For an industry that barely existed in India even few years ago, today we have world-renowned celebrity bartenders driving change. India is now being recognised as a talent hub with several bartenders from around the world keen to know what’s brewing in the country, says Vineeth Krishnan who won the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition 2020 India.
In a conversation with media, Krishnan, who will represent India at the global stage in Miami, speaks more about the competition, his future plans, bartending as a career option and shares his winning recipe.
Q: How was the journey till you won the title?
Krishnan: It’s been a very interesting journey for me as I came back into the competition through an exciting wild card entry. I realised that what my cocktail needed was for it to be crafted better and it was exciting to redesign the same with my mentor Dimitri Lezinska.
I was curious to make something different and there came the idea of a clear cocktail that met all the points in the judging criteria – aroma, flavour profile, and the inspiration behind it. While working on guest shifts at UNO Mas, and even at Aer Bar where the top 5 legacy winners from different regions were guest bartending, many people who tried the ‘Alquimia’ said that it was the best drink they’d ever tasted. This motivation kept me charged through the semi-finals and into the finals. The rest as they say is history.
Q: Tell us about your life. When and how did you get into the field?
Krishnan: Like every other kid, I did not enjoy mathematics and so after the 12th grade I decided take on something different. Since my brother was already in the hospitality sector, hotel management seemed like a natural choice.
It was great deal of fun and taught me a lot about the F&B space. In 2014, during our training period, I was selected to work at the Oberoi in Mumbai. Here, I dabbled in every sector, right from the reception and housekeeping to the kitchen and accounts. However, I knew that F&B was my calling. After graduating, I got placed at Aer Bar, Four Seasons, where I saw Varun Sudhakar bartending for the first time. I was so inspired by him that I started working on my recipes and getting better at the craft. That’s where my passion for bartending originated.
In between, I moved back to the Oberoi Mumbai, for about a year, where I refined my passion and learnt basics, like engaging with guests and understanding their preferences.
Soon after, the lifetime opportunity to work with Dimitri Lezinska at Koko Mumbai came up and there was no looking back.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for the competition? How difficult was the competition?
Krishnan: Preparing for it definitely was not an easy task. While participating, I was managing the bar at Koko and would practice twice before and after work, no matter the time.
I created a disciplined routine, which also helped bring fluency to the way I performed. After winning last night, it felt like all the late nights and hard work paid off. The competition this year was undoubtedly challenging given the high standards set by each participant, and honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d win. I also gave BACARDÍ Legacy a shot last year, but this year was the best I’ve seen till now. It’s great to see so many bartenders hustling to follow their dreams and crafting cocktails never known before.
Q: How is the feeling after winning the title?
Krishnan: It’s an exciting and proud moment to not just be representing Koko, my place of work, but also Indian talent within the cocktail industry. Getting the opportunity to represent the country on a global platform, especially of this calibre, is something I only dreamt of.
Last night was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. It is overwhelming to see how everyone is constantly cheering for me to win the global title. Now, it’s not only about the restaurant or outlet, but about my country and I’m really looking forward.
Q: What next are you aiming at?
Krishnan: Winning the Competition, for sure! I’m stoked to showcase my cocktail at the global finale. Bringing home the title will mean representing everything India has to offer to the global cocktail culture, which is both an honour and a huge responsibility that I am ready to take on. As of now, I’m open to exploring opportunities as they come by.
Eventually, the goal is to make the right choices while staying true to what moves me.
Q: How do you see the scope in this field?
Krishnan: Since I started bartending in 2015, mixology in India has only gotten bigger and better. The stature of performances at the BACARDÍ Legacy this year are testimony enough to the booming cocktail culture in India.
Platforms like these are a stepping-stone for bartenders to carve their own niche and foster innovations. For an industry that barely existed in India a couple of years ago, today we have world-renowned celebrity bartenders driving change. Not only that, India is now being recognized as a talent hub with several bartenders from around the world keen to know what’s brewing in the country.
Q: What are some of the myths regarding bartending?
Krishnan: One common myth is that all bartenders drink! I know bartenders who have great palates and only choose to taste their drink. Another one is that most people think of bartending as a glamourous profession, however, it actually involves constant research, learning, hard work and a whole lot of patience.
Q: Please share your winning recipe.
Krishnan: The winning cocktail is called the “Alquimia”, which is inspired from ‘The Alchemist’, a philosophical book that inspires you to never lose hope and always follow your dreams. It beautifully narrates how when a person really desires something, the whole universe conspires to help that person realize the dream.
Here is the recipe:
BACARDI Carta Blanca – 50ml
Elderflower liqueur – 12.5ml
Absinthe – 2 dash
Celery Salt Solution – 2 dash
Citric acid – 5ml
Neem leaf – 1
Certain elements of the drink are connected to those mentioned in the book. For example, my use of the elderflower is owing to the fact that floral notes exude positivity, similar to the book’s focus.
Another interesting element is that of the neem leaf, which is usually not used in cocktails owing to its bitter notes. The leaf symbolizes difficulties and challenges that everyone faces in their lives. Similar to how the book has inspired millions of people across the world, I can’t wait for the drink to bring out the same in them.