Just In 👉 Four Pillars Unveils New Whisky Barrel Gin Series...

Interviews

Chatting about Bartenders, Rainforests and the Himalayas with Hapusa Gin's Magnetic Brand Strategist, Priyanka Blah

"The best bartenders are extremely perceptive and trained to understand people’s tastes early in the conversation. Allow questions. Ask questions. Treat it like a warmup round of tennis. And wait for the final serve."

– Priyanka Blah, founder of The Dram Attic and Global Brand Strategist for Hapusa Gin

 

Priyanka Blah is the charismatic founder of The Dram Attic and Global Brand Strategist for Hapusa Gin – one of the main producers forging the way in India's craft gin revolution, and the first gin to be made with Himalayan Juniper. 

Today, we had the privilege to chat with Priyanka to learn all about Hapusa, The Dram Attic, and her insights into the global bar and spirits scene. Along the way, we got to vicariously enjoy the beauty of Shillong, northeast India, where Priyanka grew up surrounded by music, picturesque waterfalls, pine forests and campfires.

And since she is also an Academy Chair at the World's 50 Best Bars, and one of the top few on the list of Bar World's 100 Most Influential People, there are few better than Priyanka to share some tips and tricks to unlocking the best bar experience!

Let's also not forget the reality that being a woman in India's male-driven alcohol industry poses unique challenges. To that, Priyanka leaves us with some compelling and inspiring reminders about the things we should focus on to get ahead as female professionals. 

 

 

"[B]eing a woman in a primarily male driven industry can be challenging in some ways and on some days, but if you’re able to hold your ground and deliver results, all the while maintaining the highest standards of professionalism, there is room for you and there is room to grow."

 

We were thoroughly captivated by this meaningful interview with Priyanka. Come join us for the full discussion.

 

[88 Bamboo]: You grew up in the hilly town of Shillong in India, set by the eastern Himalayas, a gorgeous place that literally means “The Abode of Clouds”. You moved to a big city at the age of 16 for your education, and went on to become a professional writer, singer, artiste manager, creative and entrepreneur.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your beautiful hometown of Shillong? What motivated yourself as a young teenager to move thousands of miles across the country to study in Bengaluru at the age of 16?

As a bonus, could you also share with our readers what was your favourite activity in Shillong that we should definitely check out if we’re there?

[Priyanka Blah]: Growing up in Shillong was honestly a blessing. Being surrounded by the best food, weather, and music and having unlimited access to the most picturesque waterfalls and forests with minutes from home – I was truly blessed. I have very fond memories of morning walks in pine forests and rainy Sundays when we would sit around a charcoal fire and listen to my grandma’s stories.

 

 

If one is visiting Shillong, I recommend checking out some of the trekking trails like the David Scott trail as well as the Living Root Bridge which has been included in the tentative UNESCO world heritage list (this bridge has featured on several international documentaries as well, very fascinating). If you’re adventurous with your food and enjoy meat, definitely grab a meal at a local tea shop – these are called Dukan Ja bad Sha which literally translates to Rice and Tea Shop.

 

[88B]: You’re often invited to mix drinks at the bars around the world, you’ve been seen demonstrating your poi spinning skills, and you’ve even been a musician - having performed the opening act for the famous electronic DJ Deadmau5 at a show. You’re clearly one with many talents!

Could you divulge to our readers one more of your hidden talents or skills that few people know about?

 

 

[PB]: Haha I don’t know if this is a hidden talent but I can cook up quite a storm. I find cooking therapeutic. I just wish I knew how to cook more vegetables!

 

[88B]: You are the Global Brand Strategist for Hapusā Himalayan Dry Gin – a gin uniquely made with foraged Himalayan juniper berries, which has quickly claimed awards and become one of the best-known brands of luxury gins coming out of India.

This sounds like a huge and important responsibility! Could you tell us a little more about what your role at Hapusā entails, including the coolest parts and most challenging bits?

[PB]: My role at Hapusa is to strategise how to get Hapusa into the hands of the people who will truly appreciate the liquid. The moving of the chess pieces to get from point A to point B is what best describes what I do. It involves a lot of careful observation of habits, trends, reactions, as well as a bit of intuition.

 


[88B]: Most recently, Hapusā along with sister brand Greater Than have attracted the attention of spirits giant Diageo, which has invested more than a fair bit into the brands – certainly a huge vote of confidence!

