The sun shines bright on Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond (Source)

Loch Lomond is the largest Scottish loch. It is a beautiful place with many exciting tourist attractions along the way. One could stop by the Loch to try and spot Nessie, followed by a lunch picnic if one is so inclined.

The team at WhiskyGeeks, however, was after the treasure to be found at Loch Lomond. The whiskies at Loch Lomond Distillery are not just one or two styles like many other distilleries. We attended an online tasting with the Master Distiller of Loch Lomond Group, Bill White and Whisky Blender, Ashley Smith to learn more.

The History of Loch Lomond

Before we dive into the whisky part, let us take a walk down memory lane to see how Loch Lomond and its distillery started.

If you are wondering why our title talks about the sun shining on Loch Lomond, it is a line from a traditional Scottish song “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”. Published in 1841 in Vocal Melodies of Scotland, the song referred to the Battle of Culloden Moor where the Scottish soldiers, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, was unsuccessful in their attempt to overthrow the King of England, George II.

The song tells the story of two soldiers who were imprisoned at Carlisle Castle. One of them would die while the other would go free. According to Celtic legend, if a Celt dies in a foreign land, his spirit would travel back home via “the low road”, which is the road for the soul. In the song, the soldier to be executed sang, “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road”. The story is bittersweet, and you can learn more about the song from here.

The Loch Lomond Distillery

Loch Lomond distillery has its history seeped in the six Celtic clans that surround the loch. These clans include the Colquhoun, McFarlane, Galbraith, Macaulay, MacGregor, Menzies and Buchanan. The above map taken from the Loch Lomond distillery website showed how the clans surrounded the loch. We are not sure why or how Stewart and Cunningham come into the picture, though.

The Original Loch Lomond Distillery

If you looked at the map, you would see on the top, a mark named “Original Distillery”. This is the site where the first Loch Lomond distillery was built. The former Loch Lomond dated back to 1814, at the northern part of Loch Lomond near Tarbat. It is no longer there today, and nobody knew what happened or when it closed. Wikipedia said that it closed in 1817, but it is still unverified today.

The current Loch Lomond distillery opened in 1964. Built by the owners of the now-defunct Littlemill Distillery (the irony!), the distillery is now down south of Loch Lomond, in the village of Bowling. Malt production started in 1965 and continued to 1984 before the distillery was mothballed for three years. It restarted production after Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse bought the business in 1987. The owners then began grain distillation in 1993 and added two new malt stills in 1999. In 2014, the private equity group Exponent bought the distillery. After five years, Chinese Hillhouse Capital bought over the Loch Lomond Group in June 2019.

Production at Loch Lomond Distillery

Source: Tintin Comics: Tintin and the Picaros.

Loch Lomond is a whisky for the everyday drinker and the geeks! No wonder Captain Haddock from the TinTin series loved it! With eight styles of single malt distillation, single grain and various kinds of yeast used, this sounds like a Japanese whisky distillery in the heart of Scotland. With so many variables, let’s shed some light to get our heads around Loch Lomond whisky

Barley and Fermentation

Many Japanese whisky distilleries play around with various yeast types and distillation styles, like those from Mars or Suntory; and in that regard, Loch Lomond does something similar. Despite that, Loch Lomond only uses Scottish barley. Other than unpeated barley, the distillery takes in peated barley at 25ppm and 50ppm. The barley is peated by a maltster, but the peat used originates from Carnoustie.

Many other distilleries have fermentation times of 48-50 hours as that is enough to maximise alcohol yield, as seen in the graph below. However, Loch Lomond takes a whopping 92 hours for its fermentation! This longer fermentation encourages esterification and adds fruitier flavours.

Graph of Ester Conc and abv over time. Source: Loch Lomond Slides

Distillation

There are eight styles of single malt distillation and two styles of single grain. I know this is a lot to take in, but it is all summarised in the picture below from Loch Lomond’s twitter.

Loch Lomond Spirit Styles. Source: https://twitter.com/LochLomondMalts/status/1115922419271729152

The straight-neck stills are a bit confusing. The High Strength refers to the higher average strength of distillate due to the increased reflux from a cooling ring (see: partial condenser), and Low Strength refers to the lower average strength of distillate when the cooling ring is not used. With the added reflux for their High Strength distillation, the stillmen increases the heating of the straight neck pot still to keep the distillate flow rate, and hence the duration of distillation, constant.

