Paul John Single Malt and the man behind the name

If I go and pick up any whisky bottle on my shelf, more often than not there’ll be some story behind the name on the bottle. It might be named after a valley, a region, a water source or some other aspect related to the liquid inside. Less often though do I pick up a bottle that bares someone’s  full name and even less often than that have I had the chance to actually meet said person. But thanks to a very special invite from Dramnation I can now tick that one off the list after having met Mr Paul John, the man – and the namesake – behind Paul John Indian Single Malt Whisky.

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He was in town recently to meet some of Sydney’s biggest whisky fans and to also give us a sneak peak at a rather special new release, but more on that shortly. During his fleeting visit I had the chance to sit down with a couple of other whisky regulars and have a casual chat with Paul John, picking up some fantastic insight into the man and the Paul John single malt brand.

Paul John and John Distilleries

To better understand Paul John Indian Single Malt, it’s worth noting that it’s just one of a number of brands in the John Distilleries Pvt Ltd (JDL) portfolio. A portfolio of brandy, wine and whisky that caters heavily to the local Indian market and includes ‘Original Choice’ whisky, which sells over 10 million cases per year in India alone.

Despite JDL’s huge success in their local market with their other brands, Mr John tells us that Paul John Indian Single Malt only launched in India around a year ago. “I’m rather surprised in the response we’ve got so far and how many people are interested in single malt. Especially because of the way they generally drink whisky, which is completely different to the way you’d appreciate a single malt”. When asked about the size of the local market for their single malt, Mr John tells us that in the first year along, around 30-35% of their total output was sold in India and that going forward he sees it as being their largest market. To keep up with future forecasted demand they’ve recently doubled the size of their distillery with the addition of new fermenters and stills, allowing them to now produce 6,000 litres per day.

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So given that the Indian whisky-drinking culture hasn’t really been focussed on the appreciation of single malts, I asked Paul John what actually led him to setting up a single malt distillery there?

“My father was in the alcohol distribution business and when I got out of college, I worked there”. This led to an alcohol manufacturing licence, which in turn led to the creation of Original Choice which would go on to become one of the largest selling brands in the world.

The birth of Paul John Indian Single Malt

His work took him to the US for eight years and it was there where he was introduced to single malt whisky. “I had the volume of business coming in (from Original Choice) but from a production point of view it wasn’t really giving me the satisfaction, so I started thinking, I could make a world class single malt. Not for the money, but for the passion of being able to make one”.

Mr John started out by doing his homework, firstly to see whether there was any reason why a ‘world class’ single malt couldn’t be made in India. There were numerous trips to distilleries, he tasted their water sources and even carried some back to India to be lab-tested to see whether there was a marked difference between what other distilleries had and what was available to him at home. “If you look back at our history when we were ruled by the British, even the Maharajahs would carry water from India in big steel pots when they visited the UK. India does actually have excellent water”.

When he set out in 2004 to create the single malt that bears his name, the idea of it being of ‘world class’ quality was always at the fore. Mr John told us that although India doesn’t have any regulations on how whisky should be made, he took it upon himself to make sure that he followed all of the regs set out by the Scotch Whisky Association.

We further spoke of cask selection and India’s complex tax regime before we arrived at this, their latest release, the Paul John Oloroso Single Cask.

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Paul John Oloroso Single Cask, 57.4%

I’m no stranger to Paul John Whisky having tasted, and thoroughly enjoyed, their whole core range here. Beyond that, I’ve also had the pleasure of tasting a special single cask release that was bottled exclusively for the Oak Barrel in Sydney (still available to purchase here). But I’ve never tasted a sherry matured Paul John before, with good reason. This is the very first one they’ve ever done. And by very first, I mean ‘very first’. This is the first ex-sherry cask that’s ever been filled at Paul John, a trial they were doing at the time when they weren’t really sure how it would pan out.

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After spending three years maturing in an American Oak ex-bourbon bask, the spirit was transferred to a 55 year old ex-sherry butt for a further four years of maturation where it eventually yielded just 252 bottles. Let’s pause and mull over those numbers for a brief moment. A 500-550 litre sherry butt, yielding just 252 700mL/ 750 mL bottles in total after four years (around 175-190 litres of matured whisky). That’s some immense angel’s share!

Nose
On the nose there’s a huge bourbon character and I’m not referring to bourbon cask matured whisky. I mean notes you’d normally find in bourbon whiskey – leather, vanilla, maple syrup and liqueur cherries. But given time the Oloroso cask joins the party with a dry nuttiness, dried fruit and some spice.

Palate
The palate is full of those wonderful oily notes that are abundant across the whole Paul John range. It’s oily, creamy and rich, with spice and leather at the forefront followed by sweetness, dried fruits, wet brown sugar, cake batter and some tobacco notes. Despite the high ABV, it’s balanced and rich and is completely enjoyable.

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Of the 252 bottles in existence just 18 will make their way to Australia, so if you’d like to get your hands on one you better start doing some leg work now.

It was a truly insightful and rewarding experience to be able to meet and chat with Paul John, so a special thanks is in order to both Dramnation for organising the event and to Mr Paul John and his team for their generosity and time.

 

Paul John Whisky

Indian single malt whisky

If you played a little word association game with the average person and asked ‘what’s the first country you think of when you hear the word whisky?, I’d say there’s a really good chance most people would say Scotland. Some might hit you with Ireland or the United States. Heck, Japan is probably high up on that list these days too! But I don’t think you’d get too many people saying ‘India’.

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Don’t for one second think that’s because India isn’t a whisky-drinking nation though. It’s quite the opposite actually. According to these statistics, India is actually the biggest whisky-drinking nation on earth! To satisfy that demand they have over 40 whisky-producing distilleries around the country, but only two of those (as far as I’m aware) produce whisky specifically for the export market. The first, and perhaps the more well-known, is Amrut and the second – the feature of this post – is Paul John.

