The economic slowdown has led to a slump in the alcohol business. But rather than languishing in an entropic sludge, mixologists are turning innovative, with cocktails to appeal to millennials, who are unafraid to experiment. “Surprise me" seems to be the underlying theme which is driving bartenders to develop whisky-based drinks with unexpected ingredients like the season-appropriate til-gud (sesame-jaggery), adrak-imli-saunth chutney (spiced ginger-tamarind chutney) and cumin infusions.

The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai launched its new cocktail menu last year and introduced a Red Label-based drink with an aftertaste of til-gud. It contains clarified milk and is garnished with a paper-thin til-gud crisp. It has an offbeat flavour, but is possibly a good choice to raise a toast to the season of sesame, post Makar Sankranti. Monkey Bar uses Blenders Pride Reserve Whisky for cocktails such as a cumin-infused drink with cinnamon topped with ginger ale, and a quirky take on the classic whisky sour called the Imli Sour with a spiced ginger-tamarind chutney. On a different note, SodaBottleOpenerwala blends hot beverages with whisky. Inspired by the old-fashioned, a shot of strong espresso was added in a drink called Whiskeywali Coffee (above), and a black tea with citrus fruit concoction was used in a drink named Chai Ki Whiskey.

Agnieszka Rozenska, head bartender at The Hong Kong Club, Andaz Delhi, has conceptualized cocktails with full-bodied whiskys and malts. To develop a drink with Chivas 12, she found inspiration in veteran primatologist Jane Goodall. Fashioned on the whisky sour, it’s called Sun Wukong and contains banana liqueur, five spice syrup, lime and angostura. Rozenska’s favourite is the Maker’s Wife. It’s made with Maker’s Mark bourbon infused with cacao nibs, apple vanilla syrup and tonic water. Yet again, she drew inspiration from an accomplished woman—Margie Samuels—who is credited for the brand image of Maker’s Mark with her formula for sealing wax.

Neil Alexander, corporate mixologist at the Bengaluru-based Windmills Craftworks, puts the spotlight on techniques such as barrel ageing and fat washing. Whisky cocktails, like the Smoked Manhattan, are aged in oak barrels, while the made-on-request, bacon-flavoured drink utilizes the fat washing technique to extract fat from food and impart flavour to a whisky cocktail. He says, “I am working on a zero-calorie whisky gingerbread cocktail (above, left) that can be inhaled."

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