I only vaguely recall my first pour of whisky from Paul John Distillery. I was visiting London for the Whisky Exchange Show on a cold and rainy October day. We have plenty of incredible whisky shows in North America, but London wins on sheer quantity of whiskies. From a list of seven-hundred potential pours, I had made a long wish-list of whiskies to try. Paul John wasn't on the list.
With only thirty minutes left of the event, my palate was fatigued. I was looking for a last drink to enjoy before heading back. I went to an old favorite (Glenfarclas, I believe), but it wasn't hitting the spot. Across from their booth was Paul John Distillery booth. The bottles were uninteresting. The name was unfamiliar. But when I saw the whisky was from India, I took a look.
After a long event of trying mostly familiar scotches, the pours at Paul John immediately captured my interest. I tried all three expressions they were serving. The person at the booth gave me the elevator pitch that this was an Indian whisky that's sold only in the UK and Europe with the intention of appealing to single malt drinkers. We exchanged pleasantries, and took a long walk back to the hotel (with a stop at a bar, of course). While my palate was blown from having tasted many whiskies that day, my instinct was telling me these whiskies are excellent.
The next day I started reading glowing reviews from the whisky made by Paul John Distillery. While their whisky was relatively unknown in North America back then, it was no secret in the European market. Already by 2014, the whisky was winning awards. Sadly, it wasn't a whisky I could easily find in North America. I wasn't able to score the whisky properly until a friend of mine brought two bottles home while traveling through Europe (Thank you, Matt Mark!).
Paul John Distillery
Indians drink a fair share of blended Indian whisky. These affordable blends are made of fermented and distilled molasses as a neutral spirit (providing no flavor) blended with a small percentage of malted barley whisky. By most international definitions, it's not whisky because it's not made strictly from a cereal grain (it's technically a spirit).
Paul P. John is the founder of John Distilleries. The company started in 1992 and now owns several distilleries in India, making everything from Indian whisky to brandy to wines. Paul John whisky, however, is firmly targeted at scotch drinkers with an appetite for bold complex scotches. The brand launched in 2012. Unlike Indian blends, Paul John whisky is made entirely of malted barley, like any single malt scotch. Matured using various barrel types in Goa state (western cost of India), it's a hot climate whisky with evaporation rates five times that of Scotland. A three year old malted whisky goes a long way in terms of flavor.
Paul John uses a combination of underground and above ground warehouses to mature the barrels. Their underground warehouses reduce evaporation to 8% annually, compared to 10% otherwise. Rapid evaporation is both a challenge and a perk. The whisky changes rapidly within the barrels, but it also matures at an accelerated rate.
Paul John 55.2% Classic Select Cask
Taste score: 97
Category: Indian Whisky, Malted Barley
Whisky Cabinet Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Nose: Malty, soda, ginger, light on the nose. Beautiful malt sugars. Brown sugar. Butter. Salted caramel. Oak tannins. The zest reminds of of lime charred on top of a barbecue. It's a simple nose at first, but you can take your time and start to really appreciate the depth here. Oak spice is apparent and shows up beautifully.
Palate: Barley, oak, cinnamon, caramel, and a nice late hit of spice. The spice shows up later, though, allowing time for the sweeter oak notes to push through the front and middle of the taste profile. The malted sweetness is beautiful. There's an excellent transition from start to finish. The caramels mend well with the spice, it's closer to ginger spice than peppery. A wonderful buttery finish that keeps going.
Conclusion: Masters of hot-tempered climate whisky work at an accelerated pace. A whisky that is not ready one day might rapidly evolve in only a few days due to the hot climate. The Classic Select Cask is a pure adrenaline rush of taste with a wonderful transition of flavours.
Paul John 55.5% Peated Select Cask
Taste score: 95
Category: Indian Whisky, Malted Barley, Peated
Whisky Cabinet Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Nose: Warth, brown sugar, soda, peated, iodine. Warmed caramel. Sweet brown sugar. Some acidity in the back. Beautiful nose, not too complex, but perfect. Dark chocolate. Cinnamon comes through wonderfully. Peat levels are in wonderful compliment to the flavors, and not at-all overpowering.
Palate: Deep brown sugar caramel, smooth over the palate, with a nice layering of cinnamon spice. Surprisingly not oak spicy, but rather forward on caramel and cinnamon with some acidity. Like a zesty orange eggs Benny. Oily, buttery, sugary, nice heavy notes of smokes. It rests wonderfully. Not overly intense considering the proof level. It's the rare right kind of complex smooth that works wonderfully.
Conclusion: While I have a clear preferences between the two, both are excellent. The Peated Select Cask is the smoother of the two, and the peat levels are less likely to satisfy peat-heads. That's no criticism of the whisky itself, because it offers far more. As peated whiskies go, this will be a unique taste.