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Cultivating Experiences: Exploring Advocacy and Pickle-Infused Cocktails with Feruzan Bilimoria

  • Feruzan Bilimoria
  • Instagram: @beweirdlikeferu
  • Industry Experience: 9 years
  • Favorite Cocktail: Gibson with an abundance of pickles
  • Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drinks:  Classic Fresh juice combo of carrot, beetroot, and green apple.

Bonus: Feruzan’s other favorite drink is called the Velvet Float. She concocted for Svami’s limited edition vanilla cola brand. It’s a delightful indulgence—neither too sweet nor too fizzy—combining the richness of chocolate, barley malt, Svami vanilla cola and Svami soda water, topped with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.

Feruzan is a passionate and driven individual who has carved a niche for herself in the Indian alcohol industry.

As the Head of Advocacy Education at Third Eye Distillery, she oversees brand strategies, education, drink development, and event activations for a portfolio of well known brands like Stranger & Sons, Svami Mixers, Short Stories Spirits, and Plantation Rum (which Third Eye distributes in India). Her role is multifaceted – she works with the marketing and advocacy teams to develop intellectual property, creates cocktail programs, and dictates the protocols and SOPs for the brands she represents. After having spent over five years in the Third Eye Distillery, Feruzan says that she finds her work at the company, has always been interesting and fulfilling.

Feruzan’s path to bartending is an intriguing tale. Growing up in a Parsi household, where drinking with family is quite mainstream, she initially aspired to be a chef and even attended a hospitality school. However, fate intervened when a bartender didn’t show up for an event, and Feruzan stepped in to fill the void. Drawn to the art of mixing flavours just like the kitchen, Feruzan embraced bartending, turning her passion into her profession. What simply began with combining and balancing flavours and spirits led her to pursue bartending on the side, eventually making it her full-time career.

The ever-shifting landscape of bar hours

The world of bartending is known for its long hours. Feruzan acknowledges this, but also points out that the timings can vary depending on the work environment – hotels tend to have more structured schedules compared to standalone bars. Crowd expectations also play a role. Initially, freshers can expect to work 12-16 hour shifts, but with experience and skill, these can gradually reduce to a more manageable 9-10 hours on weekdays (although weekends can still get busy).

Feruzan’s take on the inclusive nature of the bartending industry

The perception of bartending as a male-dominated profession is slowly changing, and Feruzan has witnessed this shift first-hand. While challenges persist, she emphasizes that skills are increasingly taking centre stage. “In today’s industry, every good team will focus on having a good bartender, without caring what the gender is,” she says. She highlights the success of female bartenders in major Indian competitions as a testament to their growing prominence. Despite the positive developments, Feruzan recognizes the challenges that women still face when entering the bartending profession. Social acceptance and safety concerns are more significant factors in tier 2 cities, often leading bartenders to keep their jobs discreet from their families. Specialized bartending schools like Madhushala, which previously catered exclusively to women, are now co-ed and are helping to bridge the gap.

Beyond the surface: The perception of bartending

Many people have a simplistic view of bartending, assuming it’s an easy job. Feruzan dispels this myth by highlighting the demanding nature of the profession. “Bartending requires exceptional multitasking skills, physical stamina, a sharp memory, and the ability to manage time effectively. It’s a role that involves simultaneous creation and interaction, making it a unique blend of artistry and service.” She adds.

The rise of the Indian bar scene

Feruzan’s work at Third Eye Distillery puts her at the forefront of the evolving Indian bar scene. International exposure through brand advocacy has allowed her to witness global trends and implement them in the Indian context. A significant change she has observed is the growing recognition of Indian bars, globally.

Feruzan points out another intriguing aspect: “We’re increasingly appreciating the unique personality of bars. Previously, the focus solely rested on food, but now, customers seek more depth, especially as they travel extensively, gaining global experiences. Indian bars, entrenched in tradition, consistently imbue a distinct personality through their ambience, staff, and community engagement. This trend is set to continue improving.” she says.

Industry trailblazers Feruzan looks up to

Feruzan acknowledges the influence of inspiring individuals like Yangdup Lama, Ami Shroff, Pankaj Kamble, Jeet Rana, and Dimi Lezinska. These people who have mastered their craft with their diverse skillsets and personalities, have been trailblazers in their respective fields. Their humility, passion, and sense of humour are qualities that Feruzan deeply admires.

