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TD Conversations: Akash Tomar, Brand Ambassador Diageo, North India

A certified beverage educator, Akash Tomar handles the North India market for Diageo, not just training bar staff but also mentoring consumers. Here, he shares recipes, his thoughts on cocktail culture in India, and cocktail making tips for both aspiring mixologists and amateurs.

We’re just past World Cocktail Day and heading into World Whisky Day. And with summer in full swing across the country, the time is ripe for a deep-dive into cocktail culture. We caught up with Akash Tomar, Brand Ambassador Diageo, North India, to understand how and why Indians are taking to this trend.

Having been part of the hospitality industry with stints at brands such as IHCL, Hilton and Hyatt, among others, Akash Tomar is a certified beverage educator with a Level 2 Award in Spirits from WSET Global. Currently, he handles Diageo’s North India market, and supervises not just training sessions for bar staff but also, mentoring sessions for consumers.

Akash Tomar Diageo India

TG: Tell us about the current summer cocktail trends both globally and in India.

AT: After a year marred by the global public health crisis, 2020 has left many craving for in-person social gatherings. There is a trend for cocktails for indoor celebrations in the current age. Consumers have become more experimental with the spirits they are working with. They are not hesitant to try new things and are open to unique storytelling.

The trend for indoor celebrations is towards Gin and Tonic with a slice of fresh fruit or any herb of your choice. This makes a perfect highball, or a shaken gin cocktail or gin iced teas. There are many ready-made options available in the market to mix with gin, e.g., flavoured tonics, syrups, and cocktail pre mixers. Consumers like to pick up easy ingredients to mix with gins such as Tanqueray or Gordon’s. With so much content available on social media, on making cocktails at home, gin has picked up a lot of conversation in India for the past few years and is still growing stronger.

The other side is the food and beverage industry, where Highballs and sustainable cocktails are trending. Highballs are making a comeback with twists and variations. Consumers have upgraded themselves and realised the importance of low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails.

TG: Why are people moving towards highball cocktails?

AT: Highballs are more sessional and perfect for when one drinks socially, as they’re more watered down than the standard. These cocktails are very easy to make, often just mixed right in the glass. No shaking required.

These cocktails are perfect for summer because they are light and refreshing. On the other hand, most of the bars and bartenders are more responsible for the environment and nature; hence, they move towards sustainable cocktails or zero wastage cocktails. Somehow, it also helps in reducing the bar waste, and the ingredients are utilised to the fullest.

To give you an idea of summer cocktail trends globally, there are more low- and no-alcohol offerings as consumers move from higher ABV cocktails to low ABV cocktails and even zero proof distilled spirits. Lately, brands have come up with zero proof distilled spirits.

TG: How do you perceive cocktail culture in India?

AT: Cocktail culture in India has grown and is still growing in the right direction. When we look back to a time in 2008-09, a cocktail meant a mixed fruit-based drink with white rum, vodka, gin, tequila, or combination serves such as LIITs. There were hardly any whisky cocktails on the menu except, of course, the classics such as Old Fashioned, Whisky Sour or Rob Roys.

In today’s world, along with the consumers’ preferences, the standard across all bartenders have raised. Today, most restaurants have added one more section to their liquor menus, called signature cocktails and Barman’s specials, which are slowly taking precedence. As a mixologist myself, this is great as we are always looking to create the best experience for our patrons. The Indian cocktail culture is moving towards highballs, low-on-sugar cocktails and zero wastage cocktails. The bar industry is starting to feel more responsible towards the planet. A great example would be zero-waste bars that follow a strict sustainable policy. Even making minor changes such as switching to biodegradable straws can go a long way.

To some extent, bartending competitions have also played an essential role in developing bartenders and cocktail culture, e.g., Diageo World Class is one of the most prestigious bartending competitions in over 50 countries. A dream for all bartenders to represent their nation on an international platform. Bartenders work very hard for the competition to bring in a future for cocktails that soon become a trend. As a result, the bartenders are always looking to upskill. Our consumers continue to enjoy a variety of serves customised as per their palate.

TG: Are there any spirits in focus for the season?

