Raising a toast to India – with whisky!

Today is India’s Independence Day… This remarkable sometimes maddening country I’m fortunate to call home.

And what better way to celebrate its birth than raising a virtual ‘toast’ with a dram from India’s single malt distillery – Paul John.

Here’s to you India!

Wall of whiskies!

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Paul John Distillery in Goa – Guest Post by Paula McGlynn

As I’m off gallivanting around merry old England then the colonies (aka Canada), am delighted to introduce another guest post by the lovely Paula McGlynn from her tour of Paul John distillery taken while in Goa for a recent film shoot.

Guest Post by Paula McGlynn

Guest Post by Paula McGlynn

“Don’t go by the map!” he said. Michael D’souza warned me that I would get lost if I tried to find the distillery by the Google Maps location. .. I didn’t listen and got lost anyway. However, after I realized my folly I turned around and found it the old fashion way; by asking people on the street.

Tucked away in the southern corner of Goa, the Paul John Distillery is to whisky lovers what the Golden Idol is to Indiana Jones… a treasure worth the effort and adventure required to find it!

I first had the pleasure of tasting whisky from Paul John distillery at our December 2015 Whisky Ladies tasting session in Mumbai. While we usually go through many efforts trying to source different whiskies from our travels, this was one night where we didn’t have to venture very far. Michael had generously provided a selection of the entire Paul John range (five different single malts) for our tasting pleasure.

The Paul John Distillery is in a large, earthy red building in a surprisingly quiet and green industrial estate.  Michael D’Souza, the Master Distiller, was soft-spoken and gracious as he showed me around. He explained that they plan to start distillery tours later on this year so make sure you fit it into your next winter trip to Goa!

Paul John Distillery

Paul John Distillery

We started with a walk through the massive storehouse where the whisky barrels are stacked for aging. We then proceeded to the cooler area downstairs where there are again many barrels stacked for whiskies for a slower aging process. Currently, the oldest whisky is bottled at only 7 years of age because the warm Goan climate causes the whisky to take on the character of the barrels and climate much faster than in the cool grey hills of Scotland.  Goa is also considered to be the party state of India, which might help explain why the ‘angel’s share’ is so high. (wink wink)

We proceeded to taste straight from Michael’s favorite select barrels and I sampled both peated and unpeated whiskies. The unpeated was extremely smooth, with tropical banana and coconut, while the peated was rich and nutty with some citrus notes.

After leaving the storehouse we took a tour of the distillery. Before going into the barrels, the alcohol goes through the fermentation processes where the malted barley is converted to a kind of beer. To take a peep inside the chambers is like looking into a giant test tube and watching the yeast form bubbles on top of the liquid. It is then passed through two large copper stills to clarify and concentrate the alcohol. It then goes into charred oak barrels and begins its relatively short (in whisky terms) seven year wait at the Paul John Distillery before bottling.

Paul John Select Cask Peated

Paul John Select Cask Peated

If you are in India, a visit to the distillery is a must because Paul John is currently only distributing the “Bold” and the “Edited” expressions of the whisky within India. However, the entire range must be sampled to understand how versatile and complex an Indian whisky can be! When Paul John Distillery opens for tours it will be possible for people to sample the entire range. Those not living in India can find the entire selection available for purchase in many countries including the UK, France, and America.

When you have a chance to sample, do try for the Peated Select Cask if you’re a fan of bacon and peat! It’s a personal favorite of many of our Whisky Ladies as well.

For your own interest, do check out the website for Paul John Distillery: http://pauljohnwhisky.com/ and slot it into your next trip to Goa.

Also, I have added a new location for the distillery on the map so you don’t need to go Indiana Jones looking for the place if you don’t want to: https://goo.gl/maps/CTNi8bK6mHz

Related posts about Paul John whisky samplings:

Paul John Whisky Evening

Every once in a while our merry monthly malt group breaks with our sacrosanct meeting approach to throw ‘open’ our doors to a sociable evening with better halves. As luck would have it – we managed a full house this month!

The motivation for the evening was a delightful ‘score’ from a recent trip to Goa… With 4 lovely bright bottles of India’s Paul John single malts distilled in sunny Goa, how could we resist?

While John Distilleries has been around in India since 1992, their first Paul John single malt was launched only in late 2012 in the UK. Now a few are available in India (Goa!) and it was a rare treat to try four expressions from the same distillery!

