World Bartender Day: The kind of energy I bring is quite comparable to an artist performing on stage, says Aashie Bhatnagar

24 February,2024 10:26 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Maitrai Agarwal

On World Bartender Day, talented mixologist, Aashie Bhatnagar from Pune’s Cobbler and Crew on what sets her apart, representing India, and more

Aashie Bhatnagar has been crowned as the Best Bartender at 30 Best Bars India

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Aashie Bhatnagar from Pune's Cobbler and Crew has had a stellar year, winning accolades in India and abroad. The 26-year-old has been crowned as the Best Bartender at 30 Best Bars India, and the esteemed World Class India Bartender of the Year 2023. Representing India at the World Class 2023 global finale in Sao Paulo, she made it to the top 12 and won People's Choice. When asked what keeps Bhatnagar going, she poses, "My greatest joy at work is being an engaging host to patrons and making them feel like the bar is their second home. Hosting is a love language that everyone understands." This World Bartender Day, in an exclusive chat, the ‘pocket dynamite' of Indian bartending shares what sets her apart, the evolving cocktail culture in India, and more.

What inspired you to become a bartender?

Bhatnagar: I never thought of becoming a bartender in my life but it came to me as a blessing in disguise. I wanted to become a fashion designer because I love to create art and give soul to something. I still remember the incident that changed my life. I had decided to take up a fashion design course in my college, but I believe my destiny brought me to hotel management instead.

I opted for food and beverage under my course simply because I loved to serve people with art. I started to fall in love with the stories behind classic cocktails. This filled me with a fire and curiosity to learn and do more in the field. I went on to do my industrial training and eagerly wanted to work behind the bar. But that required some patience, as we know, good things take time. During that period, I was reading about Don Beach, the father of Tiki culture and came across one story about him which proves that if you are willing to achieve something even God will help you. This thought stayed with me and changed the rest of my trajectory. In the story, he used to turn on the water tap on the roof of the bar for customers to stay longer, as they thought it was raining outside. It sounds funny but this story gave me an idea through which I could experience and learn about operations behind the bar.

I took a bandage and food colouring from the bakery, tied it on my toe and requested to be assigned a position behind the bar for wiping glasses to rest my ‘injured toe'. I used to watch the bartender hosting guests and saw how happy they felt when we treated them with our art. I was curious about what goes on behind the bar, and from that moment, I was hooked. Since then, there's been no looking back and I finally felt like I had found the place where I belong.

Congratulations on winning the Best Bartender in India Award at the 30 Best Bars India. What sets you apart?

Bhatnagar: It is extremely the most beautiful feeling to be recognised among some of the finest bartenders across the nation. I believe it is my ‘pocket dynamite' personality. The kind of energy I bring is quite comparable to an artist performing on stage.

Secondly, it's my relentless drive to be the best. Once I had my heart set on mixology, I started working towards it endlessly. All my focus always went into researching and practising for years. I never thought of doing anything else. Today what we see is a journey fuelled by passion and never giving up.

You also made it to the top 12 and won the ‘People's Choice' at the Diageo World Class Global Bartender of the Year 2023. Tell us about your experience representing India at the prestigious competition in Sao Paulo.

Bhatnagar: It gives me immense pride that I was able to represent the vibrancy and energy of the Indian bartending community during the global finale in Brazil. Being a top contender amongst global bartenders from 54 countries in the competition and representing my country, and Cobbler and Crew, is an immeasurable feeling. I even got to create a cocktail featuring our national flag - an experience I'll never forget.

It was my first trip outside of the country, and I was full of mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement - the whole country was supporting me, it was so overwhelming. Met the best bar people in the world, people whom I look up to, and people I have just been following on Instagram for years - I met them and spoke with them- there was a lot of knowledge sharing, I couldn't have asked for more from life.

The road to making it into the Top 12 was flanked by several challenges that tested us on numerous skills. From thinking about the future of classic cocktails to bringing alive the experience of our home bar to Brazil, every challenge had a different serve and with that a unique story. After almost 8 weeks of no sleep, prepping all night for the competition, it all came together once I went up on stage and my fear converted into confidence.

Which is your preferred ingredient to work with? What is the favourite part of your job?

Bhatnagar: My preferred ingredient to work with is different flavours of honey like mustard, acacia, and cider that give a unique flavour sensation to my cocktails while supporting my local community as well.

My favourite part about my job is the opportunity to give life to the ingredients and make the best use of everything I have.

How is the cocktail culture evolving in India?

Bhatnagar: It's amazing to see how the market is growing here. I'm proud to be a part of the community that's so supportive. When it comes to cocktails, India's diversity shines through. Bartenders are tapping into our rich tapestry of flavours to create unforgettable experiences.

What makes me the happiest is that bartending as a profession is getting the respect it deserves, talented bartenders are being valued and the bartending community is also taking bartending more seriously than ever.

It's all possible because of the globalisation of our audience, guests of even smaller towns are well-travelled - they have seen the amazing cocktail culture abroad and have started taking an interest in innovative cocktails. It's not just about Martinis and Margaritas anymore!

What's your signature cocktail?

Bhatnagar: My signature drink is the ‘Pocket Dynamite,' crafted for the World Class 2022 challenge. It's similar to a classic drink but with an interesting twist. You take some Tanqueray 10 and mix it up with some Pot Chartreuse, which adds a nice herbal kick. Then you throw in some super lime for that extra zing, and a bit of Maraschino liqueur to sweeten things up. Put it all together, and you've got yourself a real dynamite cocktail!

It's got a nice balance of flavours, with the gin giving it that refreshing taste, and the lime and Maraschino adding some sweetness to round it all out. It really packs a punch.

Traditionally, mixology has been male-dominated. Have you noticed changes in inclusivity in the industry, particularly regarding equal pay for women?

Bhatnagar: I firmly believe that women can do anything, just like anyone else. If you ask the bartenders of the previous generation, they will not give you the same answer as me because times were different then. But I am grateful to be thriving in a time when talent succumbs to gender, and women can truly be whoever and whatever they want to be.

When it comes to equal pay for women, it depends from organisation to organisation - but I strongly urge women to not accept unequal pay, but rather hold on and wait to work with the right people. Personal ethics and value systems have to align with the organisation for a long-term and fruitful partnership. It also sets the wrong precedent for other women. It is important to have faith in yourself and your talent.

What advice would you offer to aspiring bartenders?

Bhatnagar: It's cliche advice but I think we need a friendly reminder time and again to just have faith in ourselves. Mixology is a passion-driven job, not everyone can do it. Only people who love to do it become great at it. So, the first thing that I would like for bartenders to ponder is - do they really want to bartend? Can they eat, sleep and breathe this life behind the bar?

If your answer is not an absolute and immediate yes, then you have some bigger level of thinking to do. But if you know that bartending is for you, then stop overthinking about the future and only focus on getting better. Be honest with your craft and everything else will fall in place.

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