The Cocktail Lama
Presenting Yangdup Lama, one of the pioneers of bartending schools in India. On the latest from MyBangalore, Friday’s Shaken and Stirred!
Yangdup Lama is India’s very own Brian Flanagan (remember Tom Cruise in the film Cocktail?). He is a pioneer of bartending schools in India and the founder of freelance bartending academy - Cocktails and Dreams, Delhi. Founded in 1999 his company, not only manages bars at private events, but also consults for hotels and bars across the country. Lama started his career as a bartender, moved on to freelancing and eventually to teaching the art of bartending. He now concentrates on the School of Bar and Beverage Management, which he opened in 2003. Being one of India’s most revered cocktail gurus, Lama was in town recently as the traveling technical jury for Bacardi Martini Grand Prix and MyBangalore caught up with him.
Why did you decide to get into bartending?
As a hotel management graduate, there wasn’t much to choose from and I was just thrown behind the bar. Famous author Richard Bach says, each one of us is given a piece of stone at the beginning of our life and it is up to us whether we want to just drag it along through out our life or carve a nice sculpture of it. I decided that I will carve my career behind the bar and I was fortunate enough to get the guidance of the right mentors and managers at the right time to land up where I am today.
How did you go about getting your first bartending gig? How was the experience at your first job s a bartender?
As I said, I was just thrown behind the bar. This was way back in 1995 at Hyatt Regency, Delhi. It was not difficult to land up with a job. But since there were no professional bartending schools or academy as today, it was not so easy to know a lot of things. Besides, Hyatt being a 5 star, there was special importance given to the whole Food and Beverage experience itself and it was a bit difficult to live up to it. We did have expat bartenders once in a while from who we used to learn a lot. And a lot of the learning came while working at the bar.
What is your favorite cocktail & why?
Black Russian. (Vodka & Kalhua on the rocks). It’s a very nice soothing drink. Besides it’s a very simple to make and so you wont be worried that the bartender getting it wrong.
Which cocktail do you enjoy making?
Mai Tai. It is a very challenging one to make and needs special technique. I generally use very nice aged dark rum like Angostura as the base. A lot of bars use Triplesec but I prefer Cointreau as it’s a superior quality Qrange Curacao. Orgeat syrup, another ingredient made of Almonds, is not so easily available and I prefer making one myself. I shake the Rum, Cointreau and Orgeat syrup with a nice blend of Orange and Pineapple juice on ice and serve it in a nice tikki mug.
What is your least favorite drink to make?
Long Island Ice Tea. There is nothing great about that drink. Its just lot of alcohol and black in colour. It’s a typical nightclub drink where people want to just get high and not really for enjoying a nice conversation over a good cocktail.
What is your bartender pet peeve?
At 1 am in the morning in a packed bar, when someone asks me for a classic martini, I get totally frustrated. Making a classic martini is an art in itself. You need to rinse your shaker well so not to give any other taste to the drink. The ice needs to be properly washed with vermouth. The stirring needs to be just right. You need some patience for that.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you on the job?
One time in a packed bar, a brawl was spurred among a few customers. Eager to see what`s happening I jumped on top of the bar. At the same time, a fine young lady sitting by the bar wanted to leave the place because of the fight around and she asked me to get her bill. Try to reach for the bill, I toppled and fell over onto the customer side. I was the laughing stock of the bar for that moment and the brawl went out of our place.
What’s the most memorable pickup line you’ve heard?
You must know that I may be a good teacher but have not been a successful bartender. Never got pick up lines used on me, except this one time when a rich sheikh wanted to pick me up to work for him at his office. And not to make drinks, to make tea. (laughs)
Who is the one person you would like to have a cocktail with?
I do not know if His Holiness Dalai Lama would like alcohol, but if yes, I would like to share a bar stool with him. Other than him, I am glad to sit with anyone who would appreciate an aged & well-matured dark spirit or cocktails made with such spirits.
Tell us one thing about tending bar that we might not know?
If a bartender tells you a secret, remember, its not a secret any more!!!
The Author Sesank is a 9-5 Charted Accountant who moonlights as a bartender at Take 5. He is also a travel enthusiast who believes that a culture of a place is in its bars