We sampled in the above order – without reading the distillery tasting notes.

Then my partner read out in his rich baritone the Paul John whisky descriptions… let’s just say they are unlike any notes we’ve seen!

All are distilled in copper pot stills and while ‘NAS’ are understood to be matured for 4-5 years in ex-bourbon casks. As I keep being reminded, whiskies matured in warm… ok let’s admit it HOT climes (in the case of Goa) have an accelerated maturation cycle and heightened ‘angels share’ loss. However when done right in such conditions, the whisky sipper is the ultimate beneficiary!

Paul John Brilliance, Edited, Classic, Peated (Whisky Lady)

Paul John Brilliance, Edited, Classic, Peated (Whisky Lady)

An immediate indicator of preference is the quantity consumed. After the initial pour, the bottles are available for further enjoyment. You can immediately see Classic was ‘tops’, followed by Peated then Brilliance. In fairness to Edited, we tried it earlier so a couple of late-comers skipped the sample.

Tasting notes links provided above however overall had the following observations:

  • Clear stamp of being part of the same family – all had a luscious tropical feel yet varying degrees of bitterness on the palate proved none are wimps!
  • Brilliance and Edited are like twins – one with blue eyes the other brown!
  • Some preferred Brilliance’s fruity sweet perfume (blue eyes) over the lightly peated qualities of Edited (brown eyes)… whereas for others it was the reverse
  • Classic shows considerable promise – clear favourite of the four
  • Much speculation over whether the brilliant ‘gem-like’ colour could possibly natural!?

It would be interesting to compare the Paul John expressions side-by-side with Amrut – such as their entry-level single malt or Peated. Based on our recent experience with Amrut, suspect Paul John would come out ahead. However a ‘blind’ head-to-head would still be an enlightening experiment! Particularly as within our group are a range of palate preferences.

Regardless, how fabulous that India is now producing REAL single malts not just the mass-produced blended ‘whisky’ which is often coloured spirits masquerading as whisky.

Comment of the evening summed it up:

“An interesting work in progress!”

And we look forward to seeing what more is to come!

The real test for me?

I think a Paul John just might join an upcoming trip to Canada end June. My Aunt and Uncle have a whisky tasting club. They also quite enjoyed their time in Goa a few years ago…. So bringing a whisky taste of Goa to Canada sounds like a perfect gift!

What others are saying about Paul John:

PS – Wanna see what the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai had to say about Paul John?

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Party whisky – Amrut’s MaQintosh

While there are so many fabulous single malts out there, what about those sociable evenings where folks prefer quantity over quality?

The usual suspects in Mumbai for around Rs 1,000 are Blender’s Pride, Antiquity Blue, etc. However one evening, supplies were dwindling and the local liquor store didn’t have any of these.

That’s when my friendly neighbourhood ‘wine’ shop suggested MaQintosh.

Thanks to Amrut‘s marketing efforts (with a nod to Jim Murray‘s Whisky Bible review), most would have heard of this Indian international contender in the single malt category.

However few outside of India’s local booze shops would know of MaQintosh. Touted as a ‘Premium’ whisky, just what the heck?

  • Well… it immediately comes across as fake Scottish with appalling spelling… I mean after all isn’t ‘u’ after ‘q’??
  • It declares boldly that it is ‘genuinely’ made from Scottish and Indian malts… (as opposed to…?)
  • It is also ‘aged’ and ‘married’ in imported Oak barrels
  • Admits uses ‘permitted’ caramel
  • Strength 42.8% and NAS
  • Price Rs 900 in Mumbai (That’s $15 for you folks who don’t live in India!)
MaQintosh (Whisky Lady)

MaQintosh (Whisky Lady)

And tasting notes of the whisky?

  • Nose – Toffee sweet
  • Palate – Mildly oaky, apples, pleasant but not memorable
  • Finish – Warm burn

Yeah, I know… not exactly much, eh?

But here is the deal… If you compare it with your average cheap – oops! I mean ‘premium‘ Indian whisky – it fares better. Far better.

As most folks I know aren’t familiar with MaQintosh, initially they would still reach for the usual suspects. Several parties later, I couldn’t quite seem to convince anyone to polish off the bottle. Hmm…

But the thing is… that is starting to change. More and more folks are starting to realise they can get a certain level of taste and enjoyability in an affordable package. Just the other day, at the local Bandra gymkhana, talk turned to “Have you tried MaQintosh?”

