Of Sand, Sea & Whisky: John Distillery, Goa

Goa with its beautiful beaches, serene backwaters, and charming small towns, has attracted dynasties, merchants, seafarers, monks and missionaries, since the beginning. The lure of spices brought the Portuguese way back in 1509, and Goa embraced them and offered them all the riches and adventure they sought. Since then until now, Goa has continuously transformed, imbibing several cultures. Although it is hard to trace back the history of whisky-making and drinking in Goa, it is safe to assume that John Distilleries, established in 1992, was one of the first.

Founded by Paul P. John from Kerala, the whiskies that the distillery produce, capture the true tropical essence of Goa. The distillery not only crafts fine single malt whiskies, but also brandy and wine. The company’s flagship brand, Original Choice, is one of the most sold whiskies in the world, selling over 11 million bottles every year. Matured in fresh oak wood casks, this blend imparts a distinct smooth woody character. It is also believed that the warm coastal temperature helps in maturing the whiskies faster, while also adding flavour to them.

Paul P. John’s passion for crafting premium liquors led him to break conventions, and create Paul John Indian Single Malts. John Distillery has been using six-row barley as their key ingredient, instead of distilling whisky from molasses, a popular practice with other Indian distilleries. Because the six-row barley has higher protein and tannin levels than the Scottish two-row barley, Paul John whiskies immediately stand out. Not to mention, under the strict vigilance of master distiller Michael D’Souza, the distillers only use barley which comes from the foothills of the Himalayas in North India, and is harvested in summer, before double-distilling them in traditional copper pot stills. The spirit is then matured in American white oak barrels to infuse flavours of marmalade, chocolate, coconut, vanilla, and honey. While all the ingredients come from India itself, the peat for their range of peated whiskies come from Scotland. Since the distillery does not chill-filter their spirits, they retain their original taste and colour.

Launched in the UK in 2012, this robust single malt gained popularity across the globe in no time. However, it has only been recently introduced to the Indian markets and remains limited to a few metropolitans. Proud recipient of the title of “Liquid Gold” by whisky expert Jim Murray, John Distillery ensures that every step in crafting whisky enhances their single malts.

Master distiller Michael D’Souza believes that their single malts are best consumed neat, in either a snifter or a tulip glass, after allowing it to breathe for ten minutes. He also believes that a dram of that rich malt can transport you to Goa almost instantly. Released earlier this year, the Paul John Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, a limited edition seven year old single cask bottling, is no exception. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for three years, the whisky is then transferred into a single Oloroso sherry cask to mature for another four months. Currants, prunes, roasted nuts, beeswax, and dates flatter the olfactory senses. Passion fruit, dried cranberries, pipe tobacco, damson plums, carrot cake, and dry sherry makes the whisky impart a layered, spicy thickness on the palate with a long and sweet finish. With only 252 bottles released, Paul John Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish is one of the most exclusive Indian whiskies till date.

With as many as eight varieties of single malts, peated, non-peated, as well as slightly peated, Paul P. John’s optimism is what is driving him towards realizing his dreams.