AT: Yes, gin and whisky. Gin & Tonics are the most go to summer drinks. The availability of different flavoured tonics (grapefruit, cucumber, Mediterranean) has made it easy for consumers to make their own Gin and Tonic at home. Here are a couple of recipes:

Gin Strawberry Highball

Gin and strawberry highball

Ingredients:

  • 60ml Tanqueray London Dry
  • 3 slices of strawberry
  • Ice
  • Grapefruit tonic water

Glassware: Highball Glass

Preparation

Take a highball glass and add Tanqueray and strawberries. Add ice and top up with grapefruit tonic water.


Gin Basil Highball

Gin and basil highball

Ingredients:

  • 60ml Tanqueray London Dry
  • 2 fresh basil leaves
  • 3 slices of cucumber
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • Ice
  • Tonic water

Glassware: Highball glass

Preparation

Take a highball glass and add gin, basil leaves and cucumber. Squeeze a lime wedge and ice which can be topped with tonic water.


Whisky also makes for a great Highball. Johnnie Ginger is the perfect example of a whisky highball that can be made at home. They play an essential role urging bartenders to create sustainable cocktails that can be easily made and consumed at home.

TG: We usually associate clear spirits with summer cocktails, but what kind of possibilities can we see with dark spirits?

AT: With dark spirits, whisky makes for great highballs. Highballs are trending as a light and refreshing summers plus. They are also low on ABV.

Whisky Highball

whisky apple highball

Ingredients:

  • 45ml Johnnie Walker Black Label
  • 2 dashes of bitters
  • 60ml apple juice
  • Soda to top-up

Glassware: Highball glass

Preparation

Take a highball glass and add ice. Pour all the ingredients into the glass and stir well. Garnish with apple slices.


Tea Punch

whisky tea punch

Ingredients:

  • 45ml Singleton of Glendullan 12YO
  • 60ml black tea
  • 20ml cinnamon syrup
  • 25ml lime juice
  • 15ml sugar syrup

Glassware: Duple glass teacup

Preparation

Take a cocktail shaker/Tupperware jar with a lid and add ice. Pour all the ingredients into it and close the lid. Shake well and strain into a fancy glass over ice. Garnish with cinnamon stick, lime slice and mint leaves.

TG: What are the factors one should consider when creating a cocktail?

AT: Things to keep in mind while making a cocktail (for beginners)

  • Start with the basics: Always hold the glass from the bottom. Follow simple classic recipes. Do not shake fizzy drinks. Always add ice last.
  • Spirits are the most important ingredient: Do not over pour the alcohol to make a cocktail strong. A well-balanced cocktail is a great cocktail.
  • Correct measure: Every ingredient needs to be measured well to get a proper taste and balance when consumed.
  • Good quality ice: When it melts, it becomes part of the cocktail. Ice that is shaved and appropriately shaped can heal a breaking drink, and on the other hand, ice that is not in shape can break an exquisite drink. The ice which melts faster dilutes the cocktail, and later, the cocktail tastes like water. Always avoid shaking the cocktail with cracked or crushed ice.
  • Mixers: Those are not always required but suggested for beginners.
  • There should be a balance of sweet and sour.

Things to bear in mind for an aspiring mixologist:

  • Follow the correct technique/method while making a cocktail, e.g., if using an egg, make sure to dry shake or reverse shake the cocktail, or while using only spirits, vermouths, or bitters, stir the cocktail.
  • Correct use equipment is a must, e.g., properly hold the shaker; you should know when to use julep strained or when to fine strain the drink.
  • Make sure to choose appropriate glassware for the cocktail, e.g., if you are serving your cocktail without ice, then use a prechilled stem glass.
  • Understand the flavour of the spirits as it will help you to curate your own recipes.
  • Always use good quality ice. When it melts, it becomes part of the cocktail. Ice that is shaved and appropriately shaped can heal a breaking drink.
  • Measure all the ingredients so that no single flavour dominates the cocktail. Every component should be added to the correct measure.
  • A cocktail must be well balanced in terms of being sweet or sour.
  • Do not forget to garnish your cocktail and present it well.

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