Now let’s talk drams! 😀 (Note: I will be giving my commentary rather than just tasting notes)

Single Grain

Single Grain. Photo Credits: whiskystore.com.sg

Single Grain. Photo Credits: whiskystore.com.sg

Unlike almost all other scotch single grains, the mash bill is comprised of 100% Malted Barley. The spirit runs off a continuous still at 85% rather than 94%, which means that more cogeners will be present in the spirit, giving more body and flavour than almost all other Scottish single grains.

Inchmurrin 12yo

Inchmurrin 12

Inchmurrin 12yo. Photo Credits: whiskystore.com.sg

Entirely from Straight Neck Stills with reflux, this unpeated Whisky is very fruity. In my opinion, I found it to be especially orange-y. There will also be a Single Cask 10yo released exclusively for Whisky Journey 2020!

Sneak Peak of Inchmurrin Single Cask. Photo Credits: Loch Lomond and Whisky Journey

Loch Lomond 12yo

Loch Lomond 12

Loch Lomond 12yo. Photo Credits: whiskystore.com.sg

As seen in the helpful photo summary, Loch Lomond 12 Official Bottling is a blend of unpeated and medium peated Whisky. According to Ashley Smith, whisky blender at Loch Lomond, about 15% of this bottling is medium peated Whisky! This recipe gives this single malt a wonderfully complex blend of fruitiness and peat.

Loch Lomond 18yo

Loch Lomond 18

Loch Lomond 18yo. Photo Credits: whiskystore.com.sg

This OB is a rather dignified 18yo single malt! Although the fruitiness and peat were not as prominent as the 12yo, the musky and waxy notes take the lead. If you enjoy the waxy notes in Clynelish, you will enjoy this too!

Inchmoan

Inchmoan

Inchmoan 12yo. Photo Credits: whiskystore.com.sg

As mentioned in the summarised table of spirit styles, Inchmoan is a blend of 50ppm distillates from both the swan-neck pot still and the straight-neck pot still. Despite that, the dram was a lot more balanced than expected, with fruity notes along with loud notes of minerality, earthiness and smoke!

Miscellaneous Nomenclature

Other than the names you would see in the core range, you may see other names pop up in old bottlings or independent bottlings like Glen Douglas, Old Rhosdhu, Craiglodge, Croftengea and Inchfad. The first two of those names being unpeated, and the last 3 being peated variants.

Inchfad and Croftengea are heavily peated (50ppm), while Craiglodge is lightly peated (25ppm).  The ‘Old Rhosdhu’ name used to refer to a style of single malt distilled at Loch Lomond up to the year 2000. Today Rhosdhu is used internally to refer to the single grain distilled from 100% malted barley.

Where to find Loch Lomond Whiskies

The WhiskyStore is the official distributor of the Loch Lomond whiskies. You can check out their online store to see the expression on sale!

The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond

If you are thinking of visiting once the pandemic tones down, do remember that the distillery does not accept visitors. You will have to try and contact them via email to check if you can visit. Otherwise, take a trip down to Loch Lomond and enjoy the beauty of the place.

 

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Glen Scotia Geek Fest

We were excited to be part of the Glen Scotia Virtual Tasting hosted by The WhiskyStore. The distillery is part of the triplets in Campbeltown, but its smaller size often gets overshadowed by its neighbours. The team at WhiskyGeeks has been following Glen Scotia for some time now, as we find its liquids really palatable and beautifully matured.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation, when we joined the Zoom tasting on Tuesday, 14 July at 8 pm. Follow our journey as we partake in one of the greatest virtual geek fests with Glen Scotia!

First, an Introduction of the Speakers

We had two speakers that evening. The first speaker was Mr Bill White, the master distiller for the Loch Lomond Group. Yes, Glen Scotia belongs to the Loch Lomond Group. Bill comes with years of experiences, with 22 years working in William Grant and Sons. He eventually became their Group Operations Director before he decided to join Loch Lomond Group as their master distiller around 2015.

The second speaker is Ms Ashley Smith, the master blender at Loch Lomond Group. Ashley has eight years old experience working in the whisky industry, but she has only joined the company for about ten months. Her work revolves around whisky blending (of course!) and she has her hands full with the single casks programme as well as ensuring that the core ranges from both Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond are consistent.

