It’s a real orchard out there. A jackfruit Mojito mix, a hibiscus-lavender Martini mix, a mango-chilli Margarita mix, tonic waters infused with elderflower, with grapefruit, with orange and basil—you could quite literally make cocktails every day for a month and not have the same drink twice. The Indian market for cocktail mixes was not doing too badly before the pandemic—artisanal tonic waters were definitely beginning to make their way to home bars, for instance—but in the past one and a half years, the drinking experience at home has transformed completely.
“The culture of cocktails has been picking up since the past five years and bartenders have played a very important role in that. The quality of cocktails, the variety, has gone up tremendously. Discovery happens at a bar, but over the pandemic, people couldn’t go out that much but still wanted to recreate that experience at home,” says Aneesh Bhasin, co-founder of Foxtrot Beverages Pvt. Ltd, a “progressive drinks company” that makes the Svami range of tonic waters and non-alcoholic pre-mixed drinks, one of the earliest entrants in this category.
The variety Bhasin talks about is truly considerable, and layered. There are brands like Jimmy’s Cocktails, &Stirred, and Swizzle, which retail pre-mixes for classic cocktails like Mojitos, Margaritas and Whisky Sours; there are makers of specialty tonic waters and ginger ales—Svami, Sepoy & Co, Bengal Bay, Jade Forest, to name just a few; and now, those who make small-batch, handcrafted pre-mixes and are experimenting wildly with ingredients and flavours.
Many of the new, smaller companies have been started by bartenders themselves. Take Ōtanē (pronounced “Othane”, which loosely translates to “to infuse” in Sanskrit and “to pour” in Marathi), launched by mixologist Sharan Kutty and illustrator Errol Crasta in December. Kutty, who was working as a bartender in Australia, came home to Mumbai last year and teamed up with Crasta to launch a batch of non-alcoholic infusions with local ingredients like vanilla, orange and roselle leaves that can be mixed with spirits such as gin, rum and vodka. Each exquisitely designed infusion kit from Ōtanē comes with detailed notes on how to make the cocktails and the foods to pair them with. The Mumbai-based brand delivers across India, with each kit retailing for ₹625 in Mumbai and ₹685 in other parts of the country.
Bengaluru-based Karthik Kumar, formerly director of beverages at the Byg Brewski Brewing Company (he now consults with them), started Two Ounces during the lockdown when he realised there was a lot of uncertainty about when bars would be allowed to open—and that people were craving bar-style cocktails. “Making a nice drink at home is not easy. You need a number of ingredients in small quantities that there’s no point keeping at home, so I got this idea of sending out cocktail kits,” says Kumar. From there, the idea evolved to sending out pre-mixes that are made fresh and delivered within a few hours of a customer placing an order for, say, a Jackfruit Mojito Mix, a Darjeeling Chai Punch Mix, or a Salted Caramel Old-Fashioned.
Jovita Mascarenhas and her son Jordan, a trained mixologist, started off with a similar idea in Mumbai last year with Bartisans, a range of handcrafted cocktail mixers like Blue Pea and Mint Gin Fizz Mix, Hibiscus Lavender Martini Mix, and Rose Cardamom Whisky Sour Mix. Initially made-to-order and available only in Mumbai, the company started pan-India deliveries just about a month ago. “Alcohol delivery is a difficult market to crack in India, there are too many hurdles and different rules in different territories. We came up with the idea of doing pre-mixes around four years ago, actually, but at that time it was probably too early. With the pandemic, the demand has really shot up. When you talk about cocktail mixers now, people know exactly what you are talking about,” says Mascarenhas. “The idea is to also appeal to people who don’t drink alcohol—our products are basically ready-to-consume, zero-proof drinks,” she adds.
“Zero-proof”—which essentially means “non-alcoholic”—is the latest buzzword in this category. Svami too has just launched its zero-proof Rum And Cola, Pink Gin & Tonic and classic Gin & Tonic. How are these different from a regular cola or tonic? “Oh they do taste like the real thing, and we have achieved that by paying attention to the flavours of the mixed drinks—by adding the strong juniper notes of gin to the G&T, or vanilla notes in the Rum & Cola,” says Bhasin. “It’s all in the aromatics.”
With inputs by Jahnabee Borah.