were in another shelf. I recently graduated to a portable plug in and plug out home bar setup on wheels that has slots for everything that I am very happy with,” he adds.
Priyanko Sarkar is a Mumbai-based writer covering the F&B industry.