Yangdup Lama dons many hats. He is a famous mixologist, a bar consultant, and an entrepreneur. He is at the helm of establishing the quintessence of drinking culture at his Cocktails & Dreams, Speakeasy and SideCar by Thirsty Three Hospitality. He heads a beverage consultancy company and also started a commercial bar and bartending school for budding professionals. He is the putative sculptor who is carving a rich drinking culture in Delhi-NCR with his craft of bartending and mixology. He is a kind man who serves conviviality to the crème de la crème of the town across the counter and indulges in interesting conversations.
So, let us delve deeper into his story of making it big in the cocktail industry.
Early Years on Being Mixologist
His first tryst with mixing drinks started 23 years ago, in 1995, while he was studying Hotel Management in Kolkata. After completing his degree, he grabbed a job at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Delhi in the Food and Beverage department. At that time, the bar incidentally faced a shortage of staff, which turned out to be the ‘bartending call’ for Yangdup. The dearth of workforce required him to work at bar and from this stage, Yangdup embarked upon his voyage on bartending. He recalls that he was not very clear for his bartender calling but it was more of an acquired taste. He developed an interest in bartending and post-six months, he remembers, he was serving drinks from behind the bar. It took him a year to realize that this was something he wanted to pursue as a career, but there were still some doubts as there was no such official profession as bartending.
He recollects enjoying every minute of blending and serving to his patrons. As a result, he turned down the offer of a promotion and resigned in 1999 to follow his heart and became a freelance bartender. He explains his initial years of engaging into bartending as: “I got in touch with people I knew and catered to private events, then corporate ones as well. We set up Cocktails and Dreams in early 2000s, and then I started working with the liquor industry.”
He got his formal training in bartending and added on to his experience from the renowned international bartender viz. Laval Lim Hon of the Waikiki Cocktail Bar, Majorca, Spain. He has also worked with noted properties in India as well as overseas. He has also been working in tow with famous spirit brands such as Bacardi, Angostura, United Spirits, Diageo, and Pernod-Ricard. He has also organized a number of workshops, exchange programmes, and cocktail development sessions.
The Cocktails and Dreams School of Bar and Beverage Management
His Cocktails and Dreams School of Bar and Beverage Management has been at the disposal for students for the past 15 years. The school runs a six-month and three-month course on bartending. It also offers a 30-day internship in various bars in Delhi. With the change in the mindset of the society, Yangdup’s school now welcomes not only drop-outs or those who did not fare well any other career choice, but also those who have straightjacket desire for bartending. He beautifully puts the evolving essence of bartending as “Bartending has come of age in India. The icing on the cake is the quality of bartending material that is now accessible. I know of at least 10 superb bartenders from India who could do very well if placed in bars across the world. Our students are brand ambassadors of the best liquor brands and are heading operations of some enviable bars.”
His philosophy for mixing
When asked about the ingredients he uses in his cocktails, he explains that ice is the most important ingredient. The quality of the ice plays a key role in the taste of the drink.
“If the ice is right, the drink is quite there. With good knowledge of ingredients, good ice, right technique and the right flavour balance, I think we are good to go.”
He believes that though the cocktail culture has seen an augment in the trend, there are bars and restaurants that make drinks using bad quality spirits, dry and bad ice which fizz out smoke. He further goes on to say that he loves making infusions. “In-house bitters and syrups too make most of my cocktails unique and, lastly, I love to combine spirits (for e.g. a dark rum with an aged whiskey, to incorporate different characters present in them) to make my creations.”
His book: “Cocktails & Dreams”
Yangdup has penned his first cocktail book titled “Cocktails & Dreams” by Wisdom Tree in 2014. The book talks about 50 cocktails and also includes 25 of Yangdup’s signature cocktails with a blend of regional flavors.
Awards and Recognitions
Yangdup Lama has won many accolades for his sound knowledge on mixing. He has been adjudged as the Indian Bartender of the Year in 1996. He also got the Asia-Pacific 30 under 30 Award in 1997. Presently, he is the American Whiskey Brand Ambassador in India for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). He was also featured as a “YOUNG TURK” CNBC TV18 in January 2007. He also serves as the India Attache to Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans.
Love for his profession
He exclaims that the most challenging part of his job is to keep pace with the changing times. “The fact that there is no end to whatever you choose to do in this field. Whether it is learning, researching, creating and, most importantly, meeting people from all walks of life and striking a great conversation over a good mix.”