A Drink With… Paul John, John Distilleries

17th October, 2012 by Richard Woodard

Paul John is chairman of John Distilleries, best-known as the owner of Original Choice, one of the most popular whisky brands in India with sales of 10.7m cases in 2011.

Paul John

Paul John, chairman of John Distilleries, hopes to improve the image of Indian whisky worldwide

Now he has launched a premium Indian single malt whisky, a single cask release of only 150 or so bottles, produced using Indian malted barley and bottled at cask strength (57% abv). He spoke to Richard Woodard.

Where did you get the idea of producing a single malt of your own in India?

During the course of my journey in producing and selling alcohol in India, I realised there was potential for a premium product, not only in India, but also internationally. I realised that in India we can produce that kind of quality. There is no rocket science in single malt production. The key is in the quality of the barley and the way you distil. In India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, we produce very good barley, and all our maltsters have experience working in Scotland.

But presumably distillation and maturation in India will be different to Scotland, for example?

We use copper pot stills made in India – they’re slightly on the longer-necked side. There’s no age statement on the whisky, but we are losing more than 10% [in terms of the angels’ share] every year because of the tropical climate where we are based, in Goa. So the ageing is happening quite fast, but it qualifies as whisky with a minimum of three years’ ageing. This particular cask was an ex-Bourbon cask.

Do you have plans for more releases?

We have a few single casks, and we will be launching a peated variant. This is a first offering with a lot more to come. We will also come out with a flagship Paul John single malt.

And which markets are your top priorities?

I am starting off with the UK. Depending on the demand and the availability of the stock, we will pick and choose the countries: the UK, France, Italy and probably Canada. I am convinced that if we can give quality, I don’t see any reason why they would not want to buy it. But, with the current capacity that I have, I don’t think selling to too many countries will be possible.

At the cheaper end at least, Indian whisky doesn’t have the best reputation. Do you worry that this might affect the perception of your premium whiskies too?

No, I am confident that the quality will speak for it. We are making good whisky first and being Indian second.

Paul John Single Cask

Just 150 bottles of Paul John Single Cask have been made

What’s the likely response to the single cask bottling in India?

Single malt drinking in India is still at a nascent stage. It could be 25 years before India becomes a serious single malt-drinking country. Young people are just about getting into white spirits – white spirits growth is about 25% a year. So it could be 25 years before they come around to single malts. The younger generation will mature at a faster pace and drink single malts at an earlier stage than people do now. Fifteen years ago, it would have been unheard-of.

What’s the potential for future growth for your whole business in India?

India is a huge market. We are only operating in three or four states in the south of India at the moment, and there are so many states.

And the tax regime? Any likelihood of reform there?

In my opinion, there may be some small changes, but nothing significant. Unfortunately, in the Indian constitution liquor is a state subject, so every state has its own laws. It’s impossible to get every state to come to an agreement over taxes. The entire tax system is all at a state level, so an FTA [Free Trade Agreement] will make no difference. A substantial part of revenue comes from the tax on alcohol, so it’s a very, very sensitive issue and no state is going to give up so easily just because the government signs an agreement.

There’s a lot of interest from Western companies in India now: for instance, the talks between Diageo and United Spirits. Has anyone come knocking on your door yet?

No, not yet. Definitely there is a lot of interest from Western companies looking at alcohol, because India is still growing at 7-8%. Also it looks like for the future this rate of growth is only going to increase. The population is still very young, so we don’t have to worry about an ageing population yet – 65% of the population is below 34 years old.

And what would be your response if someone did come knocking?

I am here to do business! I’m open to ideas. If anything makes sense, I am up for it. I am here to do business for sure!

One Response to “A Drink With… Paul John, John Distilleries”

  1. praseej kumar b.k. says:

    Dear Mr. Paul

    It’s a great news that our co. produced a malt whisky of Indian origin!. Wish you good luck!

    Praseej kumar B.K.
    (Ex- Employee of Apollo Wines , Mahe)

Leave a Reply

If that's interesting, how about these?

Scotch whisky gets registered trademark in Taiwan

In what the Scotch Whisky Association has hailed as a "major legal more...

Chivas extends Scapa line with peated addition

Pernod Ricard-owned Chivas Brothers has expanded its single malt Scapa Scotch more...

TWE Whisky Show returns for 2016

Touted as "the UK's biggest whisky festival", The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show more...

ELLC and Sonoma team up for wheat whisky

East London Liquor Company and California-based Sonoma County Distilling Co are more...

Knob Creek to lose 9yo age statement

Beam Suntory-owned Bourbon brand Knob Creek is to lose its nine-year-old age more...

Diageo 'confident' of growth in fiscal 2017

Diageo’s 2017 fiscal year has “started well”, giving the group more...

anCnoc bottles single cask for La Maison du Whisky

Highland single malt Scotch brand anCnoc is set to bottle its first single cask more...

Simpsons Malt sees 'positive' FY results

Independent grain merchant and maltster Simpsons Malt has announced a "solid" more...

William Grant sees record profit as sales recover

Independent spirits group William Grant & Sons saw profit after tax soar 8.9% more...

Whisky investment firm offers trading update

Whisky Invest Direct has seen its customers purchase enough liquid to make five more...

Starward doubles capacity with new distillery

Australian whisky brand Starward has opened a new distillery that will allow it more...

Compass Box finds Scotch label 'loophole'

Independent whisky bottler Compass Box reveals it has uncovered a 'solution' to more...

Pickering's creates 'first' social enterprise gin

Scottish gin brand Pickering’s has launched what it describes as the more...

Travel retail in focus: Cognac

With new figures pointing to an overall wine and spirits decline in travel more...

Glenfiddich revamps Cask Collection for Cannes

Glenfiddich has redesigned its Cask Collection series – the brand's first more...

Wales secures ‘whisky’ status as Dà Mhìle bottles grain

The nation of Wales is set to become an official whisky producing country as more...

Shares soar as Bihar alcohol ban ruled ‘illegal’

A court ruling declaring the prohibition act in India’s third most populous more...

Three Ships crafts 'world's first' Pinotage-finished whisky

Three Ships Whisky has launched the "world's first" whisky finished in a cask more...

Wemyss releases Autumn Harvest single casks

Family-owned single malt Scotch bottler Wemyss Malts has released Autumn more...

Whisky thief makes off with £12k expression

A discerning robber has broken into a Scotch whisky distillery shop and stolen more...