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What are the best Paul John Indian whiskies?

The Indian subcontinent has a surprisingly rich whisky heritage, there’s even a distillery in Pakistan called Murree. Indian whisky brands like Officer’s Choice, Royal Stag, and Imperial Blue sell in the millions of cases. These, however, cannot be sold as ‘whisky’ in the UK or EU because they contain spirit derived from molasses, what we would class as rum.

The rise of Indian single malts 

But in recent years, Indian producers have started making single malt whiskies such as Rampur, Amrut, and Paul John with the help of equipment and consultants from Scotland. In fact, my uncle, Charlie Smith, formerly of Diageo and Ballindalloch, consulted for Rampur. Far from being small craft operations, these single malts are made by large companies with their own big brands. Paul John, for example, is owned by John Industries which produces the ten million case selling Original Choice Indian ‘whisky.’ This means that they have huge economies of scale as well as access to the vast Indian market without having to pay tariffs.

Paul John single malt was launched in 2012. While the parent company is based in Bangalore, India’s distilling heartland, its single malt operation is based in Goa. Barley comes from the foothills of the Himalayas except a small quantity of peated malt which is imported from Scotland. The company uses traditional pot stills and ages in a mixture of casks including bourbon, virgin oak, and Port. 

It’s hot down there

The big difference is climate. It’s hot down in this part of India: summer temperatures often reach 40 degrees celsius and rarely go below 20 degrees consequently the angel’s share is brutal – about six types greater than in Scotland. So it’s not practical or sensible to keep Indian whiskies for very long but you don’t need to, they age in a year roughly what a Scotch whisky would in three. 

Paul John has very quickly gone from a curiosity to a highly respected player, regularly picking up gold medals and trophies in spirits competitions. In 2022, Paul P John, chairman of John Distilleries, was inducted into Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

I could see why Paul John whiskies gets so much praise from tasting my way through the range: these are big distinctive single malts that despite their big flavours are beautifully balanced. They’re great whiskies full stop. And apart from at the top end, pretty good value for money as long as you’re not obsessed with age statements. In India’s climate, they’re not really relevant. 

Right let’s get tasting…

It’s not just for Christmas

The best Paul John whiskies

Paul John Nirvana

This is the entry level single malt from Paul John. It’s made entirely from Indian barley and aged in charred oak casks before bottling at 40% ABV. This isn’t a whisky to impress your mates with at the single malt club, instead mix it with ginger ale or soda water in a Highball and you can’t go wrong. 

Nose: Creamy smelling with vanilla, butterscotch and baking spices.

Palate: Light, sweet and very smooth with toffee and cinnamon.

Finish: Short with a little spice. 

Paul John Brilliance

This is a big step up in flavour from the Nirvana. It’s aged in bourbon casks for between three and five years in the heat of Southern India and bottled at 46% ABV. The result is a delicious, sweet, chocolatey treat, brilliant neat or in an Old Fashioned.

Nose: Another sweet one with woody spice, cinnamon, and a spicy earthiness. 

Palate: Peppery with toffee, orchard fruit, chocolate and orange peel. 

Finish: Long with sweet lingering fudge. 

Paul John Christmas Edition 2023

An annual release from Paul John, this takes the chocolatey notes of the Paul John Brilliance and turns them up to eleven with a finish in tawny Port casks. It’s bottled at a nice punchy 46% ABV. Its flavours do scream ‘it’s Christmaaaass!’ in a Noddy Holder-esque fashion but it tastes pretty damn good on a warm April evening. 

Nose: Rum and raisin with rich baking spices and vanilla. 

Palate: Sweet, rich and round, with toffee, chocolate, lots of chocolate, raisins and dark cherries.

Finish: Long and sweet but not overblown. This works beautifully.

Paul John Classic Select Cask 

The Paul John Classic Select Cask was matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled without chill-filtration at cask strength, 55.2% ABV. This is one to chew over after dinner with a nice cigar or some bitter dark chocolate. 

Nose: Honey, toffee, cinnamon, orange cake on the nose.

Palate: Dark chocolate and black cherry with quite a bit of wood tannin, lots of cask influence with big peppery alcohol, but again the balance is really good. 

Finish: Long and powerful, you can taste this for a good five minutes. 

Paul John Peated Select Cask

The peated barley comes from Scotland. After distillation  this was matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being bottled at cask strength (a pleasing 55.5% ABV) without chill filtration. The smoky edge here works brilliantly with the classic sweet Paul John flavour profile.

Nose: Smoky nose, bacon crisps, just a touch phenolic, this is not a peat monster, with toffee.

Palate: Peppery and aromatic, lovely wafts of smoke and seabreeze, with that distinct Frazzles note coming in again. Lovely balance. 

Finish: The smoke lingers with toffee and chocolate. 

Paul John Mithuna

Top of the range here. It’s a lot of money but it’s also a lot of whisky. Matured in first-fill American oak and finished in first-fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled at a substantial ABV of 58%. The name comes from Mithuna, the equivalent of Gemini in the Hindu pantheon.

Nose: It’s big, huge in fact, with Christmas cake, toffee, and dark chocolate.

Palate: There’s a lot of wood here with layers of spice, coconut, vanilla with caramel and chocolate. Wood and alcohol influence is big but as always with Paul John, it’s balanced.

Finish: It’s almost bourbon-esque with coconut, wood tannin and dark chocolate sticking around for a good while. 

The ultimate Paul John

The post What are the best Paul John Indian whiskies? appeared first on Master of Malt Blog.

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