The 1988 movie Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise, did more for flair bartending than it did for Jamaican tourism. A few young moviegoers were so riveted by Cruise’s charm and skill at the bar counter (and sometimes on top of it) that they queued up to learn the art and take it up as a profession. The craze went round the world, and found its enthusiasts in India, too.
Ami Berham Shroff,a mere teenager at the time, was mesmerised and decided to give it a shot. Since making that decision, she has never looked back. Today, Ami is among a handful of women flair bartenders in India who is really sought after for special events and private gigs. While she is popular for flair, she is also an accomplished mixologist, and in that sense, she is a complete professional at the bar.
So, what is flair bartending? In simple terms, flair bartending is about entertaining an audience (or clients at a bar) with tools available at the bar (like shakers, bottles, and ice) and bringing fire, juggling, or even magic into the mix. It’s jaw-dropping entertainment for tipplers and revellers who like to spend a fun evening at a bar or at a private party.
I ask Ami what she likes about flair. “I love flair – the attention, the appreciation, and because I’m good at it,it feels good to do what you’re good at. I also want to look cool and impress people, and flair certainly does that for you.” I ask her if she now likes mixology more. “Flair definitely fascinates me more and still is the driving force. But mixology is awesome, too; especially, creating an unfamiliar combination. Or getting creative with your resources (with minimal wastage) to create a well-balanced drink.”
So what is mixology? In modern terms, mixology is what an advanced level bartender does. It is both the study and the art of mixing cocktails. Usually, the drinks are a combination of alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages, although they could be mocktails, too. In the process, a mixologist gets an opportunity to invent new cocktail recipes, some of which can become very popular at certain watering holes, or even glamour restaurant chains.
Ami grew up in Bombay. Both her parents were professors, though her father was also a lawyer. She attended Queen Mary School and Jai Hind College from where she comepleted her Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy & Political Science. Ami loves to travel – a trait she picked up from her father. She says her family always encouraged her to chase her dreams. She claims that she was quite rebellious in her early years, but acknowledges that her parents were ‘super cool’ when dealing with her and her sister, Nikita.
While atcollege, Ami was quite the accomplished athlete and played state-level football and handball in college. She also knows karate and has done a few courses in mountaineering.
Ami’s work, and her love for travel, has taken her to many places in India and abroad. The trips that stand out in her mind are to the Himalayas and to Palestine.
Ami was one of the winners of the second edition of the IBN 7 Zindagi LIVE Awardin 2013 – a women’s achievement/appreciation award. She has also wonan achievement award from Audi Motors.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Ami has won a string of other awards including the Cointreau La Maison National Mixology Competition, 2014. She placed thirdin the Skyy Flair Competition, 2010. She was also amongst the winners in the IBOM and Bacardi Flair competitions in 2005 and 2007.
I try to get a sense of the market for both flair and mixology from Ami. She says, “Mixology has a way bigger market than flair. But people still love flair. They love a show; but flair bartending unfortunately revolves around alcohol and bartending. It needs an identity of its own that can exist separately, too. That used to be there about 10 years ago, but not so much currently.”
The overall market is growing for bartending services in India. As the economy continues to grow, and a section of the people has larger disposable incomes, private parties, weddings, corporate gigs, art festivals, promotional events by liquor, syrup, and beverage companies are on the upswing.
This burgeoning market is great news for students looking for alternatives in making their career choices. A freelance flair bartender or mixologist with decent skills and experience can earn well in this industry. However, for beginners who are starting out in the F&B section of the hotel industry, the road can be a bit rough. The working hours can go up to 18 hours a day; sometimes even 24 hours – and there’s no extra pay for over time! If that sounds like exploitation, you would be better off choosing to become a freelancer as soon as you have the opportunity.
Despite the glamour attached to the profession it is a very intense and demanding line of work. You have to be driven and practice really hard to improve your skills – be it in flair or mixology. Actually, flair, or some form of showmanship in serving up any form of drink (and even some types of food) has been around for centuries: think of the street nimbu-pani, gola, sharbat, thandai, lassi, chai, and coffee – wallahs! All these vendors actually work very hard to put on a show – and we are invariably drawn to their irrepressible flair like bees to honey!
Ami learnt bartending (and flair) on the job – various bartenders taught her the art along the way. She then honed her skills by watching online videos and practising for long hours.
Today, of course, students can learn bartending from an institute. Most of the metros have bartending institutes.These include Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, and Goa. For flair bartending, Ami recommends Barsquare in Bangalore, and Flairology in Pune and Mumbai. Here is what she has to say about training: “Most of the training has to be on the job. One should never stop learning. And through teaching others what you know; you can understand the art even better. So learn, practice, and teach.”
Ami says, “Satisfaction in everything. Getting a deeper understanding of things, meeting amazing people, spending more time with the people I love, is what I like to do. And to do what I do, even better.” Ami is ever ready to teach youngsters her bag of skills (and tricks). She conducts workshops on mixology from time to time; and she might even be willing to teach flair to students in the future. Try to catch her at one of her shows around the country; I am sure you will look at partying in quite a different light!