Conversations By IWBS – Rohan Jelkie Of Beam Suntory

Rohan Jelkie is regarded as one of the top beverage professionals in the country. Jelkie, known for his knowledge in spirits and humble nature, started working in Mumbai after graduating from hotel school and later shifted to Delhi.

IWBS Conversations - Rohan Jelkie of Beam Suntory
Rohan JELKIE – ‘The Blend’ Programme Manager at Beam Suntory India

In the past decade and a half, Jelkie has worked in the hospitality and alcobev industries, with major time being spent in the latter. Since the past twelve years, he has specialised in beverage trainings. He’s commended for designing and conducting programmes for some of the world’s top brands in India,the SAARC region, the Middle East, and the East Asia. In 2012, Rohan presented a seminar on Native Indian Spirits at the 10th anniversary of the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans

Travelling, tasting, and learning are imperative parts of his daily lifestyle now. What is rather  a dream for everyone, is a full-time job for this master mixologist. His inspirational journey has made him a role model of young beverage professional in the country. 

IWBS Team had a tete-a-tete with Rohan, and here’s what he shared

For a mixologist, between technique and flair, what do you consider to be more important?

For a Bartender, the most important thing is to be sociable, warm, and welcoming while having a solid grip on his/her craft. You’ll learn your recipes and perfect them over time. Similarly, you’ll learn your book-keeping and bar management with time. However, what stands out to me is the person’s ability to connect to the guest across the counter and how he/she hosts the guest. That to me is flair. Great moves behind the bar, artfully throwing or stirring a drink, and creating exciting garnishes for a great looking drink constitutes the kind of flair a good bartender should have along with great drinking creating and making skills. But, the real skill lies in making each guest at the bar feel important and special with a level of service that is amicable yet non-intrusive.

When unwinding at home, what’s your preferred tipple?

That would have to be either a Cognac or a good whisk(e)y! I love my dark spirits and these two have me by my taste buds. Throw in a crisp lager, or a hoppy ale, or an amaro-based spritzer if it is an afternoon soiree.

What do you think of Asia as a global player on the beverage scene?

Asia’s is definitely where everyone is laying their bets on, right now. With nearly 60% of the world’s population living here, it is a huge market by sheer size and population and also consumption trends. Markets for all types of consumer goods, including alcohol, are growing in Asia whereas the west has, perhaps, seen a slowdown. For most big alcobev companies, India & China is where the action is and, hence, these companies are investing more in these markets. Be it Beam Suntory investing in producing its own whiskies in India to French luxury houses setting up their own wineries in India and China, good things are happening here. From an F&B business perspective, I feel bars & bartenders in Asia have a far greater grip on working with various flavours than their western counterparts. Given the diversity in food and ingredients used across the continent, you’ll see a whole gamut of flavours being used in drink menus as opposed to the other side. And with 11 out of the 50 World’s Best Bars in Asia, this will only continue to grow.

You’ve worked with wines, spirits, cocktails, and more – What has been the most exciting area within the beverage scene for you? 

I think there is a lot happening in all the three spaces. In the wine world we’ve seen the rise of what were once obscure varietals, wines from lesser known countries gaining in prominence, simpler branding with easy to understand tasting notes, and even the rise of biodynamic winemaking, amongst others. In the spirits world, smaller spirit categories like Mezcal, Pisco, regional brandies, Amaros have gained in popularity. Simultaneously, craft distilling in the Gin, Whiskies, and Rum industries have made sure that bars have plenty of new and exciting brands to work with. This allows greater flexibility in creating drinks menus for bars. One doesn’t need to stick to a particular brand or style of spirit for cocktails. You may see a bar using an aged Bourbon for a complex drink like the Boulevardier, and a younger one with a fresher flavour profile for a Highball. And, I for one, love the fact that most bars today, including India, take their classics seriously and have a healthy mix of classic and innovative drinks on their menus.

What should India be drinking next?

The Indian consumer definitely needs to explore more of world whiskies from Japan, craft Bourbons, Irish, and from Canada. And, it wouldn’t hurt him/her to drop the hot water and drink Cognac like they would their Scotches or rums. There is also a great opportunity for Highballs, which are low ABV, refreshing, and are a less potent drinking options. This argues well for business meetings, social occasions, and for people watching their calories.

What is your take on the future of the Indian bar scene?

I am excited with the way the bar industry in the major cities and also tier 2 towns is progressing in India. I have had great Negroni’s in Jaipur, a Ward 8 in Kochi, and Manhattan in Chandigarh. Given the fact that India is a difficult market, when it comes to the availability of brands and styles of alcohol, bartenders here work a lot on creating their own in-house syrups, infusions, sous vide infusions, bitters, etc. This augurs well for the direction we are headed towards. While we may not be on the 50 Best Bars list yet, (after Aer at the Four Seasons Mumbai made a brief appearance in 2017), I think the way the community has developed together is a healthy sign, and we will be on all foreseeable lists sooner or later.

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