Published by Taste The Dram, USA, on May 28, 2017.
My first collaborative interview for TasteTheDram.com was with Paul John Single Malts Chairman, Mr. Paul P John. Not only did Paul John make time for us in his busy schedule, but he also helped us set a conference call from Goa, India to my place in Brooklyn, New York. With the time difference, his after work hours put us at a 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning appointment. What a way to start the morning! Once we got through all the technological hiccups, we were live with Paul John. Gene and I got the details on this exciting new single malt and it’s beautiful story.
G: What were you involvedin before getting into whisky distillation?
PJ: After college, I started abiscuit factory. Two years after, it ran down, and I literally had toclose it. …I managed to get a license in 1992 in Distillation and to start adistillery. The reason I got into that was that during that time, myfather was in trading of alcohol. He had retail shops and wholesale shopsthat could give us marketing; he was a distributor of some of the establishedbrands in this country… He was in the trade of alcohol, so I decided to startmanufacturing alcohol… I started off making alcohol for the lower end segment,that is, whisky where we just buy spirits or alcohol, and then blend whisky– itwas a blending/bottling unit that I started… I was buying spirits from outsidedistillers, blending it over here, and then making a few brands of my own…
In1996, I restructured the company from a partnership form into a private(limited) called it John Distilleries, and then I launched the brand calledOriginal Choice whisky… the brand did extremely well, and that is the brandthat is our main source of income. We are the 8th largest brand in theworld, in terms of volume; we sold about 12 million cases last year… The brandOriginal Choice is mainly for the Indian market. It’s a domestic product,and we cater to the states of India… Subsequently, seven or eight years afterthat, into production, I started thinking about making wine… we started makingwine again for the domestic market… we were buying the grapes from India, andthen making the wine, and selling it under the brand name Big Banyan Wines… Bythat time, I had moved to the (United) States, I was based out of the top ofFlorida, and I got initiated into drinking single malts over there, and that’swhen I thought, ‘Why not?’
G: Was that the first time you had single malt?
PJ: Yeah, I mean I lived in theUS for about eight years, so during that period, I got introduced to thedifferent types of single malts, and I started thinking about making it in2002. By 2005, I started to seriously bring my dream to fruition, and by2008 we completed the pot still distillation facilities in Goa.
G: Who else involved in this venture with you?
PJ: It was started by me, bymyself, and then about 6 years ago, I took in a private equity firm, that hasventured with me. So today, I have a private equity fund that is invested inthe company.
G: What are your duties nowat Paul John whisky?
PJ: I still hold thesenior-most post in the organization; I am the Chairman and Managing Director;so all the day-to-day decisions, from transporting, packaging, quality control…I have about seven or eight Heads of Departments that report to me directly…I’m very hands-on.
G: What were some of the main challenges of setting up adistillery?
PJ: I was charting into unknownterritory, so everything was completely unknown. I had never done it, sothere was a lot of research I needed to do. I needed to convince myselfthat India had the raw materials and the capability to make it. I made alot of trips to Scotland to investigate from 92-95 before I startedconstruction of the pot-still distillery in Goa. That was my biggestchallenge – not having enough knowledge about making single malts.
B: What whisky expressions do you currently produce?
PJ: Currently we are producingabout seven or eight varieties. It starts off with the 46% (ABV),non-chill filtered called the “Brilliance”, then “Edited”, and “Bold”.“Brilliance” is a completely non-peated whisky. “Edited” is with a little bitor hint of peat, and the third is called “Bold”, which is a peated whisky. Now here, everything is completely made in India, except in the case ofpeat; we are importing peat from Scotland, and peating the Indian barley withthe Scottish peat. Right now we haven’t discovered peat in India, so for now Idepend on Scotland for the peat.
B: Have you thought ofusing any other materials to get the “smoke”, like some distilleries are usingdifferent types of wood to “smoke” (their whisky) instead or are you insistingon going with the peat?
PJ: No, as of now, and since itis all uncharted territory, I would like to follow the already known first,until we get established. As I said those were the first threeexpressions at the 46%, then I have two at a little higher strength called the“Classic” and the “Peated,” which is 55 and 57.5% (ABV). This is more forthe people that like more of a cask strength. And then, followed by, wedo release occasionally, the Select Casks and then we have some Specialreleases. Like the one called “Oloroso”, where we have matured some of thissingle malt in oloroso butts, and then it’s got an oloroso finish. Webasically lost about 200-250 bottles of the first batch, and we distributed therest all over the world. We don’t have any more of that (expression.)
B: Have you ever considered selling single casks to companiesthat do independent bottlings? Or do you already do that?
PJ: Yes, we do! We have hadsome programs, for example, in the UK, we have had the Boutique-y WhiskyCompany pick up a cask once; Cadenhead’s has picked up some casks from us. Master of Malts have picked up some casks too… so yes, we have had six orseven casks sent out to different parts of the word depending on the requirement.
G: Goa is known for it’s hot temperatures. Can you tell usabout the weather conditions? Do they help or hurt the maturation of thewhisky?
PJ: Unfortunately, sinceit’s very hot and humid here, most of the year, there is a lot of activitygoing on in the casks. …it’s maturing at three or four times at the speed atwhich it matures in Scotland. The classic example is the color and thedepth of character that you get in a six year or seven year cask from us, isvery easily able to compete with a 31 year from Scotland. Definitely,that’s the plus side of it, but on the negative side, we have a hugeevaporation loss. Unlike in Scotland, which is about less than 2%, welose somewhere between 6% to 8% to evaporation.