Me? I’m still on the quality over quantity side of the equation whereas party whisky should be the opposite.

But that’s just slightly snobby me. Don’t let me stop you!

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The Mumbai Amrut Jim Murray Experience

We came, we sniffed, we spat and were decidedly NOT conquered!

Over 150 folks showed up at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel Crystal Ballroom for a whisky tasting with whisky guru Jim Murray on 10 March 2015.

The invitation card said to arrive at 7:15pm as the tasting would begin sharp at 7:30. The doors were tightly shut until the appointed hour as the staff poured out 6 samples of whiskies in tulip glasses for each attendee.

Amrut

And then we experienced classic IST (Indian stretchable time) as those who reached on time, waited and waited and then la la di la la waited some more until 8:45pm when one of the ‘special guests’ meandered in…

Then the ‘show’ started. And it was a show… carefully curated to show off Amrut whiskies.

Beginning with a tribute to Jamshedji Tata on his 175th Birth Anniversary, the Amrut founder took us through Amrut highlights over the last decade before introducing Jim Murray.

After some crowd warming chit-chat, Jim began with lessons in how to nose through pointing out what NOT to do (push full snout into the glass), regaling us with tales and anecdotes while we warmed our glasses nestled next to our bodies.

Tasting steps according to Jim Murray:

  1. Lift cover off glass and take the first fresh whiff – dabbing against an imaginary moustache both right then left nostril
  2. Cup glass with both hands to seal the whisky in and warm it against your body for approx. 5 – 10 mins
  3. Hold covered glass away from body, lift hand to let alcohol evaporate while drawing close to then nose again
  4. Take a tiny sip to rinse mouth – the ‘mouth wash’ step – and spit
  5. Then a few seconds later take another whiff right and left nostril followed immediately by a large sip – the 1st taste – roll it around in your mouth, chin up, opening and closing your mouth like a fish, then spit it out
  6. ‘Listen’ to the whisky to ‘hear’ what it tells you about its character
  7. After a few minutes, take a 2nd taste… again whiff, sip, tilt head back, open and close fish style, then spit out or… perhaps… if so inclined… swallow
  8. Again ‘listen’ to what the whisky ‘says’
  9. Repeat steps 2, 3, 7 and 8 as required…

We were discouraged from discussing our impressions at the table, to reduce influencing each other, as part of the ‘lesson’ was to discover how the whisky ‘speaks individually.’ What this means is the notes that follow are the impressions of the two members of our whisky tasting club who jotted down our thoughts.

Sample setting

Sample setting before tasting…

I’ve kept the labels as per the place mat however notes in the tasting order.

And here come a BIG caveat – in fairness to all the whiskies – they were poured from 6:30pm so by the time we sampled, two to three hours had elapsed…

Whisky 1 – Glenmorangie 10 year

  • Nose – Initially very mild perfume (fruit) then nothing! Very light, slightly floral, perhaps hidden peat and apricot, dry. Post warming slightly sweeter, still very soft, remained exceedingly light
  • Taste – Dry ash, bitter, mildly briny, like weak (not very good) coffee,  slightly rancid undertone
  • Finish – Dry oak, short
  • Impression – Insipid

Whisky 2 – Amrut Single Malt

  • Nose – More character than the 1st, overripe fruit, dirty socks, sweet, very little peat
  • Taste – Oily, fruit gone slightly bad, with the 2ndtasting coaxed out a little chocolate after extra ‘warming’
  • Finish – Medium short, nothing to write home about
  • Impression – Weak and not terribly interesting

Experience – The first two were ‘revealed’ after we sampled both. We were challenged to identify which was Scottish vs Indian which lead to positively contrast the entry-level Amrut Single Malt against the mass produced entry-level Glenmorangie. While I’m not trying to defend Glenmorangie, I should note the sample was so small it could easily be misleading – the Amrut pour size was far more generous. While Jim extolled the virtues of Amrut vs Glenmorangie, neither were terribly noteworthy.

Whisky 3 – Jim Beam White Label 4 Year

  • Nose – Varnish, ash, an agave / almost tequila quality
  • Taste – Paan betel leaf sweet, a bit minty, dry, not quite leather, slight spice, after oxidizing even sweeter
  • Finish – Not exceptional
  • Impression – No body, no character

Experience – Universally this was noted as ‘different’ than the others tried but not particularly good. Two lone souls identified it as a bourbon. Jim asked one if he was a bourbon fan – the retort was ‘No!’ (and turned out to be a distributor so at least he knows his business!).