What does Diageo’s involvement with Hapusā mean for fans of the brand? As gin lovers, what new developments could we expect to see from Hapusā in the near future?

[PB]: I can say one thing with certainty - it can only mean good things!

 

[88B]: People describe you as a global insider who knows all the bars and is connected, revered and adored. You have experience marketing for That Boutique-y (Whisky, Gin or Rum) Company. You’re on the Academy Chair for The World’s 50 Best Bars, and an Ambassador for the prestigious San Fran World Spirits Competition. You’re even named on Bar World’s 100 Most Influential figures for 2021. You have been wearing so many impressive hats. It seems that Hapusā is incredibly lucky to have found you!

How did your passion for the bar and spirits industry begin, and how did your involvement grow over time? Could you share some of your fondest memories from the bar and spirits scene with our readers?

 

[PB]: I remember the first cocktail I ever had was bright blue and I remember I got very, very sick after that and promised never to drink a cocktail again. I was young. We say a lot of things we don’t mean.

Apart from that minor bump in the road, my journey with spirits began with my father who was an ardent whisky lover. He cherished good whisky and it was the first spirit I ever tasted – and it stuck. As I got older and started earning my own money  picking up writing gigs outside of college hours, I started trying new whiskies at bars - whiskies I might have never heard of. I remember saving money every month so I could afford my little treat – I would also write down my thoughts about these whiskies and post them online so that I had them saved and recorded as memories. Over time, I started doing the same with cocktails. Before I knew it, bars and brands started reading my little “reviews” and things got serious – that’s how The Dram Attic happened. 

 

 

From then on, The Dram Attic has always been my anchor in the world of bars and spirits. I write about places, people, and drinks that make a lasting impression on me, and that I want to share with our readers. The sanctity of the content at The Dram Attic has always been of utmost importance to me. I have always wanted it to be seen as a credible and honest publication where you can often get lost in the storytelling, because that’s what draws me to stories I read. Being able to tell these stories and share them with people halfway across the world is what keeps me here.

 

[88B]: It seems that you are truly a friend of the bar industry and a global insider!

You founded The Dram Attic, a publication which recommends and highlights the best bars and talented bartenders from around the world, and tells some of the most insightful and spellbinding stories of the bartending scene. During the pandemic, you used your platform to help the bar industry with Collab, which allowed bars to recover some lost revenue by delivering non-alcoholic mixers prepared by bartenders.


You have also travelled extensively to experience the drinking culture of so many countries, from Rome to Singapore, Russia to Colombia.

There are few people better qualified than you to recommend some of the best bars from around the world. What is your best tip to for someone hitting up a bar to unlock the best experience? What is the best way someone can answer the classic bartender question “so what can I get you?”

As global travel resumes, what are some highly underrated cities that you think people who are big on nightlife must definitely check out?

 

 

[PB]: I think the best way to unlock the best experience a bar has to offer is by trying to get a seat AT the bar. Watch the bartenders at work, create a connection, allow the conversation to flow naturally. The best bartenders are extremely perceptive and trained to understand people’s tastes early in the conversation. Allow questions. Ask questions. Treat it like a warmup round of tennis. And wait for the final serve.

Cities one must check out…one of the toughest questions on this interview. I’d say Tel Aviv, Cartagena, and Beirut.

 

 

[88B]: We hear that you have an insanely good taste in music”. So, what are three of your favourite cocktails or drinks, and which three songs would you use to represent these cocktails?

[PB]:

  1. Martini is to Sour Times by Portishead
  2. Mezcal is to Inertia Creeps by Massive Attack
  3. Whisky is to Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14. in C sharp minor

 

 

 

 

[88B]: As someone who knows Hapusā best, what song would you best characterise the Himalayan gin?

[PB]: I don’t know for sure but whenever I take a sip of mountain temperature Hapusa I’m reminded of The City Never Sleeps (Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart)

 

 

[88B]: What would you point towards as the DNA as to why Hapusā has been such a success and what do you see as the future for Hapusā?

What would be the exact moment you know Hapusā has achieved its fullest potential?

[PB]: I think Hapusa’s biggest strength is the liquid itself. It’s what drew me to the brand before I even knew anyone behind it. The liquid lives up to every claim it makes and the fact that it lends itself so beautifully to cocktails as well as a sipping gin is what makes it quite hard to resist.