Short History of Campbeltown

The year was 1597, and an act of Parliament established Lochhead. Settlers flocked to the sea-side town, and by 1607, various traders and settlers were setting up businesses in the town. The Kintyre peninsula (where Lochhead was) had plenty of local ingredients for distilling, and soon, industrious settlers built illicit stills to make whisky. It wasn’t until the mid-19 century that the town became Campbeltown, named after the local lairds, the Campbells!

Campbeltown quickly became the whisky capital, with 21 known illicit stills in the town and 10 in the surrounding countryside by 1795. There were probably more than 50 illegal distilleries in total by the 19 century. The Victorian Era was booming with economic activities, and there was a growing market for whisky both at home and in the USA. Cargo ships meant to carry whiskies to the USA would call at Glasgow and sail down the Clyde, called in at Campbeltown as their last port call before taking the journey to the USA. Therefore, the town proliferated to become the “whisky capital of the world”.

History of Glen Scotia

As the town prospered, the Dean of Guild James Stewart and Provost John Galbraith came together to build Scotia Distillery in 1832. In three short years, the distillery grew and thrived alongside the remaining 29 distilleries in Campbeltown. Disaster strike in 1923 when the Drumlemble Colliery closed, ending the era of cheap, local fuel in the town. Coupled with the Great Depression and the Prohibition in the USA, the distilleries in Campbeltown suffered tremendous losses. In a short nine years, only three distilleries remained in Campbeltown. Scotia was one of them.

Owners of Scotia Distillery

The survival of Scotia distillery depended on its owners. James and John managed the distillery until 1895. It became one of the founding members of West Highland Malt Distilleries in 1919, with five other Campbeltown distilleries in an attempt to share costs and prevent closure. The project failed, and Scotia was left standing alone. In 1924, Duncan MacCallum purchased Scotia but closed to close in 1928. When he reopened the distillery in 1930, he met with an unfortunate scam in which he lost his savings and committed suicide. The Bloch Bros brought over Scotia and added the word “Glen” to its name. Glen Scotia was born.

The Happening after the 1930s

The Bloch Bros saved Glen Scotia. They retained ownership of the distillery until 1954. That year, Canadian giant, Hiram Walker bought the distillery estate but quickly sold it to A.Gillies & Co – a blender in 12 months. The distillery changed hands again and became part of Amalgamated Distilled Products Ltd (ADP) which owned Barton Brands (including Loch Lomond). Glen Scotia started reconstruction works towards the end of the 1970s, but unfortunately, it closed between 1984 and 1989. During the closure, Gibson International bought over ADP’s distilling assets. Glen Scotia reopened in 1990 under new leadership. In 1994, Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd bought over Glen Scotia and promptly mothballed in. It returned to full production only in 1999 under the Loch Lomond Distillers Group.

The Production Process

Glen Scotia produces both peated and unpeated whisky. The team dedicated six weeks per year to producing peated whisky. What I find interesting is that the distillery does two different styles of peated whisky. One is a mildly-peated whisky at 25ppm while the other is a heavily-peated whisky at 50ppm.

Milling

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Glen Scotia sourced and used only Scottish malted barley from the east of Scotland. The grain undergoes milling in the Bobby Mill owned by Glen Scotia (See Ardbeg Distillery for more Bobby Mill description).

Mashing

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

The mash tun is a relic at the distillery. Made of cast iron, it dated back to the Victorian era and held the history of the distillery within its pits. The mash tun uses a rack and pinion system (shown in the second picture above). The team uses four streams of water for wort extraction. The first two streams, with a temperature between 64 and 76 degrees Celsius, enable the collection of wort. The third and fourth streams, added at 85 degrees Celsius, allowing the collection of sparge. The process takes about eights hours to complete, and the distillery does ten mashes per week. The distillery’s water source is Crosshill Loch, providing them with fresh, clean, soft water.

The team cools the wort to around 17-18 degrees Celsius before pumping it into the washback for fermentation. The reason is to prevent the temperature from killing the active yeast.

Fermentation

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

The fermentation at Glen Scotia is long, with each cycle lasting more 92 hours on average. The long hours creates what is known as a “second fermentation” where fruity esters are developed to give the wash a fruity flavour. The distillery uses commercial distiller yeast as it is best suited for them to create the fruity wash.

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Look at the graph above. You will notice that after 48 hours, there is no longer alcohol production, but the ester concentration keeps going up. This is the reason why long fermentation produces fruity wash, which, in turn, will create a fruity spirit. The alcohol percentage of the wash is around 8-9% abv.

We understand that Glen Scotia has both internal and external washbacks. For the outer washbacks, they have cooling jackets on them to maintain the temperature at an ideal level.

