Monkey Shoulder ambassador Pankaj Balachandran wants to reinvent whiskey culture
Pankaj Balachandran wants to reinvent how India drinks its whiskey — with a few lessons on tea and honey, to boot
PANKAJ BALACHANDRAN is on a mission to spread the love for whiskey. The India Brand Ambassador for Monkey Shoulder, a global premium spirits company, was in the city for the fourth edition of the Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartender Championship. The Delhi-based young whiskey connoisseur, who took over 50 contestants to the task with rounds that included nosing, perfect serve, pouring and more, at The Parking Lot in Park Street, engaged in a candid chat with Indulge. Excerpts from the conversation:
The championship is now in its fourth year. How has it been so far?
Every year, there has been a progression. Usually, the markets that are more evolved like Delhi and Mumbai tend to score comparatively higher. But this year, we had two high scorers throughout the country from Kolkata in the Pouring Round. It has definitely grown, and people have been practising a lot — and it reflects that they really want to make a mark.
What can the contestants look forward to in the finale?
Kolkata is the only city this year from the Eastern region, so we have two confirmed winners from here. This year, the finals will be held in Ooty from June 18, and it will be three power-packed days. There will be international bartenders and global ambassadors as well. We will have a speaker, a triathlon winner, who will be speaking on the importance of health in hospitality. So they get three days that will be all about education, fun and learning. The national winner will win an all-expenses paid trip to the London Cocktail Week in October.
What kind of education are we talking about exactly?
Bartending is an ongoing learning process, and since the bartenders are always so stuck to alcohol, we will be exposing them to an introductory programme on tea. We have tied up with one of the biggest tea estates in Ooty, and they will learn more about tea and its cultivation, about cupping and flavour profiles. There is also a similar programme on honey.
Why a session on tea and honey?
Firstly, these two items are popular in Ooty and hence, one night will be dedicated to cocktails inspired by tea and honey. Secondly, if you think about Punch, the first Cocktail ever defined, it is made of five ingredients, of which tea is one of the most common elements.
What is the most important quality for being a good bartender?
For me, the most important quality to be in this industry is to be hospitable. If a person is hospitable, and he or she can take care of their guests very well, then the other skills are easy to learn and improve upon.
Which spirit is the most versatile, according to you?
I think all spirits are versatile. People in India have always thought that cocktails can only be made with vodka, because that is what they have been introduced to. But if you look at the global market, then the highest-selling cocktails are whiskey-based. In India, whiskey has always been consumed straight up or on the rocks, but we are trying to break away from the boring conventional style of drinking whiskey, and trying to reinvent at least Scotch as a versatile beverage.