Here in the United States, it’s tempting to conclude that Americans are the world’s largest consumer of whisk(e)y. News flash: we’re not. That bragging right goes to India, which, according to one study, sipped (um, guzzled?) 1.5 billion liters of the good stuff in 2014. (The United States came in second, drinking a paltry 462 million liters in comparison.) Granted, population size does largely account for these numbers, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that Indians obviously love their whisk(e)y. And while they do enjoy brands that have been exported from Europe and the United States, much of what they’re drinking has been made on their home turf. Until recently, it was rare to find a bottle of Indian whisky on our shores other than Amrut Distilleries and Royal Challenge. That is until now.
Earlier this month, Paul John Indian Single Malt Whisky launched in the United States. The award-winning spirit, which is produced in Goa, a state in western Indian located along the shores of the Arabian Sea, is prized for its accelerated maturation rate, thanks to the tropical climate. In fact, it takes a minimum of five years of aging in American white oak casks as compared to a sluggish 10 years for Scotch in cooler Scotland, according to the brand. The result is a spirit with notes of honey, cinnamon, and other spices, accompanied by a palate tinged with cocoa and vanilla. Master distiller Michael D’Souza relies on six-row barley grown in the Himalayas for his mash, and credits it for the spirit’s pronounced smokiness.
To learn more about Paul John Indian Single Malt Whisky and India’s rich whisky culture, we interviewed Paul P. John, the chairman and namesake of a brand that is now sharing coveted shelf space with some of America’s greatest whiskeys.
Paste: Initially, what made you want to get into the whisky business?
Paul John: My father used to be in the alcohol trading business and I had the opportunity to work with him for a while. Since we were trading and distributing spirits, I was able to visit various distilleries across India at the time, and I soon developed a keen interest in the making of whiskies. My passion was to launch a quality whisky at an affordable rate, and my dreams took the road to realization in 1992, when I started my own distillery. In 1995, I launched my flagship brand Original Choice, which is currently selling 11 million cases and is one of the top 10 whiskies sold in the world. My love of travel and the pleasure I enjoy in trying new experiences soon brought me to the world of malts. I guess my ultimate dream was to launch world-class single malts from India.
Paste: What are a couple of things about whisky coming out of India that Americans may not know?
Paul John: While we all strongly believe that quality and packaging coupled with marketing are simple success routes, to produce single malts, a lot more is needed. Quality needs to be maintained at all times, perfect maturation of the whisky needs to be retained under ideal climatic conditions, and a lot of time and patience needs to be devoted to the product. I have personally invested almost a decade just to understand the single-malt business. I’ve visited innumerable world-famous distilleries, and I learned that to produce the best quality whisky, strict guidelines had to be followed by maintaining the highest standards and the rules laid down by the Scotch Malt Whisky association.
For our single malts, we use six-row barley, unlike most of the countries that use two-row barley. Higher protein and enzyme content of the six-row barley gives a lot more character and body to the whisky. Also, we don’t chill-filter our single malts, which helps retain most of the congeners. This is essential for the depth in flavor of our single malts.
Paste: How does your whisky stand out from other ones in India? How about ones made in the United States?
Paul John: In India, most of the whiskies are made from molasses and grain spirit. Our single malts are produced from 100-percent malt spirit distilled in copper-pot stills as is done in the rest of the world. We mature our malts in American oak casks for a minimum of five years. The tropical climate of Goa, where our single malts are made, helps greatly in the maturation of the whisky. Within a short time since its launch in the United Kingdom, the Paul John Single Malt has won several international awards and ratings in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, including its Liquid Gold Award, which was given to all of our expressions, and is a testament to itself that we compete in the international arena with some of the best single malts in the world. We acknowledge that some of the best bourbons are made out of rye and corn, but we hope that the launch of our single malts in the United States will bring the most discerning single-malt lovers in the country the unique and flavorful taste of Indian barley.
Paste: Is Indian whisky complementary to Indian food? If so, how?
Paul John: India is a country that has several states and each state has its own unique cuisine. However, spices are an integral part of most of these cuisines, and spices complement whiskies beautifully. I would say that Indian whisky pairs well with Indian food, especially Indian Mughlai cuisine.
Paste: Do you have a favorite whisky out of the Paul John line?
Paul John: Yes, my favorite is the Brilliance.
Paste: What is your hope for the brand now that it has entered the U.S. market?
Paul John: Understanding the huge potential of the United States and knowing the premium quality of our whisky, we hope we will be able to garner the support of U.S. single-malt lovers.