Distillation

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Glen Scotia owns a pair of stills and has a production capacity of 500,000 litres to 600,000 litres. They produced 535,000 litres of spirits in 2019. The distillery also installed a new spirit still in June 2020, making them look unique.

The wash still takes in the wash at 8-9% abv. After the first distillation, the low wines stands at around 25% abv. The spirit still then takes in the low wines and increase the alcohol percentage to about 74% abv. The foreshots or head is between 74% – 71% abv, while the heart runs from 71% to around 63% abv. The feints are below 63% abv.

The average alcohol percentage of the new spirit is 69% abv, and the distillation team will add water to lower the abv to 63.5% abv before transferring it to the casks for maturation.

Maturation

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Glen Scotia has three kinds of warehouses – dunnage at the Visitor Centre (around 150 casks), palletised and racked warehouses (for the rest of their casks). The different environment provided by the warehouse help Glen Scotia to achieve the differences in their whiskies, which work well for the brand. Currently, the distillery has about 12,000 casks onsite. Typically, the distillery fills 99.9% of their new spirits into first-fill ex-bourbon casks. We also understand from Bill that the oldest cask currently still maturing on site is over 45 years old! We were excited as Glen Scotia recently release a 45 years old bottling, which means there is a chance that they will release something older in future!

Whiskies we Tasted

Source: The WhiskyStore

The WhiskyStore selected four whiskies for the session. My personal favourites are the 15 Years Old and the 25 Years Old, both of which showcased different styles. Every expression has its fans, but the 25 Years Old was the ultimate winner.

Double Cask

The Glen Scotia Double Cask is a non-age statement expression that is matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished 6 to 12 months in Pedro Ximenez casks. Bottled at 46% abv, it is gentle and easy to drink. The sweetness of the PX casks complements the bourbon maturation beautifully.

15 Years Old

One of my personal favourites is the 15 years old expression. Matured fully in ex-bourbon American oak casks, the whisky is fruity with cedarwood and hints of pine trees. The sweet, fruity palate coupled with some dryness in the finish keeps me going for more.

18 Years Old

The 18 years old expression is a favourite for many participants. Matured 17 years in refill ex-bourbon casks and finished one year in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks, the whisky is flavourful with a complexity of both bourbon and sherry influences.

25 Years Old

Finally, the 25 years old expression is the crowd favourite! Matured fully in ex-bourbon American casks and then married in first-fill bourbon casks for the extra flavours, the 25 years old Glen Scotia is full-on fruity with tropical fruits such as pineapples, guava and hints of mangoes. It also developed vanilla, coconut and pine wood. The finish is not as dry as the 15 Years Old expression, but it continues to beckon me with its long finish.

Where to Buy

The WhiskyStore is the official distributor of Glen Scotia in Singapore, and you can easily find all the above expression at their online store. If you are not ready to commit a bottle, you can still try the tasting sets available.

What to Expect Next Week

The Loch Lomond Powerhouse – Bill and Ashley – will be back next week with a Loch Lomond presentation! They promised that it would be another geekfest, one that is better than we had with Glen Scotia. If you enjoyed our post, don’t forget to head over to the Whisky Store to purchase your Loch Lomond Tasting Set and join us next week!

 

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A Jolly Cadenhead Tasting

A seasoned drinker who loves his or her cask strength whiskies would have heard of Cadenhead whiskies. As Scotland’s oldest Independent Bottler, Cadenhead is the master when it comes to bottling spirits young and old. WhiskyGeeks is grateful to Sarah Thallon, the whisky guru at The WhiskyStore for inviting us to a Highland tasting of four Cadenhead whiskies recently.

The History of Cadenhead

William Cadenhead Limited, Wine and Spirits Merchants, as it is officially known, has a long history. The firm celebrated its 175th Anniversary in 2017, so you know that it is likely older than your great-grandfather!

Source: WhiskyStore Presentation

George Duncan founded the company in 1842 and established the firm in Netherkirkgate in Aberdeen. His brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, joined him about ten years later. In 1858, Willam Cadenhead acquired the business and changed the company name. Interestingly, nothing much was known about George Duncan, even though he was the founder. William Cadenhead, on the other hand, was famous not only as a vintner and distillery agent. He was also a renowned local poet in his time.

