Focus on India: pandemic could usher in lasting change

15 September, 2020

While the gin revolution is only just beginning in India, with more than six new domestic brands slated to be launched in 2020, other drinks categories such as craft beers, meads, ciders, aged feni, mahua – indigenous Indian liquors made from fruits and wild flowers – and even natural mixes and syrups for cocktails are eagerly awaiting the opening up of markets and gradual easing of lockdown across the country.

The bar and hospitality industry in India had only just started to enjoy some sunny days when the pandemic disrupted growth and brought everything to a halt. Sidecar bar, New Delhi, India’s official entry into the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 Awards, is leading the way for the bar industry in these difficult times.

Minakshi Singh, chief executive and co-founder, said: “We started daily training and sessions with internal as well as external brand ambassadors and trainers for the first three months. We kept our staff engaged and focused on skill enhancement, and kept them motivated. This also brought our team together at a time of crisis. We offered Covid insurance to our staff to make sure no one feels isolated.

“We also started our premixed packets in mid-May, to keep ourselves occupied and have some sense of normalcy. Not that the deliveries are anywhere near covering our costs, but they do keep us engaged with seasonal specials as well as innovation.”

Mahipal Singh, operations manager at Dear Donna cocktail bar in New Delhi, and Ishrat Kaur, general manager at Pass Code Hospitality, share similar stories. It is exciting to note that projects that were routinely left on the back burner are finally taking shape for many during the lockdown.

Kaur said: “We are using this time ‘off’ as an opportunity to get ready and usher in a new experience at PCO, one of the bars. We are changing our beverage programme to include a mixology studio and lab, introducing new techniques in cocktail making that borrow from traditional gastronomy and creating individualised cocktail experiences for guests. Most significantly, we’ve used this time to work on something we’ve wanted to do for a long time – launch our own spirits company, Pass Code Spirits Co. We expect our first product, line to hit the market by December 2020.”

ADAPTABILITY AND INNOVATION

At the beginning of this pandemic, a number of spirits producers converted their distilleries into sanitiser production facilities overnight. The industry identified the need and immediately acted upon it.

A group of drinks professionals came together and launched India Drinks Culture Advisory, a community formed in July to offer significant support in creating brand awareness, bringing food and beverage professionals together and guiding young talents in the industry in future, according to Minakshi Singh, who is one of the founding members.

The wine importing business has also taken a huge hit in the past few months, but some are finding creative ways to manage the crisis.

Vishal Kadakia, owner of Wine Park, a premium importer, said: “Maharashtra government decided to allow online sale and home delivery of liquor. We saw an opportunity and decided to launch the first ecommerce website for wines in Mumbai. This has helped in many ways, such as cash flow, new clients and creating a new vertical where we can market our wines directly to end consumers.”

Luxury hotels are also trying to find ways to keep the business afloat. Ashuli Saini, senior manager for restaurants and bars at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, said: “The hotel initiated food and gourmet deliveries at doorsteps using the resources at hand. All our deliveries were contactless and followed processes of the highest standards of safety. Moving forward, everything will now be viewed from the lens of the new normal. Many hotels, restaurants and bars may have already re-strategised their plans till December 2020, based on the guidelines of contactless, safe and socially distanced norms.”

Priyanka Blah, who sells craft spirits to the Indian trade from a base in Bengalaru, said the time has come for the hospitality industry to source responsibly, work with local and seasonal produce, reduce dependency on variables as much as possible and invest in training staff to learn more than one skill. “Simply put, rethink how much you want to spend on that chandelier and put that money where it will matter most.”

As India emerges from the lockdown, the new normal is certainly expected to bring in lasting changes to the way we eat and drink in the future.

Rojita Tiwari is an award winning drinks writer, educator and consultant based in Mumbai, India. She can be reached at drinksanddestinations@gmail.com





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Nick Strangeway

Bar food's blurred lines

Once upon a time pubs and bars were somewhere you went with the sole purpose of getting pissed and there wasn’t a knife and fork in sight, just a packet of dry roasted nuts.

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