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Local (beer) essentials with Sunil Balu

By India 10 Jul 2019 • 1 Comments


Sunil Balu is a craft beer aficionado and unofficial head of the “Indian Mafia”. After eight years as liquor manager at New World Thorndon, he recently took on a sales and marketing role for Baylands Brewing in Petone. Here, he shares his favourite Wellington watering holes and teaches us how to make the most of next month’s Beervana festival.

Where everybody knows your name

Wellington is a bit like the old TV programme Cheers. You can go into any bar and know people. You know the people behind the bar, and everyone acknowledges you. Even if I just go in for a quiet half pint, nine times out of ten, I’ll see someone I wanted to catch up with. LBQ, Fork & Brewer, HUSK and Rogue & Vagabond are all good ones. Malthouse is usually the finisher at the end of the night, because it’s on Courtenay Place, so it’s easy to get an Uber or bus home.

The Godfather of gose

There’s a core group of about six of us that hang together. People call us the Indian Mafia. We go on road trips to play hockey or golf or whatever, and one of our first jobs is always to see where a good craft beer place is that we can visit. We love that sort of stuff, and we look after each other. If you feel like someone’s had a bit too much, you pull him aside and give him some food. Too many groups go out and just cut people and leave them to their own devices, which doesn’t help anybody.

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Coming full circle (almost)

People think Beervana is just a big party, but it’s more than that. If you’re in the industry, it means a lot. The brewers like hearing from people and seeing what they’re looking for. It’s a learning curve for both of us. I first went to Beervana when it was at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. From there, it moved to the Town Hall, and now Westpac Stadium, the Cake Tin. It evolves every year. For the last four years, I’ve struggled to get all the way around the concourse. On a good session, I’ll get two-thirds of the way. Last year, I went to two different sessions, just to make sure I completed it. I usually do the evening sessions – you don’t get into as much trouble when you go home.

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Kelly Ryan from Fork & Brewer on Bond Street

Learn from the pros

Some people are very novice craft-beer drinkers, but they’ll try and hit the big beers. You don’t know you’ve had enough until you’ve had enough. People go too hard, too strong. They go for the bigger beers and think they’re bulletproof, but it ruins the experience for them and sometimes others. Some of us who’ve been around for quite a while have adapted to higher percentages, but we know when to say no, or we’ll go to a lighter beer and then go back to something else.

How to build a craft beer capital

People give and take in the Wellington beer industry, which is rare. You’ve got the icons of brewing here, people like Kelly Ryan from Fork & Brewer and Tracy Banner from Sprig & Fern. These people are pioneers. They don’t like us saying that, because it ages them … but we’re older than them! These guys are go-tos for a lot of people when they’ve got a problem or want to know how to go about doing something. They share information and knowledge without any baggage involved.

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Add your comment

  • John Barry on 12 Jul 2019

    some good tips in there thanks Sunil

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