Well, I’ll come out and say it up front: I’ve not previously been a fan of Indian single malt whisky, having tried numerous expressions of Amrut over the years. Early experiences (2009) were very forgettable; several return visits between 2011 and 2013 left me wanting, and even when I tried some of the more recent releases of Amrut at The Whisky Show earlier this year, I struggled to get enthused. But you cannot dismiss an entire country’s single malt production on the basis of one distillery.
So when the good folks at Paul John got in touch with me from India after their recent Australian visit and offered to send me their core range for critical analysis and review, I was happy to have my Indian experiences challenged and changed. And if you want to read the Executive Summary, here you go: This is good whisky!
I’d only had one previous experience with Paul John, an early bottling of the “Brilliance” expression that was served to me blind one night in a line up that featured Australian & Scottish whiskies. It was the odd one out in an eclectic mix (and, being served blind, I’d guessed it to be a Scotch!) but this particular tasting review is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and focus with the core range:
The wonderfully simple names of each expression are distilled to a single word, and thus up for review here is the “Brilliance” at 46% ABV, the “Edited” at 46%, the “Classic” at 55.2%, the “Bold” at 46%, and the “Peated” at 55.5%.
The company behind Paul John has been around since 1992, originally set up to produce blended whisky (in the Indian sense of the term), but they entered the world of single malt production in 2008, launching their first release in 2012. The distillery is located in Goa, which is on India’s west coast, roughly 600km south of Mumbai. Given the climate, it’s no surprise that Indian whisky matures quickly, and the angels are particularly greedy here – annual evaporation rates are up to five times that experienced in Scotland! The distillery currently uses two warehouses, one of which is underground. The underground warehouse experiences evaporation rates of around 8%, whereas the aboveground warehouse loses as much as 10% each year.
And so, with that as background, let’s start with the flagship “Brilliance” expression and progress through the line up. All five whiskies are NAS, and are non-chillfiltered. (Cue round of applause). Whilst not stated on the labels, the General Manager in charge of exports shared with me that the “Brilliance” & “Edited” expressions are four years old, whereas the premium Select Cask Range (such as the “Classic” and “Peated” expressions) are seven years old. But, in the case of a country where the climate produces faster maturation rates than the traditional whisky producing countries, the application of accepted age statements is somewhat meaningless. Once having tasted the full line-up, I reflected shortly afterwards that at no stage did I ever consider or feel any of these whiskies were too young or needed more time in the casks.
BRILLIANCE (46% ABV)
Nose: Soft and gentle, with some soft, citrusy notes. Then spices. It’s actually quite sultry. On the nose, this could easily be mistaken for a Speysider – it displays traits of Glenfiddich/Glenlivet.
Palate: The mouthfeel is chewy, with a great texture. There’s a good balance of malt, alcohol and sweetness.
Finish: It grows and becomes more powerful. Very satisfying and long, with a pleasing woodiness that becomes more evident as the finish trails away.
Comments: For the first cab off the rank, this is surprisingly tasty, and I’d happily sit with this for some time.
EDITED (46% ABV)
The label declares that this whisky is made “With a hint of peat”
Nose: There’s a hint of sea-spray that becomes intertwined with an unmistakable peatiness. Some vanilla, also. But it seems a little flatter when compared with the Brilliance.
Palate: Definite hints of peat; also some caramel and chewy toffee. It’s all very pleasant, but it’s a slightly broader yet duller (flatter?) flavour profile with less sparkle or high notes than the Brilliance.
Finish: Steady as she goes
Comments: Pleasant enough drinking, but a little fuzzy around the edges.
The label states “Classic Select Cask”.
Nose: Similar to the Brilliance, but a touch of pine wood is evident, as well as some more robust spices.
Palate: Beautiful malty sweetness abounds, and there’s more zing on the palate and some zest in the mouthfeel. No doubt, much of this is due to the higher ABV, but it’s very flavoursome nonetheless.
Finish: Wonderfully consistent, it’s a seamless transition from the palate and has a great length that holds its line without becoming bitter or astringent.
Comments: Great depth and breadth of alcohol, it’s a bit like the Brilliance but with everything simultaneously being both louder yet more refined.
The label states “Peated single malt whisky”
Nose: Definite peat elements flit around the sides. If I close my eyes, I could easily be in Scotland – it’s a very “familiar” nose and reminded me of peated Loch Lomond.
Palate: There’s a slight bitterness with this one – not unpleasantly so, but it’s perhaps more earthy and woody.
Finish: The peat is most pronounced on the finish, making for a satisfying finale, and leaving a wonderfully peaty footprint on the palate. It’s tasty and enjoyable, and not too dissimilar to the Bakery Hill Peated expression.
Comments: This is a fascinating whisky – every aspect gets a tick, but the finish gets bonus points.
Nose: A slightly sweeter nose than the Bold, although there’s an extra note of smoked cod and a slightly sharper aroma from the higher alcohol.
Palate: I love the balance here: Barley sweetness, ample peat (but not smoke!), and a cask strength ABV. This is a winner…very well crafted and put together.
Finish: High peat and high ABV combine for a very pleasant, long, and lasting finish.
Comments: Well, put simply, this is a great whisky. No obvious flaws, it is balanced and tasty, and offers seamless integration of sweetness and peat.
In preparing the above notes, I deliberately avoided specific descriptors (e.g. “plums”, “peardrops”, “cinnamon”, etc) and chose to adopt a more generic, overall feel about each whisky. I also assessed each whisky in quick succession, going backwards and forwards, comparing each with its neighbours. This is very different to my normal approach where I’d spend 15-20 minutes with each whisky individually, picking each one apart, as I would typically do if, say, writing up official tasting notes for an SMWS release. The reason for this is chiefly because, rather than identify subjective descriptors, I instead wanted to capture the distillery’s mood, style, and the brand’s “vibe”.
The result is that it’s given me an insight into the whisky and the character of the brand. And I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the experience. The Brilliance and Classic expressions carry a similar style and weight to many Scottish Speyside offerings, and the peated expressions (particularly the “Peated” release) are seriously good whiskies that deliver. The peat used for malting the barley is imported from Scotland (there is no local peat source known in India), and the peated expressions display a delicious earthiness and tarriness without any overly dominant smoke.
The “Peated” was my favourite whisky in this line up and earned a good, high score that many more famous distilleries would be jealous of. This was followed closely by the Bold and the Classic (in that order), followed by the Brilliance. The Edited brought up the rear. It was by no means a poor whisky, it just didn’t sing with the same panache and clarity as its siblings.
For Australian readers, the Paul John single malt range (minus the “Bold”, which isn’t due to arrive in December) is available through retailers in most capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, and Perth) via the likes of The Odd Whisky Coy, World of Whisky, Oak Barrel, Nicks Wine Merchants, Duncan Cellars, Cellarbrations, and also by the dram at the better whisky bars, particularly in Melbourne (try Whisky & Alement, Boilermaker, Kilburn, etc).
RRP pricing ranges from $70 for the Brilliance up to around $115 for the Classic & Peated expressions. Given the latter two are cask strength at over 55% and are quite tasty and satisfying whiskies, you’d have to say that it’s all very good value.
Well done to Paul John for expanding their portfolio and for crafting some very tasty whiskies in just seven short years.