When the William Reed Group’s respected, much-anticipated list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars was released in 2020, only one brand made it to the covetted list from India - the Sidecar in Delhi. The man behind it is mixologist, bartender and entrepreneur Yangdup Lama. Following close on the heels of this accolade, Lama was featured by Drinks International Magazine in the Bar World 100 list of the most influential people in the global beverage industry 2020 - the first Indian to feature on the list.
Before co-founding Sidecar, Yangdup started the Gurgaon based peakeasy bar, Cocktails And Dreams. His more than two decades of experience in bartending includes a stint as Head Bartender with Hyatt Regency Hotel in Delhi. The man from Kurseong in Darjeeling district studied hotel manademnt in Kolkata before moving to Delhi.
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What made you choose bartending as a profession?
It was my tenure at the Hyatt (Delhi) when I was assigned to work at the Polo Lounge Bar which was probably the only bar doing world class cocktails at that time. Hence I was inclined towards learning the profession and taking up bartending as a career
How did you train for it?
It was more of an accidental thing. I was assigned to work at the bar during my tenure at Hyatt and the then bar captain (bartender) Mr Atul Bhola was a rock star who was holding the fort with his beautiful skills in bartending. He certainly was my first inspiration. Later, after a year, I received formal training in classic bartending from international bartender and consultant Laval Lim Hon of the Waikiki Cocktail Bar in Majorca (Spain).
What do you like most about this job?
Each day is a different day and there’s no standard formula to deal with this. The job is interesting because it's about being a people’s man. It entails a little bit of everything from knowledge, creativity, technique and salesmanship all combined with great human skills and values. It makes the bartender complete.
What are the challenges?
I'd say it is the odd working hours. Also, this is a part of hospitality and lifestyle, and it does take away a lot of your personal time. It is very demanding and the only driving force is sheer passion and dedication.
Which is your favourite cocktail, and why?
I like a well made Manhattan. The fact that it is straight, simple and has a Rye whiskey base is perfect for the whiskey lover in me.
What is your favourite book on cocktails?
The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan. It's simple and helps build a strong foundation towards knowing cocktails and their background.
A cocktail recipe for our readers (which can be made at home)?
Manhattan of Your Choice (It's a twisted Manhattan)
Whiskey (preferably Rye or Bourbon or a good blended Scotch, choose as you please) – 60ml
Cherry brine (use good quality cherry in syrup available in the market) – 10ml
Red wine – 20ml
Method: Stir well with lots of ice and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a cherry and serve.
One incident (funnier the better) that you can't forget while at work?
A couple of years ago at my first bar (Cocktails & Dreams, Speakeasy) in Gurgaon, a guest tried to bribe me thinking I was a bartender working at the bar. He slipped a 1,000 rupee note and did not want me to present the actual bill. I tactfully whispered in his ear to let him know that I was the owner of the bar. His face went pale.
Some secrets of the trade or any whispered bits that are sacred in the barternders' community?
Only the bartender knows last evening you came with your wife and today you are here with your girlfriend.
Serving responsibly is also a huge part of bartending - how do you deal with that?
There is no formula. It comes with experience working over a period of time at various levels of the bar and interacting with guests. We mature and develop the right approach over time as regards guest service and situation handling.
What are your secret mixes that you reserve for very special occasions?
I can't disclose them, ideally, but here is one. A well infused speyside malt whisky with roasted walnuts.
What do you prefer drinking to unwind?
I am a simple Bourbon on the rocks guy.
You are deeply spiritual - could you tell us about how you weave that in your daily life, and work?
I follow the middle path (find the right balance). Since I am very much into all the worldly things, I somehow figure a way to find happiness in everything I do. Eat, pray, drink, socialise, play, etc - all the things that I need to make myself happy at the end of the day. The idea is to be mindful of everything that's happening around me and everything that I am doing. and lastly, to infuse it all into my system. I do meditation every day (no specific time though) - it could be 10 minutes at times, an hour at some other time. There are no specific laid down rules, I simply follow my heart.
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Any travel-related things or local ingredients that have inspired your signature cocktails?
I love using the timbur (Himalayan sichuan pepper) for some of my twisted signatures.
The most bizarre ingredient that you've used (or seen being used) in a cocktail?
It has to be edible camphor. It's not very common and requires the right intensity when used in cocktails.