Thursday, February 13, 2020

Distillery Visit - Paul John

The Paul John distillery in Goa has been helping to to put Indian single malt on the world whisky map with a string of award-winning products. Tobias Gorn, friend of us at Whisky For Everyone, was recently invited to visit as part of his work with the IWSC and agreed to write about it for us.


To be invited to a distillery many miles away in Goa, India is a great honour and pleasure. The story begins when I had the recent privilege to be invited to judge at an Indian drinks competition in Mumbai; my good friend, fellow judge and whisky legend Steve Beal received an invite which he kindly extended to some fellow international judges. The kindness and generosity was greatly appreciated and I could not refuse.

The flight to Goa from Mumbai is only an hour, with more time spent on the ground at Mumbai airport than in the air itself. I was fortunate enough to travel with international spirit expert and friend Bernhard Schafer and spirit and mixology legend Uwe Christiansen.

Left to right - me, Uwe, Michael, Steve and Bernhard.

Goa is an amazing location and a famous tourist destination. Authentic charm and local culture entangled with the Portuguese influence from centuries of colonisation mix alongside numerous luxury beachside resorts. There is a high number of Christians in this part of India and our generous host Asa Abraham and Michael D’souza, the Master Distiller at Paul John, both have Christian names. This has been common here for centuries and the reason I mention it is the main attraction itself - Paul John Whisky made in the John Distillery.

The lavish entrance to Paul John.

Asa explained to me that many people believe Paul John to be a fabricated Anglicised name that was designed to be easy to remember and pronounce. However, it actually happens to be the owner’s name. The distillery itself is not dissimilar to any found in the Scottish Highlands. It has the usual equipment to process the barley including an entertaining stone remover, magnetic separator and grist hopper.

They have a stainless steel 11,500 litre mash tun which gets filled with milled Indian barley four times a day. Two tonnes of the R60 variety of Indian barley are used for each mash run, with four waters per mash; a fun fact for those readers obsessed with authenticity and ‘terroir’. The leftover draff is recycled as cattle feed.

There is much to say about the water sources - which either comes from a bored well or natural from the mountains - the washbacks, yeast strains and other aspects of the production but to be honest it is enough to say that Michael and his team at Paul John are running a fantastic operation and with professionalism and science mixed with a touch of trial and error and experimentation. They have mastered a distillery that is comparable to other international malt whisky distillery counterparts but with its own unique character and fine-tuned nuances.

The still house and washbacks.

For the sceptics, it is not simply a copy of a Scotch single malt whisky made in India, but an Indian single malt perfected to a top international whisky level. They have two pairs of stills; the wash stills are about 12,500 litres in capacity with a boil ball on their necks. The spirit stills are 6000 litres. There are plans for another pair to be commissioned in the near future.

Michael and his team remain on a mission to upgrade their equipment and ensure they use the most suitable kit in order to keep creating their fantastic spirit. It was exciting to learn that the ‘heart’ cut starts at 70% and that the overall average ABV of the new make is around 63%. This is fairly broad but it works for them creating a spirit that ages beautifully using the climate on site.

A close up of the stills.

You may wonder how differently whisky ages at a location with such a temperature and humidity difference from Scotland? This is simple; there are two majestic racked warehouses with 6,500 casks in each one, 13 tiers high with over 55 feet of ceiling height. This is more closely related to what you might encounter in Kentucky than Aberdeenshire, but they are surprisingly cool and fairly dry and most importantly they do the job perfectly.

Inside the racked warehouse.

Paul John has a great visitor centre which was finished only two years ago. Beneath this is a truly magical barrel aging cellar with many wonderful casks from around the world including virgin oak, ex-Pedro Ximenez and ex-Oloroso sherry, ex-Madeira wine, ex-bourbon and ex-Tawny Port barrels.

A cooper at work.

We had a grand tasting of 14 whiskies including the new lighter and easy drinking Nirvana, which is designed mainly for the local market as a transition from the whisky highball culture to more refined sipping, and the Kanya and Tula are both delicious and sweet with round flavours. There was a sample from an ex-Oloroso hogshead that brought us great excitement; its peaty version was wonderful also.

Part of the tasting line-up.

The PX and Madeira casks were great fun and we had the privilege to try their oldest and rarest release, which has just 325 bottles and is retailing at 38000 rupees (just over £400). It is a great whisky and commemorates Indian space research and travel. Many of these were potential gold medal winners in my opinion.

My final verdict is this - it is no surprise that Paul John is a world class whisky. We had a moment looking through their international awards, which filled an entire wall, and it was at this moment that left Steve recalling that he had in fact judged at most of those competitions. The single malt whisky they make has its own personality and a consistently high standard of quality.

The main character can be best described as pronounced and intense with a good balance. It is usually on the slightly sweeter, medium bodied side. On the palate you can expect subtle notes of green walnuts, papaya, nutmeg, vanilla, hazelnuts, occasionally a little peat and refined savoury notes to balance the sweet spices.

Me at the entrance of the distillery.

I would like to take the opportunity to say that we tasted some outstanding expressions that I will be actively seeking and buying them in the future. Please go to Goa, have a great holiday, taste the local cuisine and visit Paul John as it is a wonderful and unique experience. My thanks go out to Pankaj from the visitor centre team, Asa and Michael for hosting us.

- Tobias D. Gorn.

Tobias is a good friend and long time supporter of us at WFE. We were delighted that Tobias agreed to share his thoughts on his recent visit to India with us.

He started his drinks industry career in 2003 and has the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and time as a head sommelier for Michelin star establishments on his CV. Over the last decade his main attention has been to fine wine, whisky, gin and cigars. He judges for many wine and spirits competitions and is a panel chair judge and ambassador for the IWSC. He is also an official clay pigeon shooting instructor, coach and referee as well as an award-winning drinks and cigar writer and consultant.

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