Behind The Bar: In Conversation With Mixologist Yangdup Lama

yangdup lama

It’s the perfect time of the year to head down to your favourite bars or create some innovative cocktails at home. We’re doing both these days! With the fresh flavours of the season coming our way, we couldn’t help but turn our thoughts towards how to infuse liquor with fruits and herbs.

I, known among my friends to be a fan of beers and concoctions, have been asked one question several times, “How do I claim a bar to be my favourite”? Well, there’re many bars that do their drinks right but to me it is the bartender/mixologist that keeps me coming back. They, I feel, are the backbone of any great bar and their approach and conviviality, or lack thereof, can make or break any establishment.

One person who is shaping the drinking scene in Delhi-NCR, and have us lining up for one more drink, even when we know we had have enough, is Yangdup Lama.

A well-known mixologist and entrepreneur, Yangdup heads Cocktails & Dreams, Speakeasy/Thirsty Three Hospitality – a bar and beverage consultancy company along with a commercial bar and bartending school for aspiring professionals.

After receiving his formal training in bartending from celebrated international bartender, Laval Lim Hon of the Waikiki Cocktail Bar, Majorca, Spain, Yangdup worked with prominent properties in India and abroad. He, as a bar consultant and trainer, has also been helping spirit brands such as United Spirits, Pernod-Ricard, Bacardi, Diageo, and Angostura with his sound knowledge on mixing.

Winner of several awards, Yangdup was adjudged Indian Bartender of the Year in 1996, received the Asia-Pacific 30 under 30 Award in 1997, and was featured as a “Young Turk” CNBC TV18 in January 2007.

He has also authored a book called “Cocktails & Dreams” by Wisdom Tree in 2014, which features 50 cocktails, including 25 of his signature cocktails with regional flavours. Presently his venture, Thirsty Three Hospitality runs three schools in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kathmandu, and trains over four hundred budding bartenders each year through various programmes.

During a personal interaction with Yangdup, I got to know about his passion, favourite places, bartending secrets, fascinating stories of clients, and much more.

  1. How did you become a bartender?

It was purely by accident. I had finished my hotel management in the year 1995 and sought a job at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Delhi in the Food and Beverage department. Incidentally, as there was a shortage of staff at the bar I was sent to work at the bar, where my journey began. It did not straight away kick off as a bartender but I did get to see and developed an interest in bartending. Six months down the line I was dispensing drinks from behind the bar.

  1. What’s the best thing about bartending?

It is probably the finest job that that I can dream of. It is a little bit of everything that makes it a complete profession. It involves knowledge, creativity, intelligence, speed combined with some great personality.

  1. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

The advice has been from the people who I have served over the years. Amongst the many advice the finest was when someone said this to me “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war”. He was a retired Army Officer and it applies so well in my profession.

  1. What’s your favourite place in the world and why?

Caribbean Islands. Everyone there seems to be happy all the time and of course, there is good rum to drink.

  1. What are the most important tools of a cocktail making connoisseur?

His Mind!

  1. What’s the most common cocktail people ask for?

The Mojito, it is probably the world most ordered cocktail.

  1. What inspires you when you’re making up a new cocktail?

The short chat that I have had with the consumer, his/her preference and the way he/she orders the cocktail.

  1. Do you have any signature cocktail-making moves?

I am a simple old school bartender with just the basics in place. However I can entertain the customer with my short conversations while I fix a drink.

  1. What’re the latest cocktail trends in India and abroad?

It is all about craft cocktails. Home made syrups, vinegars, scrubs and the use of fine spirits.

  1. What is your favourite way to spend a day off?

Playing with my 18-month-old daughter and seeing her grow.

  1. If you could make a unique and personalised cocktail for any celebrity or famous fictional character, who would it be for, why, and what would it be made of?

I would make one for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Why – because I know he does not drink alcohol, and for sure it would have a spiritual touch of home made syrup, which is a combination of everything that goes in the making of Panch Amrit.

  1. What does 2016 hold for you, do you have any exciting projects that you can tell us about?

It is going to be an exciting year, it is an interesting piece of project I am working towards but cannot disclose. Most likely it should come towards the end of the year.

  1. I have seen you using a lot of herbs and flowers in your drinks – where does this penchant come from?

It just comes when you think of some unusual ingredients. I must say the new generation of bartenders keeps inspiring me with innovation thought process.

  1. What are some of your favourite places to eat and drink in Delhi-NCR at the moment?

Perch at Khan Market has a great ambiance, good food and delicious cocktails. Ek Bar at Defence Colony, and yes the Polo Lounge at the Hyatt for the nostalgia

  1. Do you think the general explosion of the restaurant scene in Delhi-NCR in recent years has also served to promote the drinks and cocktails industry?

Yes, absolutely. But what makes me sad is the way most bars and restaurants make their drinks, bad quality spirits, smoke coming out of dry ice and bad ice. Irrespective the cocktail culture is on an upward move in this part of the world.

  1. Have you ever come across an ingredient you couldn’t make happen? And what’s one ingredient that needs to be retired or sent back to the minors for a couple years?

Absinthe in a cocktail. I have always had problems making a good cocktail with absinthe except for the classic Monkey Gland.

  1. There must be a lot of crazy stories you could share with us from your experiences as a bartender. Would you like to share any?

I always remember a guest at the Hyatt Bar, a long staying Irish man who would get drenched over six gin and tonics and never pay for the last one. He said he never remembered having the last one.

  1. What advice would you pass onto an aspiring mixologist?

Keep doing what you do best and do it sincerely.


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