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?

Cannabis-based booze to be 'biggest disruptor ever'

In November 2016 a fresh wave of cannabis legalisation spread throughout the more...

Top 10 'top 10s' of 2016

Top tips for hangovers, the most unusual whisky cask finishes and family-owned more...

Unconventional Scotch whiskies for Burns Night

With whisky lovers' favourite night of the year approaching, SB has gathered an more...

Top 10 biggest spirits stories of 2016

The Spirits Business looks back at the biggest stories to rock the spirits more...

West coast takes spotlight in new Scotch festival

A local retailer is to launch a new consumer whisky festival, called West Coast more...

Deanston unveils 'oldest' Scotch whisky to date

Distell has released a 40-year-old bottling of its Deanston single malt Scotch more...

Dalmore celebrates master distiller with 50yo

Highland distillery The Dalmore is to release an "exceptionally rare" more...

Arbikie Highland Estate launches second gin

Scottish farm distillery Arbikie Highland Estate has released its second gin more...

Patrón TR chief: 'every brand is a competitor'

John Kilmartin, travel retail chief at Patrón Spirits International, talks more...

Farrar to leave Edrington amid executive shuffle

Bill Farrar, managing director super-premium, is to leave Edrington in June more...

Signed Trump whisky auctioned for £6k

A bottle of 26-year-old GlenDronach single malt whisky signed by US more...

SMWS releases 'first' ex-gin cask whisky

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has released what’s thought to be the more...

Plans for 'highest' distillery in British Isles

Plans to build what is thought to be the highest distillery in the British more...

Scottish castle distillery gets go-ahead

A castle in the Scottish Highlands which dates back to the 13th century has more...

Bacardi to distribute Ron Santa Teresa rum

Venezuelan rum company Ron Santa Teresa has signed an exclusive international more...

Former Stoli exec Cullins joins Perfect Brands

Rob Cullins, former Stoli Group CEO, has been named global spirits director at more...

Midleton Distillery gets €10.5m expansion

Irish Distillers is embarking on a €10.5 million (US$11.2m) expansion of its more...

US state senator calls for Russian booze ban

A lawmaker in the US state of New Hampshire has proposed a ban on Russian more...

Bacardi GTR brings rum focus to Malaga

Bacardi Global Travel Retail has teamed up with Dufry-owned World Duty Free to more...

Diageo 'may raise stake' in United Spirits

Diageo has declined to comment on reports that it is considering increasing its more...