Paul John and John Distilleries

The brand Paul John comes out of John Distilleries’ single malt distillery located in Goa. The facility uses two Indian-made copper pot stills to produce in the region of 3,000 litres of spirit daily (1.1 million litres a year). This makes them similar in scale to a distillery like Ardbeg, who also have a single set of stills and a similar annual production capacity.

Not only does Paul John use Indian-made copper pot stills, but they also use a varietal of Himalayan 6-row Indian barely in the production of their spirit. This gives them a lower alcoholic yield, but Master distiller Michael John is of the belief that it helps give the whisky more characteristics of its country of origin. Casks are filled at 55% ABV (compared to standard Scottish filling of 63.5% ABV) before being matured in one of two warehouses.

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India’s hot and often humid climate makes whisky mature much faster than it would in Europe or the United States, with Paul John’s annual evaporation (‘The Angel’s Share’) being around 8% per year (compared to Scotland where it’s closer to 2%). As a result, their whiskies are often bottled anywhere between four and seven years of maturation. Paul John isn’t a brand you encounter too often here in Australia, so when they recently contacted me and offered a samples of their full core range I was more than eager to give it a try.

I’ll keep my notes brief, picking out some similarities and differences to try and form a better understanding of Paul John’s single malt profile and how the expressions compare against one another. One thing to note from the get-go is that all of their whisky is 100% natural colour and non-chill filtered.

Paul John Brilliance 46% ABV

The entry level expression in their range. Brilliance is made with un-peated spirit and is aged in ex-Bourbon American Oak casks for around 4 years.

Quite soft on the nose with some sweet vanilla and malty biscuit notes. There’s a hint of citrus, orange pith and oak. It’s chewy and oily on the palate and quite close to the nose – more citrus, zesty notes, spice and oak. It’s like a quality, soft Speyside whisky.

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Paul John Edited 46% ABV

Edited is also matured in ex-Bourbon American Oak casks for around 4 years, however it contains around 15-20% of peated spirit in the vatting. To get peated spirit, Paul John import peat from Scotland and then peat their preferred 6-row Indian barley themselves.

Very soft again on the nose, almost muted in a way. There’s a definite hint of peat that presents itself in a salty, damp hay smoke kind of way. It’s there, but it’s also fairly subtle and integrated. I still get the same malty biscuit and citrus notes from the Brilliance as well.

On the palate the peat is quite pronounced upfront with a salty saline tang, that great chewy mouthfeel. There’s toffee, maybe even salted caramels and that bitter citrus pith note again.

Paul John Classic Select Casks 55.2% ABV

A non-peated cask strength offering. A fuller, deeper and richer nose compared with the Brilliance, really showcasing the oily rich spirit profile. I got deep creamy vanilla, sweet malty cake notes and a hint of orange.

It’s bright and punchy upfront on the palate with a great sweet, oily, malty mouthfeel. Hot cinnamon and cedar-wood spice upfront gives way to sweet chewy vanilla, some honey notes, summer fruit salad. There’s more malt, oak and spice on the finish.

There’s a definitely lineage to the Brilliance in this one – with a similar general profile – but everything is cranked up to 11 and there seems to be more going on in the Classic Select Cask, probably due in part to the higher alcohol level.

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Paul John Bold 46% ABV 

The ‘Bold’ expression takes us into full peated territory and a single small whiff confirms that. It’s quite deep and bold on the nose with sweet herbal peat notes. It’s quite vegetal though, like a highland peated whisky, with a salty saline tang.

It’s vegetal and peaty on the palate (though not smoky) with that saline tang from the nose, but it also manages to incorporate some sweet notes. It finishes with a big wave of lingering peat that dries out your tongue, leaving behind a slightly bitter oaky woodiness.

Paul John Peated 55.5% ABV

As the name suggests, this takes us into peated territory again, but this time at cask strength. It somehow seems more restrained on the nose, with a nice balance of peat, berry/sherry sweetness and that herbal salty peat note.

Loads of tangy, salty peat upfront on the palate, a hint of crisp drying smoke, vanilla, charred peaches and brown sugar sweetness. The higher ABV carries the peat notes through to a long satisfying finish.

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Some overall thoughts

I was really impressed by the whole Paul John range. Not that I expected it to not be good, but I think in the back of my mind I didn’t expect it to taste anywhere near as mature and balanced as it does. None of these five expressions gave off any hint of their youth. The decision to bottle at 46% ABV and above with no chill filtering is a smart move in my opinion, with the full range having a fantastic oily, chewy mouthfeel that carries loads of flavour across the palate. Whilst some of the expressions are slightly restrained in their flavour profile, they were all nicely balanced and tasted like high quality, well-made whisky to me. If I had to pick a favourite out of the five, I think I’d go for the ‘Peated’ expression at cask strength. It had a lot going on in every sip and is genuinely great whisky.

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Paul John also kindly included a full-size bottle for me to photograph (pictured throughout this post). I’m a sucker for packaging and presentation and I have to say, the presentation is rather smart! An embossed card box with a magnetic closure opens to reveal a nice clean, modern bottle. The fonts/script used throughout are fresh and clean, the main branding is screen-printed and there’s a nice little swing tag including a booklet on all the basics you need to know about Paul John’s full range.

Paul John Whisky in Sydney 

Mr Madhu Kanna, General Manager – Exports, from Paul John will be in Australia for the Whisky Live whisky show on 8th and 9th April 2016 so if you’ve got yourself a ticket, I encourage you to drop by their stand and try some Paul John whiskies for yourself!

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Thanks goes to Paul John for the generous whisky samples. I’m looking forward to seeing your brand develop further and tasting whatever you bring out next!