Sweet, Spice And Delight: Paul John Whisky (Goa)
23rd August, 2016 by Katie
As the remaining few drops in each of my Paul John bottles beckon to be polished off, I realise it’s finally time to write down my thoughts on these fascinating whiskies!
Scarcely 4 years after releasing their first single malt to the UK market, I have five unique and beautifully-crafted single malts in front of me that defy this lack of time and experience.
Each time I go back to them, I pick up something new: a different layer of flavour or a reminder of an experience while travelling in India. So it’s taken a while to amalgamate all these thoughts into a few coherent paragraphs.
While I hope my tasting notes persuade you to go out and try some Paul John as quickly as possible, you might find something completely different in these whiskies to what I did. That’s the (subjective) beauty of whisky tasting, after all!
Interestingly, I have watched people show a great variety of responses to these whiskies. But it’s an overwhelmingly positive one overall, with fantastic expressions of surprise that such young, new single malt from India is puffing itself up to a classic Scotch single malt – and giving it a good run for its money!
Recently I had the pleasure of running a tasting for a lovely group of gents for a stag party. Long-time whisky drinkers, all adamant about sticking to Scotch. No problem. But being cheeky, I whipped out the Paul John single cask Peated at the end and had them taste it blind. Not one person guessed it was from India. They could taste that something was unique about this whisky, and they loved it – but they couldn’t say why.
By the way, Paul John don’t use chill- filtering, and all their barley is the Indian 6-row type, straight from the beautiful Himalayan mountains. It’s higher in protein and therefore lower in sugars than the 2-row type used in Scotland, meaning you need to use more of it. But it gives an interestingly rich, tough character to the whisky and adds an extra layer of cereal, malty flavours.
India is a brand new player in this big whisky game, but they are scooping up awards and rave reviews like there’s no tomorrow. The taste of Paul John may not be known now by many whisky aficionados, but I predict that it won’t be long until it’s on the shelves of all the anoraks. Not long at all…
Edited (46% abv.)
Awards: silver medal in the Asian Premium single malt category (World Masters 2013)
Peat sources: Islay and Aberdeen
Ppm: 10 – 15.
Nose: other-worldly, weird in the right kind of way. At first I thought – earthy and green colours, oddly cool for Goa. Then I realised I was smelling mint. A spiky mint with dark chocolate, exactly like a Bendick’s mint chocolate fondant. Surprising! It’s not sweet: the chocolate is bitter and raw, and there’s turmeric and sea salt in there too. How these flavours work together I don’t know. But they do.
Palate: The first waves of flavour remind me a bit of a Campbeltown peated malt, like a Longrow maybe, as there’s some herby smoke and nettle tea wandering around. Then there’s the strong sense of the American ex-bourbon oak used for maturation, with its classic vanilla and honey and tobacco notes. On a different occasion, I suddenly tasted lime cheesecake. Yep.
The smoke keeps on going throughout the whole taste experience, but it’s subtle. Like a whiff of hickory smoke from a distant barbecue while you’re stretched out like a cat on the Goa beaches.
Finish: It’s long. I feel like the tannins and high alcohol sticks to your mouth slightly, but that’s quite common with a 46%. A bit of water unfortunately subdues the complexity of the palate for me, but it calms down the alcohol bite. More smoke and briney dryness, like an Islay Scotch. This whisky wants you to remember it.
If I had to score it: 88/100.
Try it with: lime cheesecake! Or splash it into a strong black coffee with a couple of cardamom pods, for the full India experience.
Brilliance (46% abv.)
Nose: Sweeter than the Edited, with a creamy, nutty texture. The Paul John website says nougat, and I realised that’s exactly right. The chewy, moreish type that might come from a French village shop. Lots more vanilla pods and honey give it an alluring perfumed character, but there’s some depth and spicy textures too. PJ says gristiness, which I imagine refers to the malted barley after milling (and before mashing!) I see what they mean. It’s a bit rough around the edges, in a really nice crunchy kind of way.
Rice Krispies, tomato plants from a greenhouse, menthol, parsley, Turkish delight, a witchy herb garden. I didn’t get all these on the same sitting, but you get the gist! An endless pot of flavours.
Palate: More sweets from an old sweet shoppe: tangy lemon drops and a bit of sherbert, made more sophisticated by the orange blossom and Demerara sugar notes. It’s almost too sweet for my palate, but it’s perfect for dessert.
