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Home / More Lifestyle / Beer on tap, boozy brunch, cocktails: India’s drinking scene is changing

Beer on tap, boozy brunch, cocktails: India’s drinking scene is changing

Cheers! We have all gone from permit rooms to artisanal gins, craft brew cafes and happy hours all week long. The spirits market has doubled over the last decade and young people are driving this growth.

more-lifestyle Updated: Jul 27, 2019 19:55 IST
Aishwarya Iyer
Aishwarya Iyer
Hindustan Times
Drinking out in India is changing. The bar menus run 20 to 50 pages; there are lists of cocktails and beers flavoured with everything from kalakhatta and star anise to honey and karipatta.
Drinking out in India is changing. The bar menus run 20 to 50 pages; there are lists of cocktails and beers flavoured with everything from kalakhatta and star anise to honey and karipatta.(Wikimedia Commons)

Remember how we used to order our drinks? You mumbled a few words, the waiter trundled away and returned with rum, gin or whiskey; soda or Thumbs Up; ice. And that was more or less it. If there was a drinks menu, it was a single laminated page. In the alcohol-serving section, called the Permit Room, portly office-going men ate peanuts in silence and AC comfort; women were gently redirected to the Family Room, which had the AC comfort but not the drinks menu.

Now think of the last time you ordered a drink. Perhaps the biggest change is the women. They’re everywhere — rarely alone, often in groups, sometimes on what is clearly a first date.

The second-biggest change: The bar menus. They’re between 20 and 50 pages long. You can still get a rum and coke for under Rs 200, but you can also choose from wines that cost over a thousand bucks a glass; there are lists of cocktails and beers flavoured with everything from kalakhatta and star anise to honey and karipatta.

The age of the drinkers has dropped; their sheer number has boomed. Over the past decade, the spirits market has doubled in India, according to a recent report by the market research firm Euromonitor International. Whiskey and vodka, and people aged 20 to 25, are driving this growth.

As India’s economy grew and its eating-out scene boomed at a rate far higher than, say, its art and cultural spaces, youngsters with high disposable incomes and little else to spend it on began to turn up, more and more often, at the growing number of trendy all-day eateries.

Hindustantimes

“One big change has been the female drinker. The other big changes are the drinking hours and premiumisation. Young drinkers aged 20 to 29 actually want to splurge on alcohol,” says Amulya Pandit, a beverage analyst with Euromonitor. “And where peak hours used to be the three or four hours after the workday ended, now there are so many different consumer groups that, if you cater to them right, can keep your bar busy for several hours a day.”

That explains the happy hours on weekday afternoons; the liquid Sunday brunches; the sangria pitchers all day long and the bucket of five beers at the price of three.

US AGAINST THE WORLD
  • Alcohol consumption has gone up by 38% in seven years, says a study by Lancet
  • Back in 1990, it was 3.9 litres per capita. By 2010 it was 4.3 litres per capita. With glasses filling fast, India’s current per capita consumption stands at 5.9 litres as of 2017.
  • Globally, the per-capita consumption increased from 5.9 litres per adult per year in 1990, to 6.5 litres in 2017. The total volume of alcohol consumed every year globally went up by 70% — from 20,999 million litres in 1990 to 35,676 million litres in 2017.
  • Source: Lancet

Incidentally, we consume almost as much beer as all the spirits combined; wine consumption, meanwhile, has nearly tripled over the past decade, but the numbers remain relatively tiny.

There is an eagerness to experiment, and traditional preferences are largely irrelevant in this market, Pandit says. “Earlier, vodka was associated with women and gin was an old man’s drink. Today, men are happy to drink vodka; and the younger generation is all ready to experiment with craft gins.”

On the rocks

“When I created my first cocktail menu in 1998, with over 40 drinks, people thought I was crazy. I was told, ‘you’re going to confuse the drinker’,” says celebrity mixologist Shatbhi Basu. “But the customers loved it, and now everyone has these large drinks menus. People want choices and the trade has realised and acknowledged that.”

As people travel, domestically and abroad for work and leisure, markets are merging.

“Newer markets are emerging in small cities such as Dehradun, Mysore, Chandigarh, Noida. People low-alcohol-saturation cities like Jaipur are moving or travelling around for work and entering this market,” says Pandit.

STATES WITH HIGH PREVALENCE OF ALCOHOL USE
  • Chattisgarh- 35.6 % of the population
  • Tripura- 34.7%
  • Punjab- 28.5%
  • Arunachal Pradesh- 28%
  • Goa- 26.4%
  • Source: Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. socialjustice.nic.in
STATES THAT CONSUME THE LEAST
  • Jammu and Kashmir- 3.5% of the population
  • Meghalaya- 3.4%
  • Rajasthan- 2.1%
  • Source: Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. socialjustice.nic.in

Craft supplies

A decade ago, drinking out was not an economical option. People used to drink at home and go out for dinners. Now youngsters go out to drink a minimum of twice a week, says Girish Oberoi, former president of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI).

Ishita Dave, 25, a content creator from Jaipur, says she experiments with flavours so she can talk about them with her friends who do the same.

“I often try new fruit-flavoured cocktails, as well as gins, and vodka shots. But some are too edgy,” she says. “Once I tried a spicy vodka shooter in Powai that had loads of Tabasco pepper along with sambuca. Too much.”

The next big boom? Craft spirits. It’s still too small segment to track but is growing rapidly, says Pandit. With various state governments revising their regulations to accommodate micro-distilleries, it is expected to do even better in the coming years.