Meet Ulric Nijs, the anthropologist bartender
How many bartenders do you know with a degree from the London School of Economics and who can talk intelligently about political strife in Rwanda and the after-effects of sipping vodka infused with Viagra? Celebrated mixologist Ulric Nijs who's been there, done that, enlightens Dhiman Chattopadhyay about life and vodka
What do you do after growing up in Rwanda, Burundi and Japan and then studying BA in anthropology from the London School of Economics? Why, you snap up a job at the nearest London pub as a bartender and come up with innovative cocktails that even have Viagra in them!
When celebrated mixologist (he insists he is just a bartender) Ulric Nijs offers us this story by way of introduction, we figure quickly that whatever else the evening is going to be from here on, “normal” won’t figure on our list. And we are not wrong.
Nijs (pronounced Nice) is the head mixologist for Tigre Blanc Vodka for middle-east Asia and Indian subcontinent. Tigre Blanc, for the uninitiated, is a French vodka made using wheat from the Cognac region of France and goes through the same Alambic distillation process used for Cognac.
But we are more curious to know how a globetrotting anthropologist (he also has an MBA in marketing from Dubai University) came to make mean cocktails for a living.
“My father was a diplomat. I spent my growing years in Rwanda, Burundi, Japan and other countries. No one shot at me during the civil wars in some of these places, so I came to the UK as a teenager to enroll for a degree in anthropology at LSE. I also took up bartending since it was the easiest way to earn some money. I was just 17,” he says sheepishly.
Then with time, he started experimenting with cocktails. “At a pub where I worked, we came up with a special cocktail called Viagra Falls. It had absinthe and vodka, garnished with crushed Viagra. Needless to say we had many happy customers but it didn’t last too long since the doctors who supplied us the pills got wise to our plans,” he laughs, mixing me a potent cocktail he calls An Indian Summer. And no, this one doesn’t have Viagra!
I sip the soda-infused drink as Nijs continues: “I love making vodka-based cocktails. It’s the most flexible drink. You should taste my Je t’aime (I love you) or the watermelon infused vodka.” I prefer the watermelon to a cocktail that talks of love. The drink looks attractive. I sip. It’s sweet…and potent!
Meanwhile Nijs has moved on to his other passions. He is also a trained bass guitarist though he never really got around to forming a band. Maybe his mates were all too vodka-infused to sing, I ask. He laughs: “Do you think I am totally crazy?”
Crazy or not, this guy does make amazing cocktails. And after spending the last few years in Dubai, he is now keen to try India out as a possible place to display his art. Did we hear whoops of joy from all those who have already been introduced to this master bartender’s potent creations during the just concluded fashion week?