Mumbai Food: Ami Shroff, Aneesha Bhasin talk all things alcohol over lunch

May 23, 2017, 08:26 IST | Shraddha Uchil

Over Pisco Sours and plates of guacamole and ceviche, Ami Shroff and Aneesh Bhasin discuss gin's sudden rise in popularity across the globe, and why India needs more homegrown alcohol brands

Ami Shroff and Aneesh Bhasin talk all things alcohol over lunch at Lima, BKC. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Ami Shroff and Aneesh Bhasin talk all things alcohol over lunch at Lima, BKC. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

It's a sweltering May afternoon, and Aneesh Bhasin is already at Lima when Ami Shroff arrives. Bhasin is the co-founder of Hipcask, a wine-focused smartphone app, and Shroff is among India's first female flair bartenders. Though actively involved in the country's beverage industry, the duo has never met before.

Bhasin has been holding curated events at city bars and eateries, while Shroff is busy developing the bar menu for London Taxi, a soon-to-launch restaurant in Kamala Mills. She shyly introduces herself to Bhasin before settling in. But, in a matter of minutes, the duo has hit it off, helped along by glasses of Pisco Sour.

Ami: I think alcohol can be intimidating to people. It might be because of the way companies market it.
Aneesh: Yes. Take whiskey, for instance. There is so much snobbery associated with single malts that, at times, it gets intimidating for newbies.
Ami: Once we launch, we're going to introduce workshops. Even otherwise, I'm happy to allow people behind the bar and teach them how to make a drink.
Aneesh: I think that's important. It will be so much easier if people can just have a good conversation with
a mixologist.

(Pisco Sours arrive)
Aneesh: Although a Peruvian cocktail, the Pisco Sour is perfect for the Indian summer. It's interesting to see sour flavours become trendy.
Ami: People don't like sugary drinks anymore. And there is this perception that cocktails are always sweet. So, the word sour sounds appealing.
Aneesh: That's true. People are moving away from really sweet drinks. And a lot of places are doing cocktails with less sugar.
Ami: They want to be able to taste all the ingredients in their drink. There's also an emphasis on fresh ingredients now. Bars are going for cold pressed juices over packaged ones, and making syrups in-house.

(Guacamole with Tortilla Chips, Quinoa and Mint Salad, and Ceviche Classico arrive)
Ami: This is really good.
Aneesh: Yes, you don't get good guacamole in Mumbai. It's beautiful.
Ami: I'm liking all the food. The quinoa salad is delicious - it has a sweet-and-sour dressing, and there's this nice crunch to it.
Aneesh: For me, the winner is this ceviche. I could have it every day.

Shraddha: Gin is also enjoying its moment in the spotlight, isn't it?
Ami: Gin is seeing a rise in popularity around the world. I was recently at a competition in Sweden, where there were a series of gin workshops and tastings.
Aneesh: That's happening here, too. We recently curated an event, where we ran out of 12 bottles of gin in one night. Even the classic Gin and Tonic is a refreshing drink that suits our weather and pairs well with our food. Vodka, on the other hand, has lost its mojo.
Ami: Initially, vodka was positioned as a spirit that was odourless and flavourless, that you could mix it with anything and it would work. But I think now, people like their alcohol to have some character.
Aneesh: You're right. That neutrality factor may not matter anymore.
Ami: That's not to take anything away from vodka. People in Eastern Europe still love their vodka. It also comes down to what you're in the mood for. I enjoy vodka, but I am really liking gin right now.
Aneesh: There is a new homegrown gin brand that has just launched, and they are selling one of their variants for around Rs 900.
Ami: That's all?
Aneesh: That's how it should be. I think a lot of our alcohol needs to offer better value for money. It should cost the same, but be of higher quality. In fact, India needs to make better spirits to begin with. As of now, there aren't even five brands you can count that make good alcohol here. Thankfully, there's a lot of young blood entering the industry; that should change things.
Ami: I've had great toddy at watering holes in South India. If only we could create an industry out of stuff that's already part of our culture.
Aneesh: There are a few niche brands making Indian liquor popular worldwide, but it's a pity that the big companies are not doing it.
Ami: We will always have Old Monk, I suppose.
Aneesh: Old Monk is the one spirit that transcends class. No one feels rich drinking it, no one feels poor drinking it. I don't think there will ever be anything like it again.

Quick takes

Your go-to drink:
Ami: Craft beer
Aneesh: An Old Fashioned or a Negroni

One beverage trend that needs to die:
Ami: Using sugar to sweeten cocktails. Honey and jaggery work just as well. 
Aneesh: Long Island Iced Teas, especially the ones served in those tall, narrow glasses.

A trend you see becoming big in India:
Ami: The use of natural, locally sourced ingredients in drinks.
Aneesh: The craft beer segment is going to grow.

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