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Written by: Arijit Bose — mixologist, brand ambassador, and entrepreneur
The daiquiri: One drink to rule them all!
I thought I knew my cocktails until I visited Mexico in 2008.
I had been in the industry for eight years. I knew what a daiquiri is, what a mojito is. I had graduated from IHM, I had worked at the Oberoi, I’d worked at nightclubs, I had done sales for Bacardi. I had been a United Spirits Limited brand ambassador. At the time, everything was about parties and how many people you could handle. I was making drinks I can safely admit to be shitty drinks, but that’s what used to sell and I was happy to peddle them. This was the world to me, the world of bartending as we knew it.
Then, during the Bacardi job I stepped out of India for the first time. I went to Shanghai and Turin for the brand, but the trip that really sparked my curiosity was Mexico.
It was a Bacardi rum trip. I did not know then that apart from tequila, Mexico produces rum as well. I learned about the history of sugarcane production in Mexico, and the Latin influence on the rum industry. My love for rum started opening up.
During one training session, I met this intriguing international brand ambassador for Bacardi rums. He wasn’t the typical Hard Rock and TGIF bartender we were used to. This guy had a bespoke suit on. Not only did he care about how he presented himself but also about every aspect of his vocation — like the importance of good ingredients and proper technique. He showed us all these books. For instance, the one by Charles Baker: ‘The Gentleman’s Companion’ which was written in the 1930s.
Imagine meeting the people you’ve attributed drinks to and seen only videos of… this guy had worked with most of them.
But then came the conversation that changed everything. The dude spent 45 minutes talking about a simple three-ingredient cocktail — The Daiquiri.
I could not speak ten minutes about ALL the drinks I had made over the years. His attention to detail was incredible — he emphasised the importance of the lime juice and the right amount of sugar to make a perfectly balanced drink where nothing overpowers the other. That was it, the word ‘BALANCE’.
Until then, I thought the daiquiri and mojito came from some nondescript book somewhere, just repeated by bartenders everywhere in the world but this guy laughed and quipped, “No dude, they were mostly created in Cuba and found their way around the world through people’s travels!”
He told me about how Cuba influenced the whole bartending world. If you wanted to be a cantinero (a Cuban bartender), you had to know about 200 drinks, and speak multiple languages. Cuba was a melting pot — Americans would go there, Europeans travelled there during the war and had all these cocktails.
The daiquiri was just one of the drinks that found its way there. The cantineros were white aristocrats, they had to be professional, they were reading books, learning about drinks that were 50-60 years old, making them their own.
I learned about Constantine Ribalagua and his frappe-style daiquiri which might just have been the granddad to the frozen daiquiris we had been having at TGIF. A drink I used to look down on now suddenly had history and my respect.
All of this made me think about how I’ve spent eight years in the industry, and how it seemed that most of my local bar industry had no clue about all this being part of what we do.
There was an instance, the brand ambassador told us, about a London bar lab in 2006, where they tried around 100 different daiquiri recipes before they found the one that works. It didn’t use syrup — it had two spoons of caster sugar, and fresh lime juice squeezed a la minute (not four hours ago). It had 50ml to 60ml of rum, and then it was all about shaking it with ice to get the dilution right.
The word ‘dilution’ and its importance blew my mind. I didn’t know the basic principle of dilution, which is the key reason for why cocktails taste good when served cold, and I didn’t know how to control my excitement.
In 2008, I was relearning bartending as a whole. Mexico taught me that it’s not just about remembering recipes. It became about paying each drink the attention that it deserves, getting dilution and temperature right, serving it in a cold glass, so the drink is as cold as possible when it comes to the consumer. I started looking at cocktails not from the perspective of how amazing they look. I cared about what goes into the glass. I started looking at balance and flavour like a chef. It was mind-numbingly enlightening to learn that when you make certain things non-negotiable, your standards improve.
This curiosity has directed how I pursue my industry. I needed the books, I wanted to understand who made what drink. What was that bartender thinking about while making the drink? I started learning about New York cocktails, London cocktails, French-style cocktails. I learned that we have to make the flavour profile work according to the guy who’s sitting across the bar from you, and most importantly how to be a good storyteller.
In India in eight years, you’re a legit head chef, or the owner of a business. Now, when people ask me, ‘when did you learn bartending?’, I say it wasn’t in 2003, it was five or six years into the business in 2008-2009, my YEAR ONE.
I navigate the world through cocktail bars since, finding out about where their culture comes from, and who inspired them. I make sure I travel to get more of that information. That Mexico trip, that one drink, that 45-minute conversation changed my mindset towards cocktails. I attribute it to the daiquiri. That moment was my epiphany.
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