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Paul John: The award-winning Indian single malt that challenges its Scottish rivals

Paul P John, the 51-year-old chairman of John Distilleries Ltd ( JDL) in Bengaluru, launched his eponymous Indian single malt in London in 2012 and is now basking in more glory.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jul 02, 2017, 10.34 AM IST
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Paul John with his whiskies
Paul John with his whiskies
A unique India vs Scotland series ran through the cities of UK in early 2014. It was a blind whisky-tasting challenge where some of the much-loved Scotch, Balvenie, Clynelish and Talisker, were pitted against three variants of an upstart single malt from India: Paul John.

The spirited fight, organised by The Whisky Lounge, a UK-based alcobeverages event management company, progressed through eight cities, including London, Brighton, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester. It went like this: Round 1 was Balvenie 12 yo vs Paul John Brilliance; Round 2 was Paul John Edited vs Clynelish 14 yo; Round 3 was Talisker 57° vs Paul John Peated. After looking at the nose, palate and finish of each whisky, the public had to vote a favourite. The results were close but startling, a coup d’état, no less: the newbie Indian whisky won over its venerable Scottish counterparts.

Paul P John, the 51-year-old chairman of John Distilleries Ltd ( JDL) in Bengaluru, launched his eponymous Indian single malt in London in 2012 and is now basking in more glory. At this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Edited and Peated won the Double Gold — which means it won a gold-medal rating from all members of the judging panel — in the Other Whisky category, and PJ Bold won the Best Other Whisky prize. Paul John also won the best Indian single malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2017 in the UK, and PJ Brilliance the Best Overseas Whisky at the Oran Mor awards in Glasgow.

Sell in India
John, who distills his whisky in Goa, says, “Over the years, whisky lovers around the world have been drinking run-of-the-mill single malts traditionally made in the UK. What we brought to the table was a unique and quality product made with the six-row barley from India, which has more husk, and using a nonchill filter process which gives our whiskies more proteins and fatty acids and hence flavour.”

Between 2012 and 2016, John took his whiskies to 28 countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Belgium. Last year, the single malt was launched on home ground, which is also probably the most challenging market — India. “Here the challenge is not just about making people taste my product and like it, it’s also about educating them about finer spirits like single malt and how to enjoy them,” says Paul, who has just launched the whisky in Delhi and Mumbai. A fine whisky such as PJ has to be savoured, tasted and appreciated on its own and preferably in the correct stemware, rather than mixed with soda and gulped down for a quick high, he says. He has also launched the product — priced between `3,500 and `4,500 a bottle, depending on the state where it is sold, the variant and alcohol content — in Goa, Karnataka and other southern states.

From 1,000 cases of single malt in 2012, John sold 20,000 cases in 2016. This year’s target is 40,000 cases. His distillery has a production capacity of 2,500 litres a day (one case usually has 9 litres of whisky).

Born in Kerala, John made a foray into liquor business in 1992, with JDL’s flagship brand Original Choice, which now sells over 10 million cases a year, making it the sixth largest whisky brand in India. JDL also sells brandy and wine but in 2005, John decided to go beyond the hoi polloi of drinks and make an Indian single malt.

He made many trips to Scotland, the mecca of whisky, for market research as well as to gain knowledge on processes. His personal preference for fruity single malts, with complex flavours and intense bodies helped in creating the character of his single malt. But he had zeroed in on the location of his distillery, Goa, earlier on. “Goa was my first choice not only because it’s my favourite vacation destination but also because the weather is ideal for distillation and maturation.” One of the big advantages, John reckons, is that in India whiskies age at a rapid pace — almost four times — because of the hot weather, and his 6-year-olds can compete with 18-year-olds from Scotland. “Temperature and humidity allow for faster maturation and unlike Scotland, which has below freezing temperatures for some months, Goa has no dormant phase. We add no colours, yet our whiskies are richer and darker than many 22- or 24-year-old whiskies from Scotland,” says John. He is not worried about releasing whiskies without the age statement, considering that many distillers around the world are now removing age statement.

John’s master distiller Michael D’Souza is a Goan, who lives not far from the distillery in Cuncolim. He says the quality of water is also important in making whiskies unique. “In Goa, we already have a large number of tourists enjoying our whiskies and visiting our distillery.” The company is now looking at launching tours and tastings at the distillery.

Malt Masters
John is going on promotional tours in new regions, even Taiwan and Tasmania. “Last month I travelled to New Zealand and America where I found a lot of interest in Indian whiskies.” There is a resistance from connoisseurs in accepting new products, says John, but he believes that sceptics will be converted once they have a taste of his molten gold.

Some experts do believe that Paul John and other Indian single malts such as Amrut and Rampur are carving out a niche. Sandeep Arora, alocobeverages consultant and director of Spiritual Luxury Living, says, “Paul John is building a strong global presence by reaching out to distributors and customers; having sampling and tasting sessions with key audiences; and getting placement at the right light-house bars.” If the success of these Indian single malts can inspire others, we may raise a toast to a segment called the Indian single malt, up there with the bourbons and Japanese whiskies.
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