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Bartending ‘interesting accident’, states aspiring mathematician Lal
Friday, 21 February, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Kimberley Fernandes, Mumbai
Bartending is all about passion, skills, creativity and proper understanding of each element. This was what Syam Lal, to whom the credit for the creation of the Spice Route Cocktail goes.

Interestingly, the bartender, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala, and is currently employed with Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, did not aspire for a career in the field. But once he did, he fell in love with the profession, and thereafter, there was no looking back.

An alumnus of a government school, Lal was keen to pursue a career in mathematics upon completing his higher secondary education, but destiny had other plans, which, in his own words, was an interesting accident.

The holder of a B Sc in hotel management stated, “The 17th day of a seven-month on-site training programme during my graduation helped me to choose my career as a bartender. Before earning my spot behind the bar, one has to pay his/her dues by cleaning the counters and restocking the bottles. I had my share before experiencing the charms of rods and shakers.”

Upon stepping out of college, Lal underwent training at a bar. This helped him find his knack for bartending and mixology.

When asked what led him down this career path, his reply was also a tip for aspiring bartenders. He stated, “Bartending is more of a social job. One needs to be the customer’s number one choice to be stable and consistent. It may hardly take a minute to make a drink. However, the remaining few hours are crucial to understand one’s taste and fix his/her subsequent drink.”

“Moreover, the preparation of each drink, and garnishing it to perfection, every time, demands creativity, and that is what builds the bartender’s confidence,” Lal added.

When quizzed about the people that inspired him to take up the profession, he stated that he had been extremely fortunate to have an opportunity to share his career with professionals that enriched his knowledge and experience.

“Sarath Nair, bar manager, Colony Clubhouse and Grill, taught me the basics of bartending. He also taught me to balance the flavours,” Lal said.

“Luca Cinalli, an award-winning and highly-acclaimed bartender across the globe is also my inspiration,” he added.

Commenting on his guinea pigs in his early days of mixing cocktails, Lal stated, “Before introducing a concoction to my guests, I make it for my colleagues and friends. It is in the second stage that I offer it to my frequent guests, because they share a bond with me. I listen to their feedback, before adding the drink to the menu.”

When asked how he conjured up the idea of his signature concoction, the Spice Route Cocktail, he said, “A drink is like a puzzle, and the ingredients are the pieces. Local ingredients always make for a good drink. Colony is a theme-based bar, and what could be more apt than Kerala’s spices? This was what kick-started the brain-storming, and we came up with spice-infused cocktails.”

“Adding a dash of turmeric syrup to the popular gin and tonic cocktail was the beginning,” said Lal, adding, “Spice-infused cocktails are the modified versions of classic cocktails.”

He explained the ingredients that go into the nine Spice Route Cocktails, stating, “We have our own herb cocktails, and the syrups and bitters are home-made. This creates a unique taste for our recipes. Every ingredient, except the liquor, are infused with spices. Even the ice balls are infused with spices.”

When quizzed what he would like the guest to experience, Lal added, “Spices evoke freshness. With these cocktails, the guest experiences the emotions and memories of the spice. I believe we should create memories through a drink. After all, the taste should be everlasting.”

The Stylish Icon Award was conferred upon him recently. When asked what went through his mind when he bagged it, he said, “The competition was an eye-opener, and a platform where I witnessed different talents meticulously crafting their drinks. I was fortunate to win the award, following the stiff competition with these talents.”

Lal stated that as far as bar cart was concerned, vodka, tequila and rum were the major base spirits for cocktails, and whiskey played a more subdued role - it is consumed either neat or on the rocks.

“I am a great fan of whiskey. I enjoy Whiskey Sour. T    hough it comes in many variations, I prefer one with egg white. The froth of the drink has a very unique texture and flavours. Old Fashioned, which retains the taste of the base spirit, is also a favourite drink,” he added.

With regard to pursuing international cocktail courses, Lal stated that the standard for every drink that is sent out is sky-high. “We want to deliver a perfectly-constructed drink, in a perfect glass, at a perfect temperature and a perfect time. I do intend to take a Level 2 course at WSET (Wine and Spiritis Education Trust), as that is my plan to get into the intricacies of cocktails and spirits. A Level 2 course in spirits would be perfect to fuel my aspirations.”

When quizzed about theme-based cocktails for Halloween, New Year’s parties, Holi and banquet functions, Lal said that he played around with the names and colours of cocktails for theme parties.

“During Halloween. Colony Bar introduced syringe shots, blood shots, test-tube shots and even brain shots. During the Holi party, colours play a key role in theme-based cocktails. And during weddings, we offer celebratory drinks, and we play with the names,” he added.

Lal stated that he had a bartending bucket list in place, and added that the first thing on it was to represent India at the World Bartending Competition by 2025.

He added that the one place he would like to visit and work as a guest bartender was Dante, a 104-year-old bar in New York, which is renowned for its unique mixology. “It is one of the best bars in the world, and it is every bartender’s dream to work there,” he said.
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