Indian bars send signature serves to customers' homes

In May 2020, when the lockdown was still at its strictest in India, Sidecar bar in New Delhi received the good news that it was the only Indian bar to have made it to the coveted 50 Best Bars in Asia list.

A few months later, in September, Yangdup Lama – Sidecar’s co-owner and head mixologist, pictured above – ranked in at number 73 on Drinks International’s Bar World 100, a list of leaders in the bar industry selected by more than 100 worldwide commentators.

However, an innovation took place during the months in between that one would expect from an awardee on these lists. “Since bars were shut, our clientele was missing our signature cocktails. We also had our full staff on the payroll, despite doing zero business. So we decided to start bottling our mixes and sending them to customers’ homes. It kept the staff busy, brought in business and kept us on the radar”, Yangdup informs me over a phone call while parking his car below Sidecar.

The bar reopened a short while back, but still has a foot in the pre-mixed cocktail business, as “a lot of people are still sceptical about heading out to a bar, and you never know when there can be a night curfew, so it may be 20% of our business now, but one we won’t let go of soon”.

Bars delivering pre-mixed cocktails home was clearly an outcome of the lockdown and a trend that has caught on worldwide. In India it comes with a caveat though – only non-alcoholic mixes can be delivered. What you get is a bottle or pack, which can make between three to six drinks, with the signature cocktail mix that has given that particular bar a spot on its clientele’s palate over the years.

Follow the instructions, add the spirit of choice and sip away. While Masque – a highly sought after restaurant and bar in Mumbai – throws in a starter to nibble on alongside the drinks, Perch – a popular wine and coffee bar in Delhi and Mumbai – sends out pre-mix Sangrias, including their signature coffee sangria, and even mulled-wine mixes (you need to add the wine separately in both).

Most bars delivering cocktail-mixes were selling between 300 to 400 mixes a month, priced between 600 Rupees to 800 Rupees, at the peak of the lockdown. But now that they are open and drinkers have started trickling in, these figures have gone down. “We are in the service industry after all and if this is the need of the hour, so be it,” says Prateek Sadhu, executive chef and co-owner of Masque. “But we are an experiential place and encourage people to come and experience our food and drinks here, which is why I am not getting into it as a full-scale business

Vaibhav Singh of Perch, on the contrary, tells me that they sold more mulled-wine through pre-mixes over Christmas than at their bar. He’ll have not just a foot but “a whole leg in it for quite a while”.

However, some interesting individuals and start-ups outside the bar trade are betting their business plans on another aspect of this altogether – the fact that people have actually been wanting to make good cocktails at home for ages, but neither have the expertise nor the time to get the ingredients. Also, in various parts of India, folks love the ‘show’ and will happily spend large amounts of money on anything that makes them look good, is convenient and makes a great talking point.

Companies like &Stirred, Swizzle, and Jimmy’s Cocktails have created pre-mixes that are available online and on grocery store racks across most major cities. They are becoming an alternative to “just aerated sodas and juice packs”, as Rakesh Sheth of &Stirred puts it. He also points out that a lot of drinkers “too old to do tequila shots can now use these mixes and pull out those tucked away spirits they don’t regularly use”.

These players clearly believe in its long-term potential. It has also opened up opportunities for those who have put in the effort of going the extra mile at home over the years, like Noida based Luv Jasuja. His few years at Berkhamsted School in England in the late 1980s, seemed to have rubbed off well, or else I doubt his Bloody-Mary pre-mix would have been christened Bloody Luvly.

“Most bars and companies in the pre-mixed cocktail space in India, are doing mixes mainly catered to whisky, gin and rum,” he says. “Vodka-based mixes, especially a good Bloody Mary, are less.” A week after two female friends convinced him to launch, the first batch of Bloody Luvlys esd out for both the spirited and “virgin” drinkers, as his mix is a “tomato juice-based drink after all and can be enjoyed with or without alcohol, leading to bulk orders as well”.  

Given the fact that a very large part of India buys a full bottle of booze for the price of one pre-mix, this is not for the masses. But within the consumers with an evolving palate, patterns are changing. “I got orders from four people recently, asking if I could set up the bar with my pre-mixed cocktails for their wedding receptions,” says Mrinal Manu, whose Goa-based brand, Mr. Jerry’s, is the only one doing mixes with alcohol included. That is why he can only place them in the wine stores, and grocery stores with alcohol licences, but not deliver.

Just a month old and possibly the only brand at present that can qualify as 100% pre-made cocktail, he plans to expand pan-India, as “there is a growing appetite for good cocktails at home without the effort of making them”.

Minakshi Ibrahim, a consumer of these drinks, agrees. For her it is “the freshness of the ingredients” that does it, while Vikram Achanta, who has taught many bartenders and mixologists a thing or two through his beverage education and training company, Tulleeho, feels “artisanal handmade mixers have given gin afternoons across India a welcome make-over”. That is possibly why his partnership with Bangalore-based pre-mix cocktail delivery brand Bar Box makes sense.