There’s a hotel bar in Delhi doing things very differently. Juniper, the bar at the Andaz Delhi, won GQ India’s Best New Bar of the Year, as well as the India-based Spritz Awards’ Best Bar of the Year. The man behind it all is Peeyush Bhushan, assistant director of restaurant operations and respected gin master. Ask him any question about this often-misunderstood spirit, anything at all about infusions, pairings and mixology you can think of, and he’ll have a long-winded (but far from boring) answer for you. Just don’t expect him to be splashing those infusions with tonic or adding a slice of lime anytime soon.
I sat down at the bar before a vast row of beautiful decanters and tulip-shaped tasting glasses to play a game of “guess the secret ingredient,” while getting my fill of knowledge, botanicals and booze.
See our review of the Andaz Delhi here.
Why do they call you the gin master?
We have about 40 gins I’ve made, which include a lot of different flavors. We have four primary flavors: citrus, fruit, herbal and spicy, and we have ten gins for each flavor. You won’t find that anywhere else in India. That’s why they call me a gin master.
Is it fun to infuse gin?
Oh it’s absolutely fun. Some flavors infuse quickly and are ready to drink in 30 seconds, some take 24 hours or longer. Each one is completely different to make.
What’s your most popular infusion?
Gin #27, using Nepali timur [Szechuan peppercorn]. That’s the best-selling one we have.
What is the base gin you use for your infusions?
Tanqueray. It’s a lot easier to play around with than any other gin because it has the four primary flavors in it, well-balanced already.
What’s in this orange bottle here?
This is our special edition of Delhi Sapphire — it’s similar to Bombay Sapphire, but it’s a version unique to Delhi. The bottles and corks are made by a local artisan glassmaker specially for us, and I helped design the label. You can only get it here at the Andaz, nowhere else.
What’s gin #24?
Beetroot and carrot.
Oak smoke and salt.
Tell me about the first gin drink you ever had.
The first one I ever had was with my girlfriend at the time, about five years ago. We went to a bar called Grappa. She ordered a gin, and I said “gin is a ladies’ drink,” because I truly believed that, even as a beverage director. Then I tasted it — it was Bombay Sapphire, and realized I was wrong. It’s an afternoon drink, an evening drink, for mixing or drinking straight, but it’s definitely not just for ladies. Immediately, I had ideas popping into my head and I thought, I need to do something with this. And now I’m at Juniper!
What’s gin #37?
What is your favorite way to drink gin?
Soda and a slice of orange. Not tonic, I personally don’t like gin with tonic.
There are a lot of low-quality tonics out there. If you get something really nice, like a Fever Tree or East Imperial, then go for it, or else go with soda. And if you’re me, orange instead of lime.
How did you find your way to the Andaz hotel?
I was working with the Taj group of hotels as their beverage director and I came to know about this beautiful, wonderful concept of Andaz coming to India. I thought, “Let’s give this a shot,” and thankfully I was selected to be assistant director of restaurant operations, and run the gin bar. I think the Andaz really wanted to be behind a big gin concept in India, they tasted my drinks and it just worked. You have a lot of vodka and whiskey bars here, a lot of wine bars, but no gin-based bars. It was then I was put into training to become a gin master, I wasn’t a master when I started. It’s taken a lot of learning to find our way to 40 gins.
How would you recommend someone study to become a gin master?
They have to train under me! Gin is flavored primarily by botanicals, so learning which go together and how long to infuse each one takes a long time. Plain gin already has some flavors in it, so you have to learn how to work with them to not have too much or too little of what you’re trying to infuse. You’ll take a lot of tasting notes and make a lot of mistakes.
If there was a master of gin certification, like master sommelier, do you think you’d pass?
Perhaps! If you put ten gins in front of me, I could tell you what at least half were just by smelling them, not even tasting.
Can you tell me about how to pair gin with Indian flavors?
It’s not easy, because not all flavors pair well with the botanicals in gin, and it’s harder still if it’s infused. We have a snack menu at Juniper featuring dishes from AnnaMaya, our restaurant and food hall. I love the lamb chops and chicken tikka, both of which go very well with citrusy gin. We also have some homemade pastas, like our linguine, which goes really nicely with a fruity gin, and a spicy herb gin to pair with desserts, especially our chocolate gelato.
If after all the tiny glasses of gin you’ve served me during this interview I could still manage a cocktail from the menu, what would you recommend?
Hands-down, the Alchemy with our dry lavender gin — my signature infusion. It’s our best-selling cocktail.