Chang­ing per­cep­tions

Paul John sin­gle malt whisky will change your view of In­dian whiskies.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - Star2@thes­

HERE’S a fun whisky fact for you: the coun­try that is the largest con­sumer and pro­ducer of whisky in the world isn’t the United States, Ire­land, or even Scot­land. It’s In­dia.

Ac­cord­ing to She­han Minocher, brand am­bas­sador for Paul John Sin­gle Malt Whisky, In­di­ans con­sume 1.52 bil­lion litres of whisky a year. “We are also the largest pro­duc­ers of whisky, and of the top 10 high­est sell­ing whisky brands by vol­ume in the world, eight of them are In­dian brands. The other two are John­nie Walker Black La­bel and Jack Daniels. When you think about that, it’s mind-blow­ing!” he says at a re­cent in­ter­view in Kuala Lumpur.

How­ever, that statis­tic can be slightly mis­lead­ing, as most whisky brands in In­dia don’t ex­actly con­form to what the rest of the world de­fines as “whisky”.

“In In­dia, we don’t re­ally have a strict def­i­ni­tion of what whisky is, un­like in Scot­land or Amer­ica. Most of the whisky in In­dia are ac­tu­ally mo­lasses-based, mean­ing the sugar source is not bar­ley or grain, but su­gar­cane mo­lasses. So if you look at it that way, al­most all the whisky made in In­dia can ac­tu­ally be called rum!” says She­han, adding that th­ese whiskies are clas­si­fied un­der the “In­dian whisky” cat­e­gory.

“In­dian whisky is a blend of mo­lasses-based spirit with a lit­tle bit of malt spirit, a lot of spirit caramel for the colour­ing, and then ar­ti­fi­cial flavour­ing. In essence, it’s not a very high qual­ity prod­uct, and not some­thing you’ll see peo­ple drink­ing in Glen Cairn snif­fer glasses.”

While most In­dian whiskies are low-seg­ment whiskies that gen­er­ally tar­get lower-in­come drinkers, She­han says since the early 2000s, there has been a con­sid­er­able shift towards bet­ter-qual­ity whiskies, with more and more peo­ple in In­dia start­ing to look for sin­gle malts.

This is where Paul John comes in. Paul John is a sin­gle malt, which is a rel­a­tively new thing in In­dia. The first pro­ducer of In­dian sin­gle malt whiskies was ac­tu­ally Am­rut Dis­til­leries, which be­gan pro­duc­ing and sell­ing sin­gle malt whiskies un­der the brand Am­rut Sin­gle Malt Whisky in 2004.

“Am­rut started mak­ing sin­gle malts in In­dia, which was a brave and bold move. No one in the world would have ex­pected In­dia to start mak­ing sin­gle malt!” says She­han. “Peo­ple saw it as a new thing, and that paved the way for Paul John.”

Paul John is a brand un­der John Dis­til­leries, In­dia’s fifth largest spir­its firm, which pro­duces eight dif­fer­ent brands cov­er­ing wines, for­ti­fied wines, brandies, and an In­dian whisky called Orig­i­nal Choice, which is the eighth high­est sell­ing whisky brand in the world. The sin­gle malt is named after the com­pany’s chair­man, Paul John, who ac­quired a taste and ad­mi­ra­tion for Scotch sin­gle malts while trav­el­ling in the United States.

“He saw how sin­gle malt was ap­pre­ci­ated and ad­mired, and the craft that goes into mak­ing it. So he de­cided to make a sin­gle malt in In­dia that can also be sold all over the world,” She­han ex­plains.

In 2004, Paul John com­mis­sioned a pur­pose-built sin­gle malt dis­tillery in Goa, which is bet­ter-known for its sunny beaches and hot weather than spir­its – “It’s not ex­actly a place you’d ex­pect to see a sin­gle malt whisky dis­tillery!” She­han says, laugh- ing. “It’s ex­tremely unique – there’s trop­i­cal weather with tem­per­a­tures rang­ing be­tween 30°C and 38°C, and it’s very hu­mid. There is a very high an­gel’s share, around 8% to 10%. In Scot­land it’s only 2%. (An­gel’s share is what evap­o­ra­tion of the whisky while in the cask is called.)

“Also, due to the high hu­mid­ity and tem­per­a­ture, mat­u­ra­tion hap­pens a lot faster. One year of mat­u­ra­tion in In­dia is al­most equal to three to four years of ma­tur­ing in Scot­land.” The dis­tillery pro­duced its first new make spirit in 2008, and the Paul John sin­gle Malt brand was launched in Bri­tain in 2012. Ev­ery­thing is 100% made in In­dia, and the only two things the com­pany im­ports are peat and casks, which are not found in In­dia.

The brand cur­rently has three flag­ship core ex­pres­sions – Bril­liance, Edited, and Bold – all with 46% ABV. Then there is the Select Cask range (Clas­sic, 55% ABV, and Peated, 55.5% ABV), which are vat­tings of se­lected casks, and sin­gle casks ex­pres­sions as well.

Only Bril­liance and Edited are avail­able in Malaysia for now. The Bril­liance is an un­peated whisky that has a sim­i­lar style and pro­file to a Spey­side Scotch, ac­cord­ing to She­han.

“It’s got a very del­i­cate, light, and flo­ral nose, is on the slightly sweeter side. It’s a very easy-drink­ing ses­sion whisky that also has a nice depth of flo­ral, spicy notes,” he says.

“For the Edited, as the name sug­gests, we ba­si­cally took the Bril­liance and edited it! We took 20% of the malted bar­ley we usu­ally use and re­placed it with peated bar­ley.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, the Edited is a beau­ti­ful­bal­anced ly whisky with sweet­ness, peati­ness, salti­ness, and spici­ness, and a heav­ier body be­cause of the peat.

“The peat doesn’t come through too strongly, like an Is­lay whisky, but al­lows the whisky to soak into the palate and you get that sig­na­ture note of Paul John, which is that hint of spice. It’s some­thing that em­bod­ies the flavour of In­dia for me, that spici­ness and the bold­ness in the cul­ture.”

Michael Cheang won­ders if In­dian sin­gle malt whisky will pair well with ba­nana leaf rice. Drop him a note at the Tip­syTurvy Face­book page ( mytip­sy­turvy) or fol­low him on In­sta­gram (@mytip­sy­turvy).

Cur­rently, only the Paul John Bril­liance and Paul John Edited are avail­able in Malaysia. —Pho­tos: ONG SOON HIN/The Star

She­han be­lieves the hint of spice in the Paul John whiskies em­bod­ies the flavour of In­dia.

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