On a high: how mixologist Sonali Mullick is breaking stereotypes behind the bar
Whether it’s a wedding or a raucous get-together with friends – if there are drinks on the menu, mixologist Sonali Mullick gets the real kick. For, it’s up to her to set the mood and get things going, in the right spirit (pun intended).
Sonali knows that she is in a profession most preferred by men. And that’s what makes her different from others. She knows she is breaking stereotypes and proving people wrong. And this gives her the ultimate high – of a job loved, and well done.
Sonali speaks to HerStory (of course, not over drinks) about her unique career choice, her passion for mixing drinks, and her career clinchers.
Sonali Mullick -Head of Operations and Mixologist at Bayroute and Hitchki
The bar calling
The 38-year-old describes herself as “young at heart and full of energy.”
Born and raised in Kolkata, Sonali completed her degree in Hotel Management from Calcutta University and a degree from the Institute of Hotel Management. She started her career with a five-star hotel in Mumbai as Assistant Restaurant Manager. It was here she met veteran Shatbhi Basu and her career took a different turn.
“I was mesmerised seeing her handle the bar and got introduced to the world of bartending,” she says.
In 2002, she headed to Muscat for work and to attend a Barista and Bartending Training course. After she returned in 2004, she worked as Corporate Bar Manager in a renowned Chain of Restaurants in Mumbai and Pune. She has also worked in properties like Le Meridien, the Taj Group, and Oberoi.
She has also explored working with brands like Falafel’s, Café Mangii, The United Sports Bar & Grill, Henpecked and is now Head of Operations and Mixologist at Hitchki & Bayroute.
“I always wanted to try something different and creative and more importantly, challenging and exciting. I have always been very passionate about using interesting ingredients and making innovative cocktails, which is why when the time came to choose a career, I didn’t think twice to become a part of this industry. The best part is you get to meet so many new people with different taste buds, which somehow helps to keep the creativity at its peak,” she adds.
Mix, shake, and repeat
Sonali’s job is one where the ‘no drinking’ rule does not apply. Her role as a mixologist has specific duties and that includes creating new concoctions, designing the beverage menu, maintaining the alcohol inventory, ensuring the bar area is clean and organised, to maintain all sanitation standards of the business and local food and beverage laws, talk to customers about spirits and offer trivia and history about various alcohols to keep customers engaged.
Sonali Mullick behind the bar.
While her spirit may be buoyant, does she get high with all the alcohol handling?
“Who says I don’t… but I do manage to drink a lot of water in between, eat cheese naan, take a break and then reboot!” she quips.
Her all-time favourite drink is Red Bull with loads of ice. “I also love to mix a Whiskey Sour with a firm head.”
Sonali agrees that when people get intoxicated, it is important to deal with them diplomatically. “Unfortunately, there are times when they (people) try to be physical or pass inappropriate that’s when I call the bouncers to handle the situation.”
Raising the bar
Bartending still remains an unusual career for women, and eyebrows are still raised at choices.
“For many years, bartending and mixology have only been associated with men but now we have seen a growing number of women bartenders in the country. With time, bartending and mixology as a career has gained immense popularity among women too. I believe that it’s high-time women venture into this profession. Shatbhi ma’am is setting the biggest example for every woman out there,” she says.
Some of the other women who have made a name for themselves are Dhanashree Kirdat and Ami Shroff, points out Sonali.
Shaken not stirred
Mixology is all about innovation, says Sonali. “Considering the fact that the current generation is bold and is all about experimenting with the latest cocktail trends, I keep experimenting with new flavours and ingredients. One of our popular and also a signature drink from Bayroute is Hey Bartender.”
Mediterranean experiments are also quite popular. These include Babaganoush Margarita with gelled Babaganoush (a salad), and Hummus in My Drink, which is infused with Hummus.
Some mixes are outright crazy, like “ShaktiMan” and “Ek Chutki Sindoor”. How did she come up with these mixes?
“My nephew’s favourite thing is to eat a spoonful of Chyawanprash along with a glass of milk. I took the idea from there and mixed gin with Chyawanprash. Gin is the game changer here, as the spirit can easily be blended with a variety of flavours and mixers. Since Hitchki is all about nostalgia, the 90s Chutki (a popular mouth freshener) gave birth to Ek Chutki Sindoor ki Kimat which is composed by using Vodka + 90’s Chutki + Ramesh Babu,” she says tongue-in-cheek.
Brewing an interesting career
Sonali’s parting advice to anyone wanting a career in bartending and as a mixologist is:
“Think out-of-the-box, your taste buds should be running at full speed at all times, you should have an eye for detail along with the presentation is a crucial skill.”
She also recommends attending a bartending course to learn the basics and gain experience at standalone properties as an assistant bartender.
Most importantly, she says, “Never stop experimenting, have a bindass attitude and come what may, don’t give up – if your ideas are good and creative, you have the passion and dedication and believe in teamwork - one can never go wrong.”
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)