Meet mixologist Varun Sudhakar S. The 35 year old's journey has seen him go from being an Institute of Hotel Management graduate to a two-time winner of the national Diageo Reserve World Class Competition, and title-holder of ‘India’s Best Bartender’ for 2013-2014. He is a founding member of the IFBA (Indian Flair Bartenders Association), and more recently, was named the Teachers’s Glasses Best Bartender in India for 2019. His work experience includes luxury hotels and restaurants such as Four Seasons, Mumbai’s AER Bar and Lounge, The Project series by PizzaExpress India, Ministry of Crab Mumbai, Typhoon Shelter, and Chili’s American Grill and Bar (West & South India).
He is currently working on his own consulting company - Bar Bundle by Varun Sudhakar. He helps in building bars and bar programmes, currently he has ongoing projects in Goa and Chennai. He is also heading product development at In A Can cocktails, India first cocktail in the canned RTD segment. Varun has co-founded The Beverage Program, along with the Madhushala School of Beverages.
What made you choose bartending as a profession?
A bet with one of my best friends got me into this line of work, I was fascinated and wated to learn more.
Briefly, tell us about how you trained for it.
It was always learn while you work and participating for competitions. I am still learning.
What do you like most about this job?
The creative freedom and getting to meet people from different states, countries, race, etc.
What are the challenges?
The restriction imposed in newspapers and other media channels is one of the greatest challenges, I would say. The legal restrictions on promoting alcohol eliminates opportunity to showcase this field. A chef can showcase his skills to the public, unlike bartenders.
Which is your favourite cocktail, and why?
Negroni! It was not always so, but when I got introduced to it, and started making it, it has become the ultimate cocktail for me. It is a cocktail which is easy to make with a recipe. At the same time, it is complex and needs a lot of attention to make it correctly.
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What is your favourite book on cocktails?
The Savoy Cocktail Book. Also, from a bar's perspective, I would recommed the following books: Liquid Intelligence and The Drunken Botanist.
Could you share a cocktail recipe for our readers?
Mathieu Teisseire – Cactus – 15 ml
Cazulo feni – 40 ml
Lime juice – 10 ml
Britvic bitter lemon – 90 ml
Shake the first three ingredients, add the same to a high ball glass with ice and top up with the bitter lemon. Garnish with a wedge of lime.
Any secrets of the trade?
Nothing is secret, but you must know what you are mixing (for instance, don’t mix lime juice and Baileys!), always use fresh lime juice, and make your own sugar syrup.
Serving responsibly is also a huge part of bartending - how do you deal with that?
Serving a glass of water at intervals (ideally, offer it after every drink), offering food along with drinks, denying alcohol to intoxicated patrons.
Any secret mixes that you reserve for very special occasions?
Asking the guest what they really like to drink in terms of choice of spirit, type of cocktail, ingredients they like... Asking is the key to a secret mix.
What do you prefer drinking to unwind?
A chilled beer and great friends!
Any travel-related things or local ingredients that have inspired your signature drinks?
During competitions I have used regional ingredients to create signature cocktails. I am from Kerala, and spices have always been used in one way or the other in my signature cocktails for competitions.
The most bizarre ingredient that you’ve used (or seen being used) in a cocktail?
I have, so far, not used a bizarre ingredient, but I have seen some infusions made out of bone and meat. I will not have it.