Indian whisky in scotch’s back yard

Last night Indian whisky producer, John Distilleries, unveiled its first single cask whisky in London recently.

Paul John was distilled in copper stills in Goa from 100% Indian malted barley and aged in bourbon barrels. It was bottled at cask strength: 57% abv. There are only 150 bottles from the single cask.

Available through the Whisky Exchange, the bottles will retail for £60. Master distiller, Michael John, was due to be at the unveiling but pulled out due to a family bereavement.

The whisky is light with pronounced vanilla and notes of raisins and coconut as you would expect from a whisky aged in US oak bourbon barrels.

John Distilleries makes Original Choice which it claims is the world’s seventh largest whisky brand and 12th largest spirit brand overall with more than 10.7 million 9-cases sold a year.

There is an irony surrounding the launch of Paul John at the Capital Hotel near Harrods in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge. Firstly, the single cask/single malt category is virtually non-existent in India. Nearly all of their whiskies are blends and of course the majority are predominately made from molasses so officially not whisky according to European Union regulations.

So why bother launching Paul John in scotch whisky’s back yard? Well apart from just looking ahead to how the whisky market in India will develop in the future, there is the more immediate prospect of the Indian government lowering its onerous 150% tariff on imported spirits. The Scotch Whisky Association was hoping it would be this year. That hasn’t happened so far but the trading agreement with the EU which would see the lowering, is thought not to be far off.

When that happens, the likes of John Distilleries is going to face the full force of Diageo and Pernod Ricard with their major international brands, Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal, competing at competitive retail price. There is also the possibility of Diageo buying a significant share of United Spirits as Vijay Mallya tries to bail out his Kingfisher airline business.

So, Indian whisky producers are facing change so now’s a good time to get their distilleries in order and start thinking about what India’s emerging affluent middle class is likely to be wanting to be seen drinking in the not-too-distant future. Enter: Paul John Single Cask Whisky.