G: Wow! Are you looking to do something to get the evaporationdown to 2% or 3%?
PJ: We are looking intothose things, but honestly, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. If we do it, we might be suppressing some of the other elements andquality as a result of it. It looks like it will be a challenge if we tryto something about it.
G: Do you source all ofyour ingredients locally? Do you support local farmers? Is it important tosupport the local farmers?
PJ: Yes, our intention isto see that it’s made as much from India as possible, and you know we grow agood quantity and good quality of barley in India… Something different we haveis that the Indian barley grown (for our whisky) is the six-row barley, whereasin Scotland they use a two-row barley. There’s a huge difference them. One of the major reasons to why we have such a bold character, is there alot more proteins in it, and tannins, and as a result, there is a lot of fattyacids that add to the character. We have decided, as of now, all ourexpressions are non-chill filtered, so we leave in all the fatty acids andtannins, which is what gives it all the character that we have in the product.
G: I was able to try the “Oloroso” sherry cask, and it wasa really amazing, AMAZING, sherry cask. You said you have about 200-250bottles that currently being distributed worldwide. Are you looking toincrease those numbers or is there something that’s preventing you fromincreasing those numbers to something more widely available?
PJ: It’s been a hugesuccess, in oddly, a few days! Whatever we had produced has been soldout. And I think the US had the last shipment that we sent it to; therest of the world has the normal line available. We are working on makingmore of this; this was just an experiment that we did that is in its initialstages. Since the results have come out very encouraging, we have in factalready imported a lot of PX and oloroso casks, so hopefully in the comingyears, we will be able to release more of these expressions.
G: We’re looking forward to that; it’s one of our favoritecasks!
B: Since you said you were in the wine business earlier,are there any particular types of wines, that may be exclusive to India, thatyou would consider using to “cask finish” some of your whisky?
PJ: No, as of not we havenot wanted to do that because wine is very tricky. There are many differentchemicals that can be in the casks… so we have to be extremely careful beforewe do that. But, probably going down the road, we will be looking atthose expressions, just at a later date.
G: What do you thinkmakes whisky, produced at your distillery, unique? There is a lot ofcompetition in this market– what are you doing to stand out?
PJ: From the selecting ofthe casks, to the cut of the heads & tails during the distillation process–it’s all done manually. I have the mindset that quality comes first. My ambition is to make the world’s best single malt, so I’m leaving nostone unturned to see that I follow all the possible procedures to be able toget the best quality. We don’t chill filter, we use the six row barley;these are all the areas we are focusing on to see that we maintain the higheststandards in making single malt. It’s more of a passion. As Imentioned earlier, all the other brands I have give me the all flexibility tobe able to try out and experiment in this. I do understand that economicsis a part, but right now, that comes from my other brands for now, and myintention is to create something of world class. I focus more on qualitythan anything else, expressly in the single malt.
B: People have a lot of opinions on where the whiskymarket will go in the future, or even the next year or two. What is youropinion on how you think the whisky market will go for you and for the whiskymarket in general?
PJ: I think there is alot of interest in new world whisky and single malts, and it’s very clear thatthe new world whisky have been able to stand out, worldwide. Take forexample, Taiwan, Japan, and India: they really exhibited that high qualitysingle malts can be made (there). And there seems to be great amount ofinterest among the people to look at these.
Allof these countries, including India, is really impressed with single malt. It’s just a matter of time before the world single malt market willexplode.
G: There is another Indian whisky I came across, Amrut. It’s very difficult to compete against Scottish whisky and Irish whisky,and I know you’re doing a lot of things to stand out, but can you tell us abouthow your whisky is different from Amrut?
PJ: You know, I encouragemore brands coming out from this country because that helps the country to bepropelled as per quality single malt producers, and I’m glad with what Armuthas done to propel the nation into being noticed as a serious single malt producer. Having said that, they are producing good quality single malt, and I hopethey continue to produce those kinds of quality malts that help us to propelthe country into the world stage of single malt producers.
G: When I spoke withyour brand ambassador AJ, he told me something about, not only the barley, butthe water you get; from the northern part of India, in the mountain region. Can you tell us about that/your water source?
PJ: The water source is 100% from Goa. We’ve got a fantasticwater table. We have a lot of rivers that pass through Goa, and they areall extremely very good quality. As I mentioned earlier, before Iactually started production, I did taste the water in Scotland, and, in fact, Ieven brought some back some water from there. I had it tested over hereand analyzed by labs, and then we did some testing of the water from Goa. …I was convinced that we had all the ingredients to make good quality single malts. So the water is from Goa, it’s the barley from north India.
G: What is your philosophy when creating spirits?
PJ: I believe inmaintaining quality when trying to produce the best. There are noshortcuts to life. We give our all into making the best, the rest willfollow, and the rest will become history.
B: What advice would you give to others, who may beinterested in getting into the market or even to the distilling industry?
PJ: Definitely, you needto have the passion for it. This is something you really can’t think ofin terms of an investment, where you’ll put in money, and in three or fouryears, you get a return– that’s not how this will work. …If you have thepassion, then I think definitely you can get into it, focus on quality, and asI mentioned earlier, I’m sure things will open up. There seems to be a greatopportunity for single malts in the world.
In conclusion, Paul John invited to stop by the distillery if we ever find ourselves in Goa. (Stay tuned, there is a chance one of us will be in the area next year!) Anyone who would ever sit down with Paul John and talk whisky with him would easily see that he is honestly out to make the world’s greatest single malt. His “no shortcuts to life” approach is evident in his work,his story, and his products.
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