 


[88B]: Gins are traditionally made in England. However, the irony is that many of the “exotic” botanicals have to be found in places like South Asia.

Head Distiller of Singapore Distillery, Ashwin Sekaran, has once shared that while gin producers in the West have to look for expensive imported botanicals to make their gins, Singaporean gin producers could easily find in their own backyard many important ingredients like limes, cardamom and cloves.

Similarly, Hapusā and Greater Than are made with many “exotic“ botanicals that are native to India, the likes of Himalayan juniper, turmeric, Gondhoraj peel and mango.

 


As Asian gin brands grow in prominence, do you think they would soon give English gin a run for their money in terms of popularity with consumers? What would you say best defines the difference in philosophy between the Asian gin makers and the Western gin makers?

[PB]: I don’t think it would be a clever assessment on my part if I said Asian gins will give British gins a run for their money – I think there is an audience for every style and every flavour profile. Sometimes that audience is a very large sample size, and this audience is also likely to be loyal to their favourite homegrown brands. Having said that, where Asian gins differ from western gins is largely in their access and openness to exploring botanicals. Asia is a mecca for herbs and spices so it’s only natural that producing gins here is likely to take a slightly more adventurous turn, which makes it very exciting to western audiences and their palates.

 

[88B]: Besides gins and cocktails, how big of a whisky and/or rum drinker are you? What makes gin stand out for you besides other types of craft spirits?

What is your best case for why everyone should be trying craft gins now?

[PB]: I started off a whisky drinker! It will always hold a special place in my heart. And then there’s Mezcal – I have a weakness for it.

The gin space right now is an exciting one. Some of the finest craft gins out there lend themselves beautifully to different types of drinking experiences. The versatility of the spirit is what makes it so easy to embrace across cultures and climates. There’s a style of gin for everyone out there….whisky drinkers might want to give the barrel aged ones a go. I love those!

 

[88B]: It seems that you are also quite the talented home chef, seeing as you have taken some very enticing photos of your home cooked ramen and gyoza.

What is the best meal you have ever had in your memory, and what would be your ideal drink – whether it is a cocktail, gin, rum or whisky – to pair it with?

 


[PB]: The best meals are always the ones had at home. After spending so much time on the road and enjoying some of the most memorable feasts at some of the finest restaurants, I still crave a home cooked meal. My favourite meal will always be the one I come home to after a long trip. And that goes best with my favourite Islay whisky.

 

[88B]: You have worn many hats in your life and become very successful on your own terms, taking routes off the beaten path and even managed to turn your passion into a fulfilling career. I’m sure your success serves as a great inspiration to many girls and young women in India and Asia.

Have you ever faced challenges in the course of your career due to your gender? How did you overcome them?

What advice would you have for ambitious young women who are just starting out with their careers?

[PB]: Being a woman in India can be challenging on many fronts. These challenges begin showing up fairly early in ones life – whether its safety or otherwise. Different cultures treat their women in different ways. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a family that believed in complete equality and autonomy. In our family we were all given equal opportunities and were encouraged to make our own decisions (and mistakes). My parents were always very liberal and open minded and never tried to steer us in a direction they chose.

However, I’m an aberration and by no means is my reality a reflection of the reality of hundreds of women struggling to set foot into this world. Working in the alcohol business is still considered taboo among many sections of society – especially for women. I will say that being a woman in a primarily male driven industry can be challenging in some ways and on some days, but if you’re able to hold your ground and deliver results, all the while maintaining the highest standards of professionalism, there is room for you and there is room to grow. It’s important to be a thorough professional in order to be taken seriously (and this is true for any industry). Your talent might help you get your foot in the door but only your principles will keep you there.

 

[88B]: If a friend of yours is stopping by Bengaluru and Shillong for the weekend, where would you take them?

[PB]: In Shillong, probably a couple of caves and my favourite waterfalls, and then lunch a local tea shop.

 

 

In Bangalore, lunch at the military mess, Bangalore Palace, and one of the best bars in the city for a drink at sunset.

 

 

[88B]: Lastly, to settle the dispute once and for all: Shaken or Stirred?

[PB]: STIRRED! Always and forever.

 

88 Bamboo would like to thank Priyanka for letting us get to know her better, along with Hapusa, The Dram Attic and handy tips and insights on the global bar and spirits scene! 

 

Kanpai! 

@CharisiuCharlie