goa produces world-class single malt whisky

by Aneesh Bhasin

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Spoiler Alert – I might be in love with some of these whiskies.

Forget Feni and King’s beer, now is the time to drink award-winning Goan single malt whisky. Within a year of Paul John’s launch in over 12 countries, not only have they scooped up 10 awards but also got a better rating than Laphroaig and Glenmorangie by Jim Murray!

India is the largest consumer of whisky on the planet, a statistic which would indicate that we must know how to make good whisky. Sadly, a lot of whisky in India is made from molasses or neutral spirits with added color and flavors. Since we have no regulations to keep a check on manufacturing and quality, the products in the market have been driven by price points and profit margins, rather than quality.

In a market as big as ours, only two players have dared to make proper single malt whisky. Bangalore based Amrut and Goa based John Distilleries. After hearing a lot about their whiskies, I took a trip to Goa to check out the distillery and taste their whiskies with their master distiller Michael John.

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The distillery in Goa began production in 2008. Two copper pot stills were fabricated and installed by experts from the UK and further fine-tuned several times by Michael. Pot stills play a major role in the whisky produced, length of the still, angle of the neckline, everything comes into play.

The barley comes from north India, water is from their own bore wells and the barrels used for ageing are American white oak, some ex-Bourbon and some virgin. Barrels contribute to majority of the flavors in a whisky and Paul John has 10,000 barrels with a million and a half litres of whisky being aged. Because of tropical climate, the ageing process is a lot faster more aggressive as well. The distillery even loses 40% of whisky to angel’s share every 5 years, whisky which slowly evaporates through the porous barrels.

Paul John’s portfolio has unpeated, mild and heavily peated whiskies.

Brilliance is an unpeated whisky with vanilla, honey, coconut and tropical fruits on the nose and a similar palate with floral notes and lots of black pepper and ginger on the finish. The body is slightly oily and is what you would get when Speyside and Bourbon decide to become pally. Fruit forward whisky with a spicy bite.
Price: Rs. 2100 in Goa and Rs. 2900 in Bangalore.

Edited is the mildly peated whisky and starts with floral, vanilla, honey and almond aromas along with a hint of smoke. The palate is less sweet than Brilliance, with more nutty flavors and a slight savory undertone along with pepper and honey on the finish. I believe this will be their best selling whisky. For people who don’t like super peaty whiskies, this has just a slight smokiness and for people who like peaty whiskies, it will be a good go-to whisky.

Price: Rs. 2600 in Goa and Rs. 3200 in Bangalore.

Bold is the peated expression and my preferred whisky in their first tier. Fruity nose with aromas of eucalyptus, cigars, savory notes and smoked bacon! Complex palate with orange peels, white flowers, ginger, bitter almonds, mint followed by smoky notes, honey and pepper on the finish. Once again, the whisky has great balance. Lots of flavors, none taking anything away from another.

The next tier is the Select Cask series which are bottled at cask strength. Most whiskies globally are bottled at a lower alcohol percentage, which is done by simply adding water. Cask strength whiskies are stronger and pack a bigger punch and hence more expensive as well.

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The Classic Select Cask is the big brother of Brilliance, smoother, more complex with earthy notes and baked apple flavors. Imagine having a hot apple pie with cinnamon, while it’s just rained a bit and there’s that beautiful wet earth aroma in the air.

The Peated Select Cask is what blew me away. Tons of peat, vanilla, oak, menthol and cinnamon on the nose and a pretty similar palate. It’s like having Christmas cake, lighting up a cigar and finishing with an After Eight together, three things I love.

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Since the ageing process is much faster in India than Scotland, it was a good idea to see the evolution of the whisky year on year. Michael brought out whiskies aged from 1 to 7 years old. The 1-year-old whisky (right most in the picture above), almost clear like water, had lots of floral and fruit notes but no spice. With every year, spice and vanilla kept increasing drastically, which are flavors which come from the barrels. From the 5th to 6th glass, pepper spice gave way to cinnamon and sweet spices. The last dram was the most complex, with a wood and oak backbone that did not dominate.

Everything I tasted at Paul John was impressive! The house style which runs across all their portfolio is a combination of floral notes, eucalyptus-like fresh aromas with honey and spice. The peated versions are deliciously complex and the peat does not overwhelm the senses.

Right now only Brilliance and Edited are available in Goa and Bangalore and rest of the expressions are for export only, a trend we have seen with Amrut as well. Hopefully Bold will be available soon, for peat’s sake.

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