India Makes Very Good Single Malt Whiskies - Learn More About Paul John

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 18 May 2018
Category: Feature Comments View Comments


India is the world's largest producer of whisky, though it's not considered as such by connoisseurs as most of what's produced is molasses based. Enter Paul John - a single malt brand made from organic barley grown at the foot of the Himalayas.

One of the most interesting brands represented at this year's Whisky Live Celebration, which I attended in Cape Town last month, was Paul John, a brand of single-malt whiskies from India.

The whiskies are produced at a distillery in Goa, India, owned by John Distilleries, a distilled beverages company that was founded by Paul P John. The brand was introduced to the market in 2012 after the distillery was built in 2004 and started the single malt process in 2008. The company had previously produced only blended whiskies.

Goa is hot and humid, which results in a faster maturation rate and a larger angel's share. The distillery's focus is on using local ingredients where possible, such as one hundred percent malted barley that's grown at the foot of the Himalayas, which is used in Paul John Brilliance. The peat for the various peated expressions is bought from Islay and Aberdeen in dry blocks that are then burnt during the whisky making process. The distillery has three warehouses, one of which is underground, although this only very slightly slows the maturation process and mitigates the heat challenge. All the whiskies are matured in American oak (ex-bourbon and new fill) and are non chill filtered.

India Makes Very Good Single Malt Whiskies - Learn More About Paul John
Above: The Paul John Flagship series - Paul John Brilliance, Paul John Edited, and Paul John Bold.
At the Whisky Live Celebration six Paul John whiskies were available, three from the Flagship series - Paul John Brilliance, Paul John Edited, and Paul John Bold - two from the Select Cask range of single malt whiskies, which is bottled at cask strength - Paul John Classic Select Cask (Paul John Brilliance at cask strength - 55.2%) and Paul John Peated Select Cask (Paul John Bold at cask strength - 55.5%) - and one special bottling for South Africa.

I would have loved to have tried all six, since this brand is completely new to me, but you can only focus on so many whiskies in an evening, and therefore I reduced it to four - the three Flagship whiskies plus the special bottling. With great regret I had to leave the Paul John Peated Select Cask for another time.

I'll start with the Flagship series.

Paul John Brilliance
Paul John Brilliance is an unpeated single malt whisky, bottled at 46% abv (alcohol by volume), that's produced from barley grown on the foothills of the Himalayas and which is matured in ex-bourbon casks.

It has hints of vanilla, from the bourbon casks, and light spice on the nose. I also picked up a faint floral note and thought it was very sweet. I was told that some people have claimed that they have picked up wood smoke, which I didn't, but, if so, it's only wood smoke from the charring of the barrel.

On the palate the whisky is also very sweet and lush, with a slightly oily mouthfeel, and once you add water I thought it opened up some more floral notes on the nose. The finish is smooth, with hints of vanilla.

It's the perfect whisky for people who don't like peat, yet still enjoyable for those, such as myself, who do prefer peat and don't think they'll like lighter whiskies. I was pleasantly surprised.

Paul John Edited
Paul John Edited is a 15% peated (at 28 parts per million) single malt whisky that's also bottled at 46% abv with barley from the foothills of the Himalayas. The peat is a combination of Aberdeen peat and Islay peat.

You can immediately sense a little of the peat on the nose, along with some honey. The smokiness, though actually quite light, is quite a contrast to the nose of the Paul John Brilliance.

On the palate you might be able to pick up grass from the barley, which I didn't, because the peat reached me immediately. It's quite strong but not overpowering. I thought the aftertaste was slightly acidic and there are hints of spice, and apparently chocolate mint, which I didn't notice.

Once you add water the expression changes and flavours and notes open up, of course. On the nose I then picked up a few fruity notes as the water mitigated the smoke and after the glass had rested for a while I then began to notice sweet notes, which were hints of honey.

On the palate the water helped to reduce the impact of the peat but I still wasn't able to taste the mint and mocha.

Two friends who were with me who are not peat fans at all said that they quite enjoyed the whisky.

Paul John Bold
Paul John Bold is the peated (also at 28 parts per million) single malt whisky in the Flagship series, once again bottled at 46% abv with barley from the foothills of the Himalayas and peat from Islay. This is a lovely whisky for peated fans, though it sits in a strange place in which it's very light for most peat fans but too strong for those who don't like peat.

Nevertheless it's very interesting and quite complex.

On the nose the peat and smoke is very evident but still not overpowering, and there are strong hints of honey and spice, as well as, apparently, "bourbonesque red liquorice", which I did not notice.

On the palate my notes say "peat punch but lovely" and there's still a sweetness that comes through after that, which is the honey. There are hints of spice as well and then a copperiness and smokiness surfaces in the aftertaste.

I thought that both the nose and flavours are diluted quite extensively if you add water - I would opt to drink this whisky neat in future. What I did note, however, is that more of the sweetness comes through on the nose if you add water but I really did think that doing this did the flavours a disservice.

This is a lovely light (comparatively speaking) peated whisky and I regret not being able to compare it to the Paul John Peated Select Cask.

India Makes Very Good Single Malt Whiskies - Learn More About Paul John
Above: Hector McBeth talks visitors at the 2018 Whisky Live Celebration in Cape Town through the Paul John Flagship series.

Paul John Cask 1742
Paul John Cask 1742 is the special bottling specifically for the South African market. The company sent three cask samples to South African expert Hector McBeth who determined his favourite and then did a blind test with a number of other South African experts, most of whom also picked the same one. Consequently the decision was made.

The result is Paul John Cask 1742 - and it is absolutely fantastic.

This seven-year-old unpeated whisky is bottled at cask strength, in this case 57.5% abv. The alcohol is overpowering, although you can mitigate this effect once you dilute it slightly with water. Even without water the kick somehow dissipates before the flavours are destroyed and you soon begin to pick up bourbon cask notes, such as vanilla and crème brûlée.

The palate, unsurprisingly, is quite sweet, as is the nose, which has hints of molasses, as well as vanilla from the American oak casks. The whisky is incredibly smooth, with a slightly oily mouthfeel that is due to the barely Paul John uses, which has a higher protein content (and consequently a smaller yield) and that results in a more viscous liquid that helps to reduce evaporation.

My favourite part is actually the aftertaste, which is a very, very sweet honey flavour that just lingers in your mouth for ages, long after the memory of the alcohol kick has faded. It is utterly superb.

This is a really, really good whisky - I loved it. The entire tasting process is an amazing sensory journey and I've never experienced an aftertaste that behaves the way this one does. I could not stop thinking about the whisky for the rest of the evening while I was at the Whisky Live Celebration. It is truly one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted.

India Makes Very Good Single Malt Whiskies - Learn More About Paul John
Above: Paul John Classic Select Cask, Paul John Cask 1742, Paul John Peated Select Cask
Due to the high temperatures and humidity in Goa the Paul John Cask 1742 is the equivalent of a 21 year old Scottish whisky. High evaporation rate also results in less liquid in the barrel, so ultimately only 180 bottles have been produced from the cask.

These two factors heavily influence the steep price (a bottle is over R2000, via Norman Goodfellows) so, sadly, it's one you'll be privileged to be able to try.

Mandy J Watson was a media guest of the 2018 Whisky Live Celebration. Try Paul John whiskies this weekend at Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair 2018 in Cape Town and 2018 Whisky Live Celebration in Pretoria.

Tags: arts and culture, Cape Town, whisky

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