A Chat with Mr. Paul John from Paul John Indian Single Malt

Earlier this month I have been invited to sit down and chat with the man behind Paul John distillery, Mr. Paul P. John himself to share a few drams and talk about the whisky. He visited Sydney for a tasting and public greeting event, which was held in J&M Cocktail Bar in Angel Place. It is always a great experience to meet the makers, to understand how do they put all the blocks together and make things work.

A quick side note: Massive thanks to Mr. Matthew Wooler from Dramnation for letting me use his photos!

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Paul John and Paul John Oloroso

In recent years, Paul John Indian Single Malt has established a presence on international level. It has received multiple awards and acknowledgements from renowned institutions including WWA, IWSC, The Spirits Business Awards, The Whisky Bible, etc. I too am very impressed with the high level of quality and consistency across the core expressions, which is unfortunately an increasingly rare trait in the whisky industry.

Over the session, we revisited a few of the core Paul John expressions – Peated, Brilliance and others during the conversation, on top of that Mr. Paul John has brought along a new, limited edition – Paul John Oloroso, the very first sherry expression experimentation of the distillery for us to taste, what a juicy treat! You can have a look at the expressions they offer in their official website, which gives very detail information about the distillery, their products and bottlings available in your area.

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The interview session in progress, with a few essential drams involved!

So let’s start from the distillery, Paul John distillery is located at Goa, India. Goa is India’s richest state and boast one of the biggest tourist attractions. “What I have learnt from the Scottish distillery is the importance of water quality for distillation. Goa has quality water source, and I already have infrastructures set up there, so that’s why I have decided to build Paul John in Goa.” The distillery uses traditionally designed copper pot stills, the production capacity is 3000 litres per day. Recently they have installed a couple of extra stills and fermenters to double up the production to 6000 litres to cope with the increasing demand around the globe.

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Three of the core expressions of Paul John Indian Single Malt – Bold, Classic and Peated

When I asked Mr. Paul John which style of whisky he was aiming for when he started the single malt line, he said, “I was always looking for a smooth, fruitier style because I like that.” When quizzed about his favourite Scottish distillery, Mr. Paul John paused for a moment and (to the delight of AD) he replied, “Glenmorangie. It is probably the single malt which I have looked up to when I was in Scotland.” I could not help but wonder if the silkily delicate characteristics in Paul John did in fact draw inspiration from the house of Glenmorangie.

The production of Paul John is 100% natural. Meaning there is no caramel additives or chill-filter processing. Paul John bottles their whiskies from 46% to almost 60% for single cask and cask strength releases. Another interesting topic we touched on that night was the barley they used – Their insistence of using Himalayan barley for whisky production. The flavour contribution of barley to the spirit has been a debate for quite a while, some claimed that the strains of barley only contributes to the yield of alcohol and does not affect whisky flavour while some thought the otherwise. On this matter, Mr. Paul John said, “The barley we are using is six-row barley and the Scottish distillers are using two-roll barley. Our barley has lower yield but we have more husk in the barley, and that translates into more oil and a richer mouthfeel.”

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 Signing time, I should have brought my bottle along…

For maturation, Paul John exclusively uses Amercian oak casks to age their spirit. We did not go further and ask the reason behind that, but I faintly remembered a couple years ago, Ian Cheng, the master blender of Kavalan mentioned that Kavalan also exclusively uses American oak for maturation in their distillery. He explained in a hotter climate like Taiwan, maturation in Spanish oak tends to generate too much tannins into the spirit, thus making the flavours not as satisfactory. With the tropical climate in Goa, I can assume the logic of Paul John’s cask choice will be somewhat similar. All the Bourbon big guns, including Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, etc. are where Paul John buying their casks from, “I want to ensure that the cask we use is of the best quality.” Mr. Paul John said. “We also found out that casks which has previously held 4 years of bourbon work best for us.” However, he admits that under the current whisky boom, there is pressure on cask shortage as everyone is trying to get the best casks.

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This is bloody amazing Inoka, and that’s coming from a guy who never drinks whisky cocktails!

Similar to many other distilleries situated in hotter climate, Paul John distillery has two warehouses (one elevated and one underground), combining with the effects of high temperature and humidity, the maturation process of individual casks vary more depending on its shelf location in the warehouse – whether it is on the upper or basement level, towards the side or closer to the central of the building , “The storage system creates diversity in our inventory, it expands the flavour profiles and our master blender can have more varieties to utilize.” Mr. Paul John explained.

Unlike the craft distillery model which is more commonly found in Australia, Paul John Indian Single Malt is one of the many brands under John Distilleries Pvt Ltd’s (JDL) portfolio. Established in 1992, JDL has built a diverse portfolio in alcoholic beverages, other than whiskies, they also specialize in brandy and wine for the enormous local Indian market. “There is an enormous demand for low-priced whiskies in India, the regulations are quite different in India compared to other countries so we make whiskies tailored for the local population.” Mr. Paul John said. Today, their flagship whisky brands, Original Choice and Black Pelican sell over ten million cases per year in over thousands of outlets across India. When I asked him how did he come up with the idea of starting the single malt line, he replied, “After we have enough volume running in our whisky production business, and I thought, what next? I used to live in U.S. for 8 years and during that time I have gained exposure to bourbons and single malts, the quality is just another level, then I decided (to start Paul John Single Malt), not for the money, but for the passion of making world-class whisky.” Indeed, Mr. Paul John even put his name on the product, that shows his commitment and determination on it. Paul John Single Malt was first launched in UK in 2012 and the feedback was very positive, now it is widely available around the globe, also local market in India is picking up the trend and contributes to 35% of Paul John sales.

This Paul John is very nice!

During the chat Mr. Paul John offered us to taste the new limited release of Paul John Oloroso, an expression which is matured in ex-bourbon American Oak for 3 years and finishes for an extra four years in Oloroso cask. Bottled at staggering 57.2% without a drop of dilution. There are only 252 bottles from this cask (due to intense alcohol lost to angel’s share when it was maturing in the Oloroso cask) and Australia has an allocation of mere 18 bottles. The quality of the whisky is just incredible, it encapsulates the beautiful spirit of Paul John while blending in an extra layer of elegant sherry red fruits into it. Impressive. You can see my review here.

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A group photo of the folks who put this event together, thanks guys!

After our interview session, Mr. Paul John makes his way to the J&M Cocktail room and meet a roomful of whisky lovers in Sydney who came to meet him. Some incredible cocktails whipped up by Inoka and the amazing bartenders in J&M, delicious food served at the bar, more Paul Johns on the pour, nice chats, happy crowd. A big thanks to Mattew from Dramnation, Inoka from Sydney Cocktail Club and Sneha Rao from Paul John who all put in the hard work and set up the event. Cheers!

-Esmond