India is a fascinating country. A dozen fulfilled lifetimes would probably not be enough time to explore all the cultures, cuisines, customs and traditions within India. Now, there is one more thing to explore: Indian single malt whisky.
Indian single malt whisky is being produced by two main distilleries, the Amrut distillery and the Paul John distillery. The Paul John distillery is located in Goa, a former Portuguese colony which stretches along the Arabian sea on the west coast of central India.
Goa has a tropical climate that is mostly hot and humid, and during hotter months daytime temperatures can peak to over 35 °C (95 °F). Whisky which ages in hot climates, such as Goa, will mature differently to whisky which ages in colder climates, such as Scotland.
Paul John’s Master Distiller, Michael D’Souza, tells me that Goa’s tropical climate increases the rate at which Paul John whisky matures. This is not surprising, because high temperatures are thought to accelerate the formation of certain flavours in whisky as the whisky matures in oak barrels. The whisky may therefore develop some flavours which are often associated with “maturity”. However, don’t expect the Indian single malt whisky to be Scotch whisky on fast forward or some short cut to an old Scotch. The way whisky matures depends on the conditions to which it is exposed, so given conditions in India are different to Scotland, Indian single malt will probably mature in a unique way.
Goa’s climate also causes whisky to evapourate at a higher rate than it would in some other places in the world. As whisky ages in oak barrels, some of the whisky evapourates through the grains in the oak. This evapouration is called the “angel’s share”. Paul John says that it loses 8% of its whisky each year to evapouration. To compare, in Scotland about 2% of whisky is lost each year to evapouration.
Paul John also uses Indian six row barley to make their whisky.
A number of factors, including Goa’s heat, climate and humidity as well as Paul John’s use of Indian barley, all contribute to the unique character of Paul John Indian single malt whisky.
Paul John is, however, also made with some ingredients which are sourced from outside of India. Paul John says that it imports peat from Scotland because peat is not available in India, so one can expect the distillery’s peated expressions to offer familiar Scottish peatiness. The distillery also buys used bourbon barrels from the United States to age their new make spirit. There are plans, the distillery says, to release a sherry matured malt.
Paul John’s core range includes five single malts: the Brilliance, Classic, Edited, Bold and Peated. I have had the opportunity to taste each of these expressions, and you can find my tasting notes below.
Paul John Brilliance (46%)
Nose: Sweet and honeyed, with tropical fruit (especially tinned pineapple and banana chips). The distillate plays a big role in this whisky’s aroma. The barley smells nutty and husky, and the new make smells of black olive tapernade. Taste: Granny smith apple cores, cinnamon, vanilla and cereals/barley dominate this whisky’s character. Finish: Dark chocolate, spices and, at the end, charred wood.
Paul John Classic Select Cask (55.2%)
Nose: Clean and crisp, there is raw sugar, toffee and cinnamon with vanilla, green apple peels, mild mint and plenty of bourbon. I keep smelling bourbon on ice, especially the rye notes. Lovely. Taste: Vanilla, candied orange peel, rye, cinnamon and toffee with mild nuttiness. Finish: Slightly sweet and drying with fading spices, toasted oak and roasted marshmallows. There is some orange peel, too.
Paul John Edited (46%)
Nose: Roasted almonds, nougat, cinnamon, honey and wisps of peat – if this is an edited version of the brilliance, then it is brilliant! Taste: Mild to moderate peat, with sweet raisins, orange peel, sliced almonds, vanilla, ginger bread, and bourbon (vanilla, brown sugar, hints of spice/rye). Finish: Smoky, dry grass, smoked tea and chocolate with a resurgence of nougat.
Paul John Bold (46%)
Nose: Moderately peated, with burnt twigs, dry grass, toffee apple, mint and cardamon. Taste: Apple skins, fresh mint, herbal and smoky – that Scottish peat gives the whisky a nice sooty backbone. Finish: Earthy, dark chocolate and warming spices, becoming especially peppery at the end.
Paul John Peated (55.5%)
Nose: A bouquet that would rival any Islay malt, with dry grass, ground coffee, raw sugar, nougat, Mars bar (chocolate, caramel, fudge), sliced apple and spices (cinnamon and an array of more green spices/herbs, too – I keep getting capers in brine). Taste: Slightly oily on the entry, and then a juggernaut of flavour strikes – find spices, pepper, peat, paw paw, caramel and raw sugar. Finish: Drying and tarry, with spicy tobacco and passion fruit.