Updated: May 10, 2019
Paul John, along with Amrut whisky has contributed a lot to building India’s reputation as a country that makes quality whisky. I recently had the opportunity for a behind the scenes visit to the distillery before their visitor centre opens in the next month or two.
John Distilleries Ltd. (JDL) was started by Paul P John back in 1992 when he launched Original Choice whisky. Original Choice now sells in excess of 11 million cases annually. They also manufacture other popular Indian wines and brandies such as Big Banyan. The dream however was to distill a world class single malt. In 2008 this dream started to become a reality when first stocks were laid down for maturation. Their first whisky was launched in 2012 in London. The whiskies were made primarily for export markets until their official launch in India in 2016.
Paul John has 3 flagship whiskies – Brilliance, Edited and Bold. Brilliance is unpeated, Edited has a hint of peat and Bold is highly peated. In addition they have two Select Cask whiskies – Classic and Peated bottled at cask strength. Further they have Single Cask whiskies as well as their limited editions Kanya and Oloroso. Kanya is matured in first fill American oak casks, while the Oloroso as the name suggests is matured in Oloroso sherry butts.
I had the privilege to meet Michael D'Souza, master distiller at Paul John during my visit. When asked what releases are on the way he had this to say "As of now, the Christmas edition is one which we are going to release in Europe. Apart from that we plan to release a 40% chill filtered whisky called Nirvana again in the domestic and will be exported also." I'm particularly looking forward to the Nirvana and its pricing. This could be something very interesting for the Indian market in particular.
While the Paul John whiskies are Scotch style whiskies, so to speak, there are some distinct differences.
Barley - Scottish whisky is made from 2-row barley, while Paul John whisky is made from 6-row barley from the Himalayas. I’m told that the 6-row barley while producing a lower yield produces a more luscious spirit. These whiskies with higher protein in turn interact better with American oak casks producing rich flavours. This is very evident when one first tastes the Brilliance.
Faster Maturation- In Scotland whisky evaporates from casks at the rate of about 2% a year, the proverbial ‘Angel’s Share’. However, in India it can be over 10%. Paul John loses about 8% a year. This also means that the whisky matures faster, making a 7 year old Paul John arguably aged similar to a 21 year old Scotch. In my opinion, Indian and Taiwanese whiskies exhibit a richness unique to their warm climes.
As is the case with the whisky boom across the world, demand for Paul John has also been steadily increasing. The distillery has recently doubled their distilling capacity. We weHere is a panorama of the stillhouse.
There are two warehouses at the distillery, one above ground with 6500 casks and another below the new visitor centre with around 1500 casks.
The underground warehouse was easily the more special one with some lovely sherry butts from Spain. I’m told that the sherry butts, unlike at most other distilleries are sourced from Cordoba, in the Montilla Moriles D.O. One set that particularly caught my eye were filled with peated whisky. That is certainly something to look out for in the future. As per Michael they are also looking at maturing whiskies in ex Port wine casks and should have a release sometime in 2019.
The visit ended with a wonderful tasting of Kanya, Select Cask Classic, Peated Select Cask from which were their current releases. We were lucky enough to taste another couple of special whiskies. One was the Christmas Edition which will be released in Europe later this year. The second was a PX cask edition that is in the works. Michael was kind enough to blend a quick batch to show us what it would taste like on release. The colour is something I can’t get out of my mind and it was lush and delicious. The other whisky I particularly enjoyed was the truly elegant, Select Cask Classic.
The Paul John Distillery will likely open in September, 2018. Keep an eye out and definitely visit if you get the chance. Even if you don’t, I would highly recommend trying their whiskies as they are exceptional.
Uday Balaji is the Managing Partner of The Whisky Advisor, your one stop shop for Whisk(e)y training, events, advisory and beyond. Uday is based out of India, but constantly travels across whisky regions learning and passing on knowledge about whiskies from across the world. Get in touch with him at uday[at]thewhiskyadvisor.[com] if you would like to collaborate.