The Second Generation

William Cadenhead passed away on the morning of Sunday, 11 December 1904. His nephew, Robert W. Duthie, succeeded him in the business. Robert grew the business beyond what his uncle could have imagined, creating what the present-day Cadenhead company is famous for – Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Demarara Rum. He actively marketed the company, creating the slogan, “By Test the Best”. Robert also developed Cadenhead’s brands of whiskies, the blends Putachieside and Heilanman.

The Sudden Death of Robert Duthie

In the depths of depression in 1931, the financial health of the company deteriorated. Things got worse when Robert was killed in a freak accident while on his way to see his bank manager. He left the company in the hands of his two sisters. Unfortunately, the sisters had no clue about running the business. Determined to keep the Cadenhead family name, the sisters put Miss Ann Oliver, a long-term employee in charge.

Ann Oliver was not the most prudent of business operators. She refused to keep up with times and ran the business in her style. It continued to prosper for a while, but by the early 1960s, William Cadenhead Limited was in trouble. Eventually, the Trustee persuaded Ann to retire and sell the business. At the times of sales, the warehouse and office were full from cellar to ceiling with stocks. The family engaged Christie’s, the famous auction house to help with the sales.

A Six-figure Surplus

Source: WhiskyStore Presentation

The sale of stocks from William Cadenhead took place on 3rd and 4th of October 1972 and went down in history as the largest sale of wine and spirits in Great Britain to that date. The catalogue ran 167 pages. The result was a six-figure surplus over the liabilities of the company.

After the stocks were liquidated, J&A Mitchell & Co Ltd bought the goodwill, premises, etc. of William Cadenhead Limited. The owners of Springbank Distillery purchased the firm with the expectation of receiving glass bottles, which was in shortage. However, what Mr Hedley Wright, the owner of J&A Mitchell, received was a company with a good reputation and future wealth. Nobody knew what happened to those glass bottles that he was after.

The Beginning of the Modern Era

J&A Mitchell moved William Cadenhead Limited from Aberdeen to Campbeltown after the purchase. It marked the start of the modern era for Cadenhead. J&A adapted the business for modern times but kept the traditional way of choosing what whiskies to bottle. Cadenhead gets a new motto: “We bottle when our spirits are remarkable, not marketable.” This is purely the reason why we see such vast differences from Cadenhead bottlings. J&A also bottles all their spirits in Campbeltown.

The Highland Whiskies

Source: Sarah Thallon

I am getting thirsty from all that history, so let’s dive into the four whiskies that we tasted. Sarah selected four young and frisky whiskies for us to try, and I was pretty excited to try both the Deanston and Fettercairn as I am a fan of those distilleries. All four whiskies have their attractive characteristics, but my personal choice is Fettercairn. I had tried young Fettercairns that were terrible, but I know that Cadenhead is likely not to disappoint. I was right! The Fettercairn 11 Years Old is terrific!

How to Understand the Labels

Cadenhead makes distinctive labels that are simple to understand. The square bottles have two types of labels – the black and the gold. Black labels mean that the whisky is small-batch, consisting of two or three casks blended to one. It is cask strength and non-chill-filtered. Gold labels indicate that the whisky comes from a single cask, cask strength and non-chill-filtered.

There are also tall, round bottles that we may find elsewhere that are named “Authentic Collections”. The labels are green with gold stamping. Whiskies in that collection are also from single casks, cask strength and non-chill-filtered.

Ranking of the Whiskies

Everyone’s palate is different, and hence our preferences are also different. What I like may not be what you like, and vice versa. The ranking for the whiskies during the Zoom tasting was pretty varied, with many people voting for the Pulteney and Deanston. I think that the highest vote probably went to the Pulteney, which interestingly, received my lowest vote. Hahaha…

My ranking is Fettercairn –> Deanston –> Ord –> Pulteney. I assumed that there is bias on my part, but the Fettercairn was really on point for me. The balance between spice, floral, fruity, wood and the overall mouthfeel was fantastic. The Deanston was good too, oily texture and fruity all the way. Add in some water and the spice will also tone down!

How to Buy the Whiskies

Source: The Whisky Store

If you are interested to buy some of these awesome whiskies, head over to The Whisky Store to see what they have in store! All Cadenhead bottles are priced at wholesale prices so grab whatever you like and check out!

One more thing. If you are keen to join Sarah and her team for a tasting, check out the newest tasting happening next Tuesday, 14th July at 8 pm! The featured distillery is Glen Scotia from Campbeltown and a very special guest will be speaking from the distillery itself! Find out more here.

