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 is 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 Glencairn snifter 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, laughing. “It’s 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 beautifully balanced 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 Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page (fb.com/mytipsyturvy) or follow him on Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).