Paul John Single Malts Chairman, Mr Paul P John Interview - Taste The Dram, USA
Published by TasteTheDram.com, 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 its beautiful story.
G: What were you involved in before getting into whisky distillation?
PJ:After college, I started a biscuit factory. Two years after, it ran down, and I literally had to close it. …I managed to get a license in 1992 in Distillation and to start a distillery. The reason I got into that was that during that time, my father was in trading of alcohol. He had retail shops and wholesale shops that could give us marketing; he was a distributor of some of the established brands in this country… He was in the trade of alcohol, so I decided to start manufacturing alcohol… I started off making alcohol for the lower end segment, that is, whiskey where we just buy spirits or alcohol, and then blend whisky– it was a blending/bottling unit that I started… I was buying spirits from outside distillers, blending it over here, and then making a few brands of my own…
In 1996, I restructured the company from a partnership form into a private (limited) called it John Distilleries, and then I launched the brand called Original Choice whisky… the brand did extremely well, and that is the brand that is our main source of income. We are the 8th largest brand in the world, in terms of volume; we sold about 12 million cases last year… The brand Original 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 after that, into production, I started thinking about making wine… we started making wine again for the domestic market… we were buying the grapes from India, and then making the wine, and selling it under the brand name Big Banyan Wines… By that time, I had moved to the (United) States, I was based out of the top of Florida, and I got initiated into drinking single malts over there, and that’s when I thought, ‘Why not?’
G: Was that the first time you had single malt?
PJ:Yeah, I mean I lived in the US for about eight years, so during that period, I got introduced to the different types of single malts, and I started thinking about making it in 2002. By 2005, I started to seriously bring my dream to fruition, and by 2008 we completed the pot still distillation facilities in Goa.
G: Who else involved in this venture with you?
PJ: It was started by me, by myself, and then about 6 years ago, I took in a private equity firm, that has ventured with me. So today, I have a private equity fund that is invested in the company.
G: What are your duties now at Paul John whisky?
PJ:I still hold the senior-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 a distillery?
PJ: I was charting into unknown territory, so everything was completely unknown. I had never done it, so there was a lot of research I needed to do. I needed to convince myself that India had the raw materials and the capability to make it. I made a lot of trips to Scotland to investigate from 92-95 before I started construction of the pot-still distillery in Goa. That was my biggest challenge – not having enough knowledge about making single malts.
B: What whisky expressions do you currently produce?
PJ:Currently we are producing about 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 bit or 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 of peat; we are importing peat from Scotland, and peating the Indian barley with the Scottish peat. Right now we haven’t discovered peat in India, so for now I depend on Scotland for the peat.
B: Have you thought of using any other materials to get the “smoke”, like some distilleries are using different types of wood to “smoke” (their whisky) instead or are you insisting on going with the peat?
PJ: No, as of now, and since it is all uncharted territory, I would like to follow the already known first, until we get established. As I said those were the first three expressions 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 for the people that like more of a cask strength. And then, followed by, we do release occasionally, the Select Casks and then we have some Special releases. Like the one called “Oloroso”, where we have matured some of this single malt in oloroso butts, and then it’s got an oloroso finish. We basically lost about 200-250 bottles of the first batch, and we distributed the rest all over the world. We don’t have any more of that (expression.)
B: Have you ever considered selling single casks to companies that do independent bottlings? Or do you already do that?
PJ:Yes, we do! We have had some programs, for example, in the UK, we have had the Boutique-y Whisky Company pick up a cask once; Cadenhead’s has picked up some casks from us. Master of Malts has picked up some casks too… so yes, we have had six or seven casks sent out to different parts of the word depending on the requirement.
G: Goa is known for its hot temperatures. Can you tell us about the weather conditions? Do they help or hurt the maturation of the whisky?
PJ: Unfortunately, since it’s very hot and humid here, most of the year, there is a lot of activity going on in the casks. …it’s maturing at three or four times at the speed at which it matures in Scotland. The classic example is the color and the depth of character that you get in a six year or seven year cask from us, is very 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 huge evaporation loss. Unlike in Scotland, which is about less than 2%, we lose somewhere between 6% to 8% to evaporation.
G: Wow! Are you looking to do something to get the evaporation down to 2% or 3%?
PJ: We are looking into those 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 and quality as a result of it. It looks like it will be a challenge if we try to do something about it.
G: Do you source all of your ingredients locally? Do you support local farmers? Is it important to support the local farmers?
PJ: Yes, our intention is to see that it’s made as much from India as possible, and you know we grow a good quantity and good quality of barley in India… Something different we have is that the Indian barley grown (for our whisky) is the six-row barley, whereas in 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 a lot more proteins in it, and tannins, and as a result, there is a lot of fatty acids that add to the character. We have decided, as of now, all our expressions are non-chill filtered, so we leave in all the fatty acids and tannins, 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 was a really amazing, AMAZING, sherry cask. You said you have about 200-250 bottles that currently being distributed worldwide. Are you looking to increase those numbers or is there something that’s preventing you from increasing those numbers to something more widely available?
PJ: It’s been a huge success, in oddly, a few days! Whatever we had produced has been sold out. And I think the US had the last shipment that we sent it to; the rest of the world has the normal line available. We are working on making more of this; this was just an experiment that we did that is in its initial stages. Since the results have come out very encouraging, we have in fact already imported a lot of PX and oloroso casks, so hopefully, in the coming years, we will be able to release more of these expressions.
G: We’re looking forward to that; it’s one of our favorite casks!
B: Since you said you were in the wine business earlier, are there any particular types of wines, that may be exclusive to India, that you would consider using to “cask finish” some of your whisky?
PJ: No, as of not we have not wanted to do that because wine is very tricky. There are many different chemicals that can be in the casks… so we have to be extremely careful before we do that. But, probably going down the road, we will be looking at those expressions, just at a later date.