Finish: More floury Turkish delight from a silver box. The kind that the Ice Queen has in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Try it with: a hot Thai green curry. Or simple vanilla ice cream.
If I had to score it: 85/100.
Bold (46% abv.)
This is one of the newest additions to the core range, released in 2015. Peat from Islay is used during kilning to bring the malt to a bold, yet not overpowering, peat-level of 35 – 40 ppm.
Nose: Wow, so different from the Edited and Brilliance. I really admire the diversity in the core range – there’s a lot more than you would expect, despite similar maturation times of around 6 years and more ex-bourbon cask maturation. (I am very curious to see what would happen to its maturation in different types of casks!)
It’s planty. This is the best word I can come up with, because it’s not quite herbal or grassy. It’s more like the fresh, dark, tough leaves of a rainforest mixed with a heady earthiness. When I visited Goa the sun baked hotter than an oven, but I imagine this is how Goa would smell during the monsoon season.
I think there’s menthol again, and possibly iodine. It’s got that medicinal character of the south Islay whiskies, with just the faintest deja vu of a Laphroaig. But if you’re not a huge fan of Laphroaig, don’t let that put you off! It’s a lot softer and more approachable.
Palate: This is good. It’s feisty and forthright, with delicious beach- barbecue flavours and a lovely deep sweetness. So very welcome and surprising after the drier nose. Pipe tobacco from a tin box, the smell of the brass on a merry-go-round, and weirdly, some red fruits too.
Finish: raspberry chewy laces, honey, seaweed, and more soft smoke. This is beautiful, balanced stuff.
Try it with: a shisha pipe, and definitely by the sea.
If I had to score it: 92/100. My favourite of the range; as if Paul John suddenly learnt so much in just two years. Crazy good – and I keep having to remind myself…
Single Cask Peated
Abv: a whomping 59%.
Bottled at cask strength, these intense and lovely single entities are to be snapped up as fast as you can. Every cask will have it’s little quirks, of course – which makes collection rather tempting…
Nose: Surprisingly reticent despite its alcoholic power! I expected it to leap out of the glass, but it just simmers away gently. Get your nose right into the glass, though, and you’ll get a sudden kerpow of strength and depth of flavour.
Fizzy cola bottles, over-ripe plums, old leather, banoffee pie. Not that unlike the Yamazaki 18, which is one of my favourite whiskies ever. A bit Kavalan-esque too, especially their Sherry Oak expression.
Palate: I was actually unable to type for a good few moments after reminding myself of this taste. It’s rocket fuel. I would strongly recommend adding water!
There aren’t many cask strength whiskies I’d drink neat: possibly the Glenfarclas 105 or Aberlour A’ Bunadh on a (very) rainy day! – and this isn’t really one of them. There’s an exotic, over-powering flavour in there that my English brain just can’t decipher, but some will love it. Some will not!
Aaah.. That’s better. Bring it down to around 46% – like the other expressions, not surprisingly – and the nuances in the flavour are much more noticeable.
I got a strong flavour of chewy, dried pineapple pieces, more lime, some fresh coriander and again, more spices I’m not that familiar with (even though I love Asian cooking). It’s still intense. The peat is heathery and medicinal, rather than smoky and sweet.
Finish: A little astringent and tannic, but there’s some biscuity sweetness holding it up. Not short, not long. It’s different.
NB: this whisky definitely gets better in the glass – give it at least 15 minutes to breathe! More aromatic sweetness emerges, with custard creams and shortbread and vanilla showing through the slightly domineering, initial palate – overload.
If I had to score it: 82/100. I wanted to prefer this one, but I’d always pick the Bold! Just me though – when I gave this to several guests, they went completely nuts for it. And they were hard-core Islay drinkers, who said this was at least as good as some of their absolute favourite Scotches.
Enjoy it with: a firework display in the biting cold. It will definitely warm those cockles!
So there you have it – my thoughts on the Paul John Core Range. I left out the Classic, because the bottle very kindly given to me by the wonderful Shilton (Regional Manager) remains unopened for a special occasion. I’ve tried this unpeated expression several times however, and my memories of it are unbelievable elegance and great balance. If you’re a fan of Speyside or Japanese whiskies, I guarantee you’ll love the Paul John Classic!
These whiskies are just incredible, for such young and new malts. Those Angels may be greedy in the heat of India, but I’m sure they must send down generous sprinklings of magic in exchange….
Top work Paul John! I can’t wait to see what they bring out next…
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