Whisky 6 – Amrut Peated

  • Nose – Peaty, smoky sweet, little citrus after warming
  • Taste – Spice, chewy, leather, not peaty on the palate. After further warming and again tasting, bit of coffee, still quite sweet, smooth, no longer spicy
  • Finish – Medium long, tinge of bitter cacao
  • Impression – Most interesting of the evening (which wasn’t saying much), also the most generous pour

Experience – Jim was clearly trying to get us to guess this was an Islay and shared insight into the art (and follies) of adding peat to whiskies – so why not to an Indian whisky? Certainly no objection from this corner!

Whisky 4 – Talisker 10 year (tried after Whisky 6)

  • Nose – Slight smoke, hint of blue cheese, light sweet… in short quite bland
  • Taste – Dry, spice, off-balance, toothpaste? ‘weird whisky’
  • Finish – Jim shared how the ‘weird taste’ lingers
  • Impression – Jim was definitely steering the audience to discover something ‘off’ with this whisky

Experience – Here is where Jim really got after the Scots for their laziness and neglect of their craft – justifying adding caramel vs what Jim would like to see – a ban on caramel! Also castigated Scottish distilleries in general for their methods of cleaning and re-using casks. Shared how Talisker may have been the 1st distillery he visited, however Indian distilleries are now taking much more care with the craft of making single malt.

Whisky 5 – Amrut Fusion

  • Nose – Sweet, varnish, smoke, tannin from oak, clean, mild peat
  • Taste – Oily, mocha, smoke, sugar, oaky
  • Finish – Medium long
  • Impression – Jim shared how ‘well balanced’ the whisky is with its different elements

Experience – Jim extolled the use of quality wood however (not sure if others caught this) did later admit an ‘inconsistency’ with this whisky. Which remains my ‘beef’ with Fusion – either quality control issues at the distillery or massive incompetence and neglect in storage before it makes it to our table. Even after our blind sampling a couple of years ago when we went ‘Yuck!’, I’ve had very mixed experiences with Amrut Fusion ranging from ‘passable’ to ‘no way’ to ‘tolerable’ to ‘ok’ and back to ‘average at best.’

Evening close…

When Jim took a poll at the end of the evening, Amrut was preferred over non-Amrut whiskies, with more preferring the Peated than Fusion (though Fusion also had its fans). He also observed more women preferred the Peated than Fusion.

Jim finished his part of the evening by sharing how he believes India has two outstanding distilleries – Amrut and Paul John – that are way ahead of anything else.

While I certainly applaud his recognition of the efforts of both Indian distilleries and appreciate Mr Murray is an expert genuinely devoted to the world of whisky, not sure the evening truly achieved either the stated objective of ‘education’ or unstated but understood aim of promoting Amrut.

Jim Murray is certainly entertaining and his enthusiasm and love of whisky undisputed, however his slightly bombastic claim of rampant independence was belied by obviously steering the evening in one direction.

And while he repeatedly said how he will keep Amrut ‘on their toes’ if he sees quality slip, the question really is – where does Amrut aspire to be?

If it is truly wants to out-class Scottish whiskies yet with a distinctly Indian character, then why fear including at least one ‘aspirational’ whisky in the sampling to show what true quality single malt craftsmanship is about? Better question, if Amrut is producing cask strength whiskies, why not showcase at least one of those which may have proven more interesting?

The only answer seems to be that clearly this event was targeted primarily at novices to whisky.

For those more familiar with single malts, one could hear various versions of the following remark:

“Have you ever had so many bad/mediocre/below average whiskies in a single eve?”

For me, even the ‘best’ of the lot – Amrut Peated – didn’t stand the test when revisited later in the evening without being juxtaposed next to Jim Beam!

If anything, the evening did a disservice to Amrut, dumbing down what could have been a more interesting debate with a renowned authority on the world of whiskies and, more specifically, where one Indian distillery is forging ground.

Not a complete waste of an evening but I for one was highly grateful to make copious use of the spittoon!

View of the Gateway of India from Taj Mahal Hotel

View of the Gateway of India from Taj Mahal Hotel (Whisky Lady)

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