A few months ago, I was very fortunate to be granted a few minutes with Paul John, the man behind Paul John Indian Whisky. I wanted to understand the man, the mission and the plans for his brand and product.
I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about your journey to idea, to where the product was, exporting it all over the place and how it is now, and then what you see for the future.
Paul John: Well, I got into the alcohol business after I finished my education and I started the first distillery in 1992 in Bangalore to manufacture my own brands. My dad was in marketing and he was a distributor, so that was my association with the alcohol business. When I got out of college, I decided to get into the manufacturing, and there is a really big whisky market and most of it is in the lower end, so I started off in that segment for 10-15 years.
I had a brand called Original Choice Whisky, which is today the eighth largest selling brand in the world. We sold 12 million cases last year and we will be closing almost 13.5 million cases this year. That’s my main business, I continue to do that. It is mainly sold in India, a little bit of it is sold in some African countries.
During the course of the journey we launched other brands. Then while I was continuing to operate and expand the business in India, that’s when I got into distributing wine and single malt whiskies. Then came single malt, I wanted to create one. In 2008-2009, we completed the project and 2012 is when we launched the first batch. It was in the UK, I did not launch it in India, because I wanted it to be recognised internationally to make sure we had the best product, so we did that in the UK. Now we are in 25 countries and that is the story.
Going forward, I would still like to make quality single malt, probably possibly one of the best single malts in the world, that is my goal.
From a brand perspective, building the actual range, how did you decide on your core products?
Paul John: Basically when we started, before I actually started making the single malt, I made sure that in India we had all the right ingredients and the combination to be able to make world quality single malt, so I did a lot of trips to Scotland testing the water out.
I took that water to India, tasted the water in Scotland, then I realised that we had better quality stuff.
All along my intention was not just to make money, of course it helps, but it was more creating something that I could leave as a legacy. I made sure I went over every aspect to get the quality, inspecting the casks I bought myself in the beginning from the US, Bourbon casks, to inspect them.
I always had in my mind that I wanted something that was lighter, really fruity. I believe that the fragrance and the oils in the product is what gives it the character. You’re tampering with something that is really natural and in my rule it is really key to the experience of single malt drinking. As a result, we’ve kept all our products above 46%, we do not filter and everything’s 100% natural.
We do not add any artificial flavour or colouring agent, nothing. What you’re seeing is pure malt distilled in Goa, put into casks and then put into bottles.
Where do you get the peat for your peated products?
Paul John: We bring the peat to India. We are malting the Indian barley with the imported peat. So, if you ask me we are 100% Indian, except for the peat we import. The bottle is designed in India, made in India by Indian companies. We are completely indigenous, as we call it, we decided that would be the best quality. That’s the reason we started off with being non-peated, then we found people who would like to start flirting with peat.
What’s your favourite product within the range?
Paul John: I am a non-peat fan, so I prefer the Brilliance and the Classic. Occasionally, I still love to have the peat also. There are days when I just say I would like some peat. More or less, I’m more a non-peat fan.
When did you know it was right to bottle your fine product?
Paul John: Basically when we first started testing, as we started monitoring for a year or two, we started getting a feel that we were happy with the results. Initially we had no clue what we were aiming for. Then year two and year three we started building and monitoring it, and the first batch after four years, five years, we realised that it may be the time for us to start bottling it. In four and a half years we started getting something that was excellent, the response that we got when we tasted the stuff that came out was that it was great stuff.
And the peating level? How did you decide on that?
Paul John: As we started playing around with peat, we blended a little bit of non-peated and a little bit of peated. It’s roughly around 30%, depending on the peat content that is there.
Any plans for more products to be added to the range?
Paul John: We are working on a lot of stuff, including maturing… all will be revealed.