 

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Travels to India: Paul John Distillery Tour

Credit: Paul John

Scotland is considered the motherland of single malt whiskies and it is where anyone who is fond of whisky will head to. Ireland is the other “flagship” location for anyone who loves whisky. Since the 1990s, however, more and more whisky distilleries are popping up in places that are outside of the United Kingdom. The most famous ones are, of course, Japan, and to some extent, Taiwan.

Do you think about India when you think whisky? Probably not. Nonetheless, the rise of Indian single malts started with Amrut, and now Paul John is catching up!

History of John Distilleries

John Distilleries opened in 1996 in Bangalore India.  The founder, Mr Paul P John, set out to win the market with a variety of excellent products, including whisky, brandy and wines. In 2008, Paul John Distillery opened in Goa, India. From the onset, Mr Paul P John wanted to set a high standard for the whiskies that came out of the distillery, so he chose his barley, yeast and water from local sources. Paul John Distillery is famous for its use of the six-row barley, which is harder to process for whisky production. The high standards of the distillery produce excellent Indian Single Malts that are enjoyed over the world today.

Paul John Distillery Tour

As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, there is no way we could have travelled anywhere. So the importers for Paul John whiskies decided to bring the distillery to us instead. The Whisky Store worked with the distillery to have their Visitor Centre Manager bring us virtually to the distillery and invited us to see the magnificent building that they have.

I was very excited to attend because I personally enjoyed Paul John single malts!

Introduction to the visitor centre

The Visitor Centre Lobby (Credit: WhiskyStore’s Zoom Session)

We started the tour with a bird’s eye view of the magnificent visitor centre at Paul John Distillery. The company built the distillery after the Portuguese style of mansions. Some visitors even assumed that the visitor centre bought over an old Portuguese mansion! The inside of the visitor centre is huge and airy.  The symbols of India, as well as the style of furniture, are aplenty within. A visitor walking into the visitor centre will definitely feel like walking into a grand Indian palace of sorts.

Visitors at the distillery will be treated to a film in a small theatrette first, where they get a sense of the history of Paul John Distillery, before walking down an aisle full of awards and certifications. The recognition of premium whiskies dot the walls of the aisle, showing off the skills of the craftsmen found at Paul John.

The Production

The excitement built up as we “walked” into the production site. Our guide, Pankaj, first brought us to the granary, where they store the barley. Sacks and sacks of barley can be seen as the background as he walked us through the three ingredients to making whisky – barley, yeast and water.

The bags of barley at the background with our handsome guide in the foreground. (Credits: WhiskyStore’s Zoom Session)

Pankaj explained that Goa is not suitable for the growing of barley, and all their barley is grown in the Northern part of India, at the foothills of the Himalayas. Paul John uses a unique 6-row barley varietal that gives a thicker husk which, of course, make it more difficult to mill and use in whisky production. As we know, almost all other whisky distilleries in the world use the 2-row barley. The reason for using the 6-row barley is simple. Thicker husks mean more protein in the barley, which produces the signature cereal notes, buttery flavour and oily texture that you find in Paul John whiskies.

Milling and Malting of Barley

Paul John does not do the milling and malting of the barley itself. The distillery outsources the process to a local company which do all the work for them before delivering the ready-to-use malted barley to the site at Goa.

The interesting fact here to note is that Paul John buys peat from Scotland for all their peated barley. The peat comes from both the Highlands and Islay. The different barley is then used for different expressions of whiskies, which we will go into later on.

The milling ratio at Paul John is similar to many Scottish distilleries – 70% grist, 20% husks and 10% flour.

Mashing

The Mash Tun (Credits: WhiskyStore’s Zoom Session)

The distillery uses a combination sort of mash tun. Pankaj calls it a combination of the traditional mash tun and a lauter tun. I am hazarding a guess that it is a semi-lauter tun, but that would probably need to be checked.

I find the mashing process rather interesting as Paul John uses four batches of hot water for mashing instead of three. It probably got something to do with the higher proteins found in the 6-row barley, but I could be wrong. The team uses two tons of barley and 12 thousand litres of water for mashing in their mash tun. The water is delivered in four batches, the first at 65 degrees Celsius, the second at 75 degrees Celsius, the third at 85 and the last at 95. The sugary liquid obtained from mashing (called wort) is then transferred to the fermentation tanks.

