After the virtual cocktail festival rounds of India’s most prestigious bartending competition, the country’s best mixologists were evaluated for skill and flair to name Rohan Matmary as the India Winner of Diageo Reserve World Class 2021.
The innovative infusions in the cocktail recipes and exceptional skill in liquid storytelling convinced the jury that Rohan’s cocktail originations were extraordinarily fit for the global stage this year. Brews&Spirits caught up with Rohan’s zest and commitment towards the bartending community in India.
What are your observations about bartending culture in India?
The bartending culture has been a constant evolution. I am blessed to be working with one of the pioneers in the Indian bartending industry, Mr. Yangdup Lama, which allows me a glance through the spectrum of this evolution.
Bartenders have been given a very strong space in society generally. There were days when bartending was looked down upon as a Tier-3 job. Today, the guests love to call their favourite bartenders home and share a tipple along with them. I am very sure, soon, there will be guests who would like to open bars with their favourite bartenders. I am glad I could be a part of such a massive evolution.
Describe your journey as a bartender. What was the support from the bar fraternity that you received along the way?
My career has been a phenomenal one as of now, and I owe it all to the bartending fraternity across the globe. I have always been the studious kind and that’s what got me my first job in this industry.
Nonetheless, in big hotels, there is not really someone who will hand-hold and take the time to guide you in your career. So I dedicated some of my time to building networks with the people whose videos and stories inspired me to be a bartender.
The responses to my questions and queries from top bartenders like Steve Schnieder, Simone Caporale, Erik Lorincz, Ago Perrone, etc. were amazing! I realised how humble they are and how interested they were to know more about me. This quickly moved my sole interest into bartending and that’s when I had to move to stand-alone bars.
I must tell you, each and every bar has been instrumental in making my career what it is today. The support I have got from the bar fraternity is priceless, and I only wish to extend the same, if not more, for young budding bartenders.
What would you say was the turning point in your career?
To be honest, my every move has been really important. I am not a person who would ever move for petty things like salary, fame, position, distance from home, etc. My only criterion to decide to move is how close I can get to my final goal. So every move in my career has been well thought out and has worked in my favour.
How well is mixology recognised as a skill by bar owners and your guests?
I believe it is not only mixology that impresses a bar owner; it is all in all the ownership a bartender showcases towards his/her bar. A lot of bar owners look forward to such bartenders and allow them to grow.
As for consumers, they love it when someone explains to them what goes where and why. They are intrigued to learn something new, and that’s what curates the experience for them.
How did you make the best use of your time during the recent lockdowns?
I have been kept super-busy during lockdowns! At the bars, we worked on new menus, came up with our own brand of RTD beverages and cocktail pre-mixes. We launched our YouTube channel called ‘Three Barstools’.
The most recent initiative, Drinks India Company, is one of the first beverage brands and bar consultancy platforms run by the core team at Sidecar and Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy.
We have had a lot to work with, and I believe it was only possible because of the constant support and dedication of the entire team.
Having won multiple competitions in different formats, how was your approach for this year’s World Class India finals, especially because the situation was uncertain due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
I believe every competition has its own rules. Our job as participants is to abide by the rules and give it our best shot. This year, I decided to go all front innovation because it would make the judges come to my bar and try the drinks.
I focussed on communication and a flawless presentation, and with less camera pressure (thanks to ‘Three Barstools’), I think I was ready to take this challenge.
What was your inspiration behind the selection of ingredients during the India and the global finals?
World Class has always been about local ingredients and the community. During the lockdown I decided to take a deep dive into the communities around me: what were their most delicious food and drink preparations, and how could I translate them into sophisticated cocktails. My idea for the global competition was to represent India with elegance, using the purest ingredients linked to the core of our culture.
What would be your suggestions for the next generation of bartenders?
Learn from everyone and everything – you never know what can come to use and when. Be humble, that’s what makes you good and great. Keep a fixed goal that won’t change for your life. It might look irrelevant now, but with the right dedication and passion, one can achieve it.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
I would definitely want to be a part of the team which takes India to the top of the cocktail scene. I would like to build institutional bars which help create a solid foundation for younger bartenders.
Currently, I am learning about finances related to food and beverage outlets, so it helps me become a better bar operator in the immediate future.
If you were to ever open your own bar then what kind of a bar would it be?
I would love to be a part of a company that builds all kinds of bars, because every type of bar has its own pros and cons. But if I were to make drinks behind one of them, it would definitely be a post-Prohibition style wooden craft cocktail bar like Sidecar.