Author: Ganesh Vancheeswaran

India Cocktail Week is a celebration of India’s cocktail scene. Every year, the 10-day fest has been travelling to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, India’s foremost wining & dining hotspots, with a menu of experiences aimed at appealing to those who love their cocktails. The fest features a week-long schedule of cocktail crawls, mixology masterclasses, tasting sessions and workshops in bars spread across each of these cities. It then culminates in Cocktail Village, a high-energy event that sees food, cocktails and music meld to form an immersive experience. 

India Cocktail Week kicked off its latest edition in Bangalore. From Nov 27 to Dec 4 this year, the fest enlivened people’s senses. Mixologists excited them with their concoctions and showmanship. And brands like Roku Gin, Dewar’s, Singleton, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Greater Than offered bar pop-ups and interesting cocktail experiences.

Just after the Bangalore leg of the fest, I interacted with Sharan Behl and Akshat Kumar, Co-founders of India Cocktail Week, over email. This is what they had to say to my questions. 

Q. How and when did the idea of India Cocktail Week come to you? How did it then crystallise in your minds? 

A. India Cocktail Week started out as an honest effort to introduce something cocktail- driven in India. To introduce something new and interesting to the public and to educate them on cocktails. We wanted to recreate the cocktail festivals that happen internationally, to create the same demand for the drinks in India, seeing as how India has recently started embracing the cocktail culture. 

Q. This initiative has shades of similarity with leading international fests that are centred on cocktails, like the Dublin Cocktail Festival and Tales of the Cocktail (New Orleans). It brings together cocktail-based experiences, food and music. What would you say is special about India Cocktail Week – its signature touches?

A. The idea is to encourage the growing mixology culture in India and further that through immersive experiences that are not only gratifying but which also leave people wanting more. It is essentially a marriage of up-and-coming homegrown brands and global entities. It will hopefully expand to other countries and have a global presence soon. 

What’s your poison? 

Q. I think, in the past few years, the Indian cocktail scene has evolved faster than before. Mixologists and consumers have become more experimental; the set of curious, discerning consumers has also expanded. Do you agree? What are some of your leading thoughts on this? What do you think is driving this evolution? And what will it take to put India on the global stage, as far as spirits and cocktails are concerned?

A. India is already on par with the standards of the global cocktail scene. We believe that Indian brands already have a global presence, and are slowly infiltrating the international market and are being recognised there. In fact, brands like Greater Than are already doing very well. A number of Indian mixologists and alcobev enthusiasts are also taking the time to travel, research and bring back their learnings to India, all the while creating visibility in global markets that are now embracing India and becoming familiar with popular Indian brands. 

There is a lot to look forward to in terms of what can be further expected from the growing and evolving alcobev market here. For instance, we have a homegrown tequila brand coming up, which is very exciting for the Indian consumers and the market. The consumers have become more experimental; they are always on the lookout for new, more exciting experiences, especially the young working millennial – or even Gen Zs, for that matter. A few years ago, music festivals were the place to be. They were considered to be an all-round experience – a combination of music, alcohol and entertainment. As time passes, consumer tastes are evolving, and they are becoming hungry for more gratifying and wholesome experiences – like India Cocktail Week, which is a celebration of cocktails, beverages, food and music, and the burgeoning cocktail culture of India.  

Time to groove!

Q. Are there clear personas within the broad set of Indian cocktail enthusiasts? What would be their profile (or profiles)? 

A. There are a number of people who are important proponents of the cocktail alcobev community in India. Right from travelling to learn about flavours, tastes and mixture combinations, to curating and replicating international experiences for Indian audiences and consumers, we believe that the Indian market is growing and evolving at a rapid pace and in the right direction. 

The new Indian consumer is young and eager; cocktails and liquor are no longer an acquired taste. They have become more experimental, and are always eager to try new things and experiment with new flavours and brands. Whisky, for instance, for a long time, was considered to be the drink of choice for someone older and with a high disposable income. But that has changed. Today, whisky, scotch and bourbon, all have a huge audience. Unique cocktail concoctions and flavour combinations are not just a trend, but a part of the food and beverage culture of this country. The evolution of the consumer makes every single person from this growing community a key proponent of the cocktail culture in India, and is representative of the leaps and strides the industry is making on an everyday basis on the national and international level. 

Q. What do you think is the next level for India’s cocktail scene? And what should mixologists, bar owners and spirit brands do to take us there? 

A. The best thing to do is to keep evolving and learning. The cocktail community has a lot more to offer and a long way to go. There is still a lot more to learn and do. There is space to further evolve and engage. Consumer participation has gone up exponentially, and it has become a community-driven industry, with stakeholders and key proponents looking to their consumers for constant feedback and analysing and quantifying data to keep improving. A new trend is that people are going sugar-free, or are looking to consume cocktails that are low on calories. Mixologists are now experimenting with recipes, and there is really something for everyone. 

All set to be shaken and stirred

Q. What’s India Cocktail Week’s central message? 

A. The central message of India Cocktail Week is to further encourage the developments in this particular category, and to bring more awareness of how dynamic and ever-changing it is. We want to encourage homegrown brands to build their presence in India and grow further towards recognition, and bring the best of international brands to India through our immersive experiences.

Q. How has the initiative evolved over the years? Can you highlight an inflexion point or two in its evolution?

A. There is far too much that has now been discovered, and we are slowly working towards building it further. Whether it be bringing international brands via partnered endeavours, or bringing them under one roof at Cocktail Village, the property has evolved exponentially, considering we are still relatively new. The biggest inflection point is the consumer’s reactions and interest, which have led us towards further enhancing this experience.

Q. What challenges have you and your team had to weather on this journey? And your plans for the next couple of years, vis-a-vis this initiative?

A. The main obstacle we’ve had to overcome is the pandemic. In the beginning of our journey, we had to deal with lockdowns, and it’s been a journey unlike we’ve ever imagined. To be able to make a comeback after the pandemic, we’ve grown more and learnt more. And it’s only made us better. We look forward to being able to provide more of these experiences safely and in accordance with Covid protocols. We plan to further expand the event and bring more engaging and immersive experiences for our consumers, to educate them and provide them with more holistic experiences that embrace food, music and entertainment. 

Q. Two things you wish were different about the Indian cocktails landscape today? 

A. We think we are on the right track. There are a lot of (positive) disruptions in the industry today. We have more mixologists experimenting with recipes and interesting techniques, we have more showmanship in the way cocktails are made, and consumers are more experimental and open to new things than ever before. If we continue this way, we are sure that the Indian cocktails landscape will be on par with international cocktail landscapes.

Photos: India Cocktail Week