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India's commerce and cuisine have both been immeasurably enriched by its rich trove of fragrant spices. So naturally, in Mumbai, the commercial, entertainment and nightlife capital of India, those spices even find their way into cocktails. "Cocktail culture is nascent in India," says Mumbai-based food writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, who also leads bar-crawling expeditions.
Straight-up spirits and beer are usually the preferred tipples. However it has become trendy to fuse Indian and Southeast Asian flavours into cocktails, incorporating bold herbs and spices such as roasted cumin, kaffir lime leaves, or bird's-eye chilli peppers.
While neutral vodka is usually the spirit of choice to infuse, look for 'wilder experimentation' with other spirits, particularly in smaller independent bars, she advises.
A prime example would be the Maharasthra Martini at Wink at the Taj President Hotel in South Bombay made with curry leaf-infused whisky and coffee liqueur. "It's a must-try for someone visiting the city looking for a local flavour," Ghildiyal says. (I've heard rumblings that India has become increasingly interested in whisky over the past couple of years, and this bar, which offers 40+ whiskeys, may be a particularly fine starting point for whisky enthusiasts.)
Elsewhere, the sedate, business traveller-friendly Opium Den at the Trident boasts a long list of infused vodkas with flavours like star anise, Sichuan pepper and galangal (a close relative of ginger), which then are mixed into light vodka martinis.
For example, the Belvedere Chilli & Strawberry is a deceptively sweet, deep pink drink with a spicy chilli kicker; while the savoury Shrimp Martini mixes house-infused galangal vodka with chilled vermouth, garnished with a marinated shrimp and olive skewer.
China House at the Grand Hyatt, midway between South and North Mumbai, is famed for its hopping lounge-bar area, usually packed tight by midnight with mojito-swilling "party animals."
Meanwhile, those seeking a more exotic and chilled experience can head to tropical-themed Bonobo for fruity cocktails such as the Mango & Star Anise Martini.
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