Food & Drink

The Rise Of Asian Whisky

The time is now for the adventurous lover of Asian spirits. First stop, Goa, India.

BY Kurt Ganapathy | Jan 6, 2017 | Opinion

It’s been quite a year for Asian whisky. With the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 claiming the title of World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, Japanese whiskies have gained plenty of cachet—and the high prices that come with it. Then it was Taiwan’s turn to shine when the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique was crowned the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards.

And so The Beatles of Asian whisky had its John and Paul, a core of pure brilliance with the potential to change everything. With all the focus on Japan and Taiwan, we often forget about another Asian country, one where the love of whisky is equal parts legendary and infamous: India.

One of the whiskies leading the charge for India— and the inspiration for my Beatles analogy— is Paul John. Set up in 2006 by John Distilleries and named after the company’s chairman, Paul John is a single malt whisky from Goa. Crafted with six-row barley grown in the Himalayan foothills and water drawn from the rivers and the wells of the coastal state, Paul John’s whiskies are distilled in a locally made copper pot still. For their peated whiskies, a blend of imported Islay and Highland peat is used to give the final product the best qualities of both regions. Goa’s heat and humidity conspire to mature whisky at a brisk rate, with the first bottles of Paul John hitting the local market by 2012. Now, they’re ready to take on the world.

Paul John Single Cask Unpeated

My first encounter with Paul John was at a blind tasting conducted by master distiller Michael John (no relation to the eponymous Paul). We were presented with a flight of whiskies, among them Paul John Brilliance, their everyday whisky, and Paul John Edited, their everyday peated whisky, which was bestowed a 96.5-point endorsement from Jim Murray (one point less than the heralded, world-beating Yamazaki).

While initially showing some resemblance to bourbon thanks to their years in American oak barrels, Paul John’s whiskies soon revealed themselves to be entirely distinct. One of the most magical qualities of a good alcoholic beverage is its ability to impart a sense of place. Paul John does this flamboyantly. With bursts of flavour—citrus, tropical fruit, vanilla, honey and cocoa—you’re transported to the colourful shores of Goa. Vibrant, mouth-filling richness is Paul John’s house style, making it stand out in the flight, which we later learned included expressions from Auchentoshan, Bowmore, Springbank and Yamazaki.

Together with another great single malt, Amrut, Paul John has helped to secure India a place as the George of our awesome foursome, playing guitar with the flair of a sitarist. The casting call for Ringo is now open, and for the adventurous lover of spirits, there’s never been a more exciting time. We stand in eager anticipation just as those young rockers once did at the Cavern Club in the early ’60s. The glory days of Asian whisky have begun. Don’t be late to the party.