The art of experience: What makes a bar stand out?

In today’s competitive market, a great bar goes beyond just serving good drinks. It’s about curating a holistic experience, right from the moment a customer interacts with the bar’s online presence to making a reservation and stepping through the door. The experience should be seamless and consistent with the bar’s brand identity. Additionally, successful bars prioritize innovation in classic cocktails while maintaining consistency in quality. Attention to detail in the mixing process and meticulous preparation are also crucial factors, Feruzan adds.

The art of pickling: a culinary twist in cocktail creation

Feruzan delves into her unique approach to cocktail creation through pickling. She says “Our expertise in crafting pickles and Gibsons spans over a significant duration. When Stranger and Sons was on the brink of launch five years ago, we delved into perfecting serving portions and contemplating the drink’s presentation style. Initially exploring classics like the Martini, we found them somewhat lacklustre. Thus, our experimentation journey began, venturing into dry, wet, reverse, 50-50, until we stumbled upon the Gibson. The introduction of pickled onions ignited a creative spark within us, captivating not only the founders but also everyone involved. This pivotal moment led one of the founders to propose the idea of pickling onions, prompting us to ponder: why stop at onions when we can pickle anything? Embracing the essence of India, where pickles hold profound cultural significance, we embarked on a culinary exploration. Gibsons swiftly became our signature creation, evolving over the years as we meticulously developed recipes and honed our techniques to perfection.”

Speaking of this Feruzan chuckles and says that I go by this ethos “If it can be eaten, it can be pickled!”

Her top three pickle-infused cocktail creations include:

The Pickler’s Prescription: This signature drink features an apricot pickle that adds a delightful depth of flavour.

9 Lives Gibson: This unique concoction uses dried figs for a rich taste, complemented by Sherry-turned vinegar and a blend of South Asian spices.

The Strange Gibson with caramelized onions: Made with Indian shallots caramelized and aged in brown vinegar and balsamic vinegar, this drink offers a complex and savory flavor profile.

Essential advice for newcomers venturing into the world of utilizing pickles within the bar industry

Feruzan encourages aspiring bartenders to experiment with pickling using ingredients readily available at home or inspired by their hometown flavors.

Feruzan highlights the simplicity of pickle-making, suggesting that one can extract flavors from home ingredients or even traditional pickles to craft unique cocktails. In her research and development endeavors, she delves into the intricacies of experimenting, refining, and streamlining processes.

Future of pickles in the bar industry

Discussing the future of pickles in the bar industry, Feruzan emphasizes the shift towards prioritizing flavors over aesthetics. This evolving technique presents an exciting opportunity for professionals to diversify their skill sets. The exceptional shelf life of pickles makes them indispensable in this realm.

Observing a growing trend, Indian bartenders are increasingly incorporating pickles into their creations, with Gibsons becoming ubiquitous. Pickles offer a harmonious blend of acidity, spice, sweetness, and salt, encapsulating a spectrum of flavors. The added benefit is that pickles also have a great shelf life.

Looking ahead, pickles are poised to become a preferred method for showcasing local flavors that transcend geographical boundaries. Leveraging this technique allows bartenders to celebrate regional ingredients while mastering their craft.

Foundations of bartending mastery

As quoted by Feruzan, embarking on a journey in bartending demands a solid foundation of knowledge. As a novice, it is essential to immerse yourself in learning, absorbing information like a sponge. Mastering the fundamental techniques of mixing and shaking lays the groundwork for future expertise.

Integration with Equipment

According to Feruzan, achieving proficiency in bartending involves more than just mastering recipes; it requires a seamless integration with equipment. Bartenders must develop a comfort level where tools feel like extensions of their hands, enabling them to execute with precision and efficiency.

Practice Makes Perfect

The path to mastery in bartending is paved with practice. Dedicate the initial years to honing your skills, experimenting with different techniques, and refining your craft, says Feruzan It is through consistent practice that expertise is cultivated and confidence is gained.

In closing, Feruzan emphasizes that in the journey of bartending, practice transcends perfecting recipes; it’s about sculpting unforgettable experiences, one pour at a time.