It was on a typical spring day, the rain in Central London doing it’s best to keep our hopes of summer at bay, that a select few gathered in the basement bar of Central & Co. to taste, for the first time outside the distillery, two whiskies released by the John Distilleries, India. Paul John single malt whisky is produced in Goa and aims to be quite a revelation when coming to the competitive world whisky market. Interestingly, the company have devised a marketing objective which focuses on foreign markets first, to build a brand, then return to India where the domestic market will be eagerly awaiting its arrival. As Pritesh Mody of LFLD Amplified, who is tasked with creating the buzz around the launch into the UK, said “In the 80′s with the boom in city wealth, British people wanted German Cars, French wine and Italian clothes, it’s the same in the Indian market who want the luxurious foreign items rather than home produced.” With India being amongst the largest consumers of whisky in the world, it’s not surprising to find a company aiming for a share.
John Distilleries was established in 1992 and is one of the largest spirit producers in India. Most of the “Indian whisky” produced is actually from molasses rather than grain and is not allowed to be exported as whisky (it is actually rum, blended with a small amount of whisky). However, with many of the brands within their portfolio selling in excess of 1 million cases per month, I doubt John Distilleries are too worried about exports. Paul John single malt is very different.
As master distiller Michael John (no relation) explained, they have used Indian 6-row barley to create the mash for the “Brilliance” and “Edited” releases as well as the previous single cask releases. Double distilled in copper pot still after a 60 hr fermentation period, 20,000 litres at a time before being matured in ex bourbon cask. All very normal then. Michael went further to explain that in 30 degree heat they loose a massive 12% per annum of liquid and alcohol evaporation know as the angels share. Scotland, in contrast, looses on average just 1% and we moan enough about that! With this high heat and rapid maturation, Michael said they will not be able to produce a whisky older than 8 years old (minimum requirement for whisky is 40% abv) but this heat does help increase the flavour development, so there is little need to age anything for that length of time.
Paul John “Brilliance” single malt Indian whisky
Ex bourbon cask
46% abv non chill filtered
Appearance: Pale rose gold
Nose: Fresh with an immediate coastal familiarity. The youthful nose has structured malt and honey which mingles with a floral overtone all seemingly pinned down by a cork-wood wrapped in banana leaf with a light drizzling of vanilla infused caramel.
Palate: At first quite creamy then quickly develops some good spice of mace and nutmeg mixed in with the honey found in the aroma. There is a tropical fruitiness mid palate which never becomes too prominent, instead being overruled by well structured vanilla and oak.
Finish: Lots of delicious vanilla and a final hint of sea salt caramels.
Paul John “Edited” peated single malt Indian whisky
46% ABV non chill filtered
Ex Bourbon cask
Appearance: Warm rose gold
Nose: For a peated whisky, this is very light indeed. Soft distant peat smoke wrap around the nose of malted barley, pebble beach, quince, cedar and apple blossom. There is a general sweetness with spice turning to liquorice chews all wonderfully enveloped in the smoke from a dying beach bonfire.
Palate: The peat smoke shows itself far more now, but still restrained with a honey type sweetness behind it. Ash and cinnamon emerge in equal amounts which in turn create a salted nut element before returning to the smoke rich palate which we began with.
Finish: Lingering peat smoke with light ash and a sea salt edge.
Summary: If either of these superb examples were placed in front of me at a blind tasting, I would struggle (as I am sure many of my friends in the industry would) to know their origin let alone age. Both are superb examples of well crafted whisky, released with optimum flavour and character. The 46% abv allows you to release a little more softness but I prefer to keep them undiluted. I am sure both of these will be not just a talking point, but an active part in most whisky drinkers cabinets in the not too distant future.
I can see it’s going to be an Indian summer.