Most of us have a vague memory of the first cocktail ordered in a bar. (Maybe not the last of the night, but the first for sure.) For Shatbhi Basu, his most memorable cocktail “first” was behind the bar, not in front. From a dry martini prepared from memory in a Chinese restaurant to running her own academy, she rose through the ranks of the industry and is today an internationally renowned consultant and master mixologist.
Since starting her career at the age of 21 and finding herself in love with the world of bartending and mixology, she has defined a revolutionary career path. As a consultant and brand ambassador, she has brought all of her considerable skills and knowledge to revolutionizing restaurant menus and championing global education. Now she’s nurturing the next generation of bartenders with the STIR Academy of Bartending. This year the academy celebrates its 25th year of creating new opportunities for young hopefuls looking to start a career in bartending.
In April 2022, she received another honor when she was inducted into the 63rd group of Keepers of the Quaitch – an ancient and exclusive society to recognize the exceptional commitment of those who produce, promote or protect fine Scotch whisky.
Now she looks back on the path she took to get here and on her next destination.
How did you get into the world of mixology?
Honestly, I didn’t choose the world of mixology to start with. I wanted to be a cook. Came across this while dealing with service in the restaurant which included the bar. I wasn’t comfortable knowing food well enough but not drinking well enough, so I started studying it so I could be good at my job!
But the more I delved into its intricacies, the more interested I became, and that pushed me to do my best.
It just kept growing and the learning hasn’t stopped since. The study of spirits, wine, beer and more is ever-changing and nuanced and applying all of this to mixology is both an art and a science. Now it’s a continuous passion to build and share
How did you feel about being considered the first female bartender in India?
Very simply, I never thought of myself as the first woman in anything. I was just one of many who chose to be in the food and beverage industry in the hospitality industry trying to carve out a career worth being proud of. Be the best you can be and learn as much as you can. I think it was my focus that got me where I am and the love I found for what I did along the way that helped me
So you haven’t faced any negativity within the industry for being a woman?
Absolutely not. No negativity at all. Some apprehension perhaps. But otherwise, it was just encouragement and an opportunity to do well. The thing was, I was just a person doing a good job like everyone else. I never chose to stand out as a woman in a man’s world, but simply the best professional I could be.
It allowed me to experiment and learn to become the best version of myself. The bartender literally taught me everything – from history and geography to skills and communication, art and culture and boosted my science game dramatically! I’m patient with this. I can write and teach because of it. I’m a better person for that.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The knowledge I shared enabled a generation of bartenders to have great careers and were able to support their families while feeling a sense of accomplishment that was missing in their lives.
With all that you have already done, what is the future vision for STIR Academy and its students?
I started the education revolution in 1997 – the 50th year of India’s independence. I called it STIR! A call to wake up and do something big. It has been exactly 25 years since August this year – the 75th year of India’s independence. It really makes me feel good that so much has happened since then and how we as bartending professionals have evolved and brought about such a change in the way bartenders are viewed and respected. Just for that, I’m happy!
What key skills do you teach every bartender under your tutelage?
- Constant learning
- Good communication
- The ability to share
- Flavor profiling
- keep an open mind
- Leveling Techniques
- Create from a vision of the end!
What consumer trends do you love and hate?
I don’t think I really hate anything! Trends come and go. They are all fads in one way or another. Like a circle. Look at fashion too. The clothes I wore years ago are back in style. It’s the same with cocktails. We’re about to bring back the classics of the late 19th and early 20th century. Some of the greatest early drinks suited to today’s palate.
The clarification technique is hardly an obsession with so many bartenders. Makes great cocktails but not too sure about the flavor nuances. Some are lost in the process.
Their obsession with good ice cream, however, I think is just spot on.
A drink without any toppings is what I would definitely object to. To call it minimalist would be to insult its intelligence! Pure laziness.
Read also: Do you like cocktails? Try These 3 Ways To Top Your Drink
Is there anything in the industry that you would change in the industry today?
It would be nice to bring back some of the fun and interaction we had with our customers at the bar. The jokes and tricks with good drinks. I miss it these days. Joke. The occasional stimulating conversations. The stories. It’s important to keep it alive because in the end, people want to relax in a bar.
Do you sometimes feel like you still have room to grow?
Still! My life has been one of constant reinvention. New areas of interest. New learning. Or even return to those set aside for later
What is your advice for aspiring mixologists or bartenders?
Do what you do because you can’t stop thinking about it. Aim to be the best you can be no better than anyone else. Be inspired by someone, but always make your own statement and stamp.
Above all… be passionate.