Sommelier, hotelier, restaurateur, and entrepreneur are all professions that can be linked with Pankaj Balachandran. But really, he is a salesman at heart.
Pankaj has come outside the hotel world to play a dual role of running an entrepreneurial venture and a new stand- alone cocktail bar called Hoots’. He offers a range of consulting services, promising upgrading the industry standards for quality and delivery.
Now, he’s also representing Monkey Shoulder as a Brand Ambassador for India. Previously, he served as the Restaurant Manager for Varq, and Bar Manager for Rick’s, both at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi. He helped redefine the beverage experience at Rick’s and curated wine dinners including those with Chateau Margaux, Domaine Romanee Conti and Drappier. It was during this time that Pankaj won the Indian Sommelier Championship, 2013. This earned him an immersive experience with Penfolds that took him through the leading wine regions of Australia. His travels have also taken him to other wine regions including Rhone, Burgundy, Champagne, and almost all of South Africa.
Pankaj started off with Monkey Shoulder as a brand trainer in 2016, and hosted the Indian edition of the Ultimate Bartender Championship since then. He continues to MakeItMonkey with the Monkey Shoulder team around the country. He’s also very proud of his sneaker and watch collection with an eye always out to make it bigger.
What’s the best part about your job?
I think the best part about my job is flexibility. I am sure everyone would have thought it was the travelling but the fact that I get to decide what I want to do, what I want to activate on a daily basis is what I love with what I do. I have been fortunate enough to work with a company which lets me run the show on my terms.
What is the biggest lie consumers are told in the name of marketing?
If you have to lie to market then its poor marketing. The focus will definitely be on giving the plus point or the merit of any product. If some one is lying about the product then the product is not worth the sell according to me.
What style of spirit, or spirits, should India be drinking next?
Vermouths and Amaro. Low alcoholic styles. The weather in india calls for low alcoholic style drinks. I think so much can be achieved with Vermouths and Amaro’s and with the wine world improving day by day, we would see that happening very soon.
From the fictional and non-fictional world, for whom would you like to make a cocktail for?
I think it would be Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Haha!
How has winning the Indian Sommelier Championship changed your life?
I was fortunate to have taken part in the competition and actually win it. Obviously, it made me push my passion for wines way more that I actually did. The visit to penfolds was phenomenal and more importantly made some great friends in the industry during that entire process. The competition kind of opened my mind to learning more and representing myself better.
How would you describe your transition from wines to spirits?
I don’t know If should be calling it a transition. I still love my wines and champagne. In terms of professional capacity, yes I have taken a slightly different route but I get to move in and out of both. Whatever I learned in terms of understanding flavors, decoding the nose and texture etc came from the knowledge I had with wines. So I would say it was a smooth transition.
What’s your favourite tipple at the end of a busy day?
A scotch and soda. As easy as it can get. If I am in the mood for luxury – a well-constructed Negroni.
Having seen the end of the hotel, wines, and spirits world now, what are your advices to young professionals seeking a career in this field?
As I tell everyone who ask me, I was indeed lucky to have experienced everything the industry has to offer. Whether it be hotels, restaurants, stand alone establishments, working as a trainer, the somm life, brand ambassador and most importantly setting up and running my own company. Everything has taught me something different and has also kept me grounded. My advise? make mistakes, Fall and fail. Learn from them and rise up and win. Success in important yes, but make the journey to that as fulfilling and amazing as it can get.
I truly believe that nothing can or should hold you back to try , fail and then succeed.