Whisky may be the forte of the Scots, but Goa’s Paul John single malts are creating waves worldwide. Varsha Naik discovers more about this beloved golden spirit distilled in India’s sun and sand state
The Goan single malt, Paul John, was awarded ‘Asian whisky of the year’ in the Whisky Bible 2018, surpassing Japanese whiskies and giving a big boost to the image of Indian whiskies. Though not a whisky drinker myself, I’ve grown up around people who love and enjoy their single malts a great deal and find myself fascinated with it’s aura. Whether it’s the malt creations from Bangalore-based Amrut Distilleries or the flavour of Rampur Distilliries, the oldest distillery in the country, Indian single malts now hold a key place in whisky banter. Recently it’s Paul John that appears to be paving the way for a promising future for Indian single malts, and is exported extensively and being applauded by whisky connoisseurs around the globe since it’s launch in 2012. “The encouragement and appreciation from consumers from across the world is extremely inspiring and I hope someday I can build the Paul John single malts to be one of the best possible single malts in the world,” says Chairman Paul P John humbled by the recognition his whisky expressions are attracting.
Making alcohol was the natural progression in Paul’s life, whose father owned a chain of wholesale liquor shops, and it occurred to him to try making single malts, which he discovered while living in the US and enjoyed immensely. “The journey from conceptualising our own single malts to actually making them wasn’t easy. It was a big risk making single malts in Goa’s humid climate, with Indian ingredients such as water and barley. The data and statistics we gathered from intense research made every stage and every decision tougher, for we weren’t sure how the whisky would eventually turn out. But we overcame all of that and decided to go ahead after all our assessments and analysis; we began distillation in 2009 and bottling in 2012. Michael D’Souza, our Master Distiller, and I have worked together since I started in the alcohol business. It was his passion, interest and initiative to learn and understand the making of the single malts that had him spearheading the entire project,” he explains.
What makes Paul John special
“Single malt is modest and minimal as we use few ingredients – water, barley and yeast,” Michael says, his 25 years of industry experience getting straight to the heart of the matter. “As opposed to two-row barley which is used in Europe, Paul John uses Himalayan six-row barley which is high in protein content, leading to a better mouthfeel, more creamy and sweet, and with less carbohydrates. Higher concentration of tannins produces a very fruity whisky, which, besides honey, also has floral notes.” And while Indian barley may be smaller in size, it has a higher husk content and the barley produces an oilier wash and thus an oilier spirit. This is one of the key reasons why all Paul John whiskies are bottled at least 46% and are non chill-filtered.
After the quality of ingredients, the pot still used for distillation is what imparts an exclusive character to the malts. “In Scotland there are more than a 100 distilleries that make single malt, but each one is different. All the distilleries use the same ingredients – Scottish barley, water and yeast – but the taste differs. Each distillery has its own design for the pot still and this in turn designs the resulting whisky. Tomorrow if something happens to the still, there is a new dent, the character of the whisky changes. Even minor changes can alter the profile of the whisky,” Michael elaborates.
All these elements, coupled with the unique effect that Goa’s hot and humid climate has on the maturation process, lends to the special characteristics that emerge in its whisky expressions. “Whisky matures differently here. One year here is equivalent to four years in Scotland. The amount of extraction we get from six years in Goa, you would need to mature the same spirit for 24 years there to get a similar profile,” Micheal adds, “But in Scotland, they lose not more that 2-3% in angel share (the amount of alcohol which evaporates from casks during maturation), whereas here we lose almost 8-10%.
The sky is the limit
For some, whisky is enough to set the mood but for others food pairings and cocktails add a new twist to their love for malts. Geoffrey’s, the English style pub in Mumbai, used Paul John to spark up a recent evening of fine food and dram appreciation. The malts were paired a specially created menu – brie, balsamic caviar and caramelised onion tarts, kataifi wrapped prawns and harissa, activated charcoal macaroons with feta, pumpkin mousse and more. The Classic Old Fashioned and Sour did rounds all evening as guests immersed themselves in conversation and retro music. Ajit Balgi of The Happy High, one of the event co-hosts, says, “My favourite was a cocktail called Penicillin made with Brilliance and Bold expressions. The idea for such curated evenings is to create awareness that India does make great whiskies and raise the bar of dining with some exquisite cocktails/malts and food.”
At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2018, Paul John’s flagship expressions Brilliance and Bold and their Select Cask Peated received Double Gold medals further emboldening the team to something sometime more spectacular. Paul reveals they are experimenting with PX (Pedro Ximénez sherry) casks to create special variants and a new limited edition is in the tasting stages and will be hitting the market very soon. “We are venturing into unchartered territories as we go along and are enjoying the journey. The complexities of whisky and the language it speaks never fails to excite me. Each sip of a single malt is different – whisky is a vast subject and each time you enjoy a drink you discover something new,” Paul concludes.
Table (if needed): Four types of whiskeys
1) Single Malt – product of one single distillery made only from malted barley
2) Blended Malt – a combination of two or more single malts
3) Straight/Grain whisky – whisky made from grains other than malted barley (wheat, rice, buckwheat, rye etc)
4) Blended Whisky – mix of single malt and non-malted grain whisky