Fermentation

Stainless Steel Washbacks (Credit: WhiskyStore’s Zoom Session)

Paul John has 14 stainless steel washbacks with volume ranging from 16,000 litres to 18,000 litres. In a usual cycle, 11,000 to 12,000 litres of wort goes into the washbacks to ensure sufficient space for fermentation to happen. The distillery uses distiller’s dry yeast as it performs the best under the climate at Goa.

Paul John ferments their wort for 50 to 60 hours and once the fermentation is done, the wash sits in the washback for another 10 to 12 hours before they pipe the wash to their copper stills. The wash, at around 6 – 6.5% abv,  is fruity, with notes of pineapples and jackfruits.

Distillation

Copper Pot Stills and Condensers (Credit: Paul John)

The aspiration to distil excellent single malt whiskies in Goa drives Paul John to install premium, locally-made copper pot stills when they opened in 2008. Over the years, the distillery expanded and more stills are added. The wash is doubled-distilled, once in the 12,500 litres wash still and then again in their 6,000 litres spirits still.

Pressurised steam heats up the stills for the distillation and the wash converts into low wines in the wash still. The low wines increase the alcohol percentage to 17-19% abv. To create more flavours, Paul John uses condensers and coolers to ensure high reflux during the distillation process. In the second distillation, the alcohol percentage rises to above 70% abv.

The Spirits Safe (Credits: WhiskyStore’s Zoom Session)

The heart of the cut is between 65-70% abv but the number is not the most important. Distillers must taste the new make before they decide to make the cut. Once the alcohol percentage drops below 65%, they stop collecting the liquid as their new make. The flavour profile of the new make is still fruity, with apples, banana and pineapples taking dominance.

Maturation and Management of Casks

Racking System of Cask (Credits: WhiskyStore’s Zoom Session)

There are 20,000 casks maturating on-site at Paul John Distillery. They have three warehouses to store them. One of them is underground, while the remaining two are above ground. As you can see in the above (not so clear) picture, the warehouse that we went to show a racking system that is similar to how American distilleries store their bourbon. Pankaj explained that the flavours vary from cask to cask due to the way they store the casks, which echoes the Bourbon industry in the USA.

There are many experiments going on at Paul John. They use a host of different casks, ranging from typical bourbon casks to Oloroso, Pedro Ximenes (PX), Virgin oak and fresh Limousin Oak casks. Customised casks from Casknolia also boast Tawny Port casks. Our guide shared that all the casks are only used twice before they are either renewed or sold.

The casks came from various places in the USA and Europe. One little nugget of information that I like to share is that Paul John buys bourbon casks from Heaven Hills. Now, I am not a bourbon person, but I really enjoyed Heavens Hill bourbons after a friend gave me a sample to try. It’s flavourful without being way too sweet like many of the other bourbons. I would really love to try the Paul John expression that uses the Heaven Hill’s bourbon casks when they are bottled.

Angel Share

I wanted to give angel share a little spotlight here because of the hot climate at Goa. Angel share is up to 8-10% a year in India, which is pretty high when you compared that to Scotland at 2-3% a year. Whisky matured at Paul John ages faster, so whisky that matured for 4 years in Goa is almost the same as whisky that matured for 16 years in Scotland. Importantly, the acceleration also ensures that the flavours build up faster in the cask.

Paul John Distillery matures their core range of whisky for a minimum of 5 to 6 years before bottling. They have a recent whisky matured at 4 years and have received acclaim for it. However, due to the young age of their whiskies, Paul John chooses not to put the age of the whiskies on the label to prevent the biases of age from the consumers.

Whisky Tasting

We went back to the visitor centre after the warehouse tour and tasted five whiskies. Of course, we are drinking them from home! The five expressions are Nirvana, Brillance, Christmas Edition 2019, Edited and Bold. Out of the five, I love the Brillance best, followed by Bold and Edited. Nirvana is mild and nice as a starter and the Christmas Edition 2019 is perfect for a long night of enjoyment.

I would like to give a special mention to Brillance, which is matured for 5 to 6 years, in both first and second filled bourbon casks. The flavours are balanced on both sweet and oaky, making it the perfect fit as your daily dram.

Both Edited and Bold are peated, with Edited using Highland peat and Bold using Islay peat. As you can see from my preference, I have a thing for Islay peat and lesser for Highland peat. Nonetheless, both of them are good drops!

Where to buy Paul John Whiskies

We hope you have enjoyed our story on Paul John and learned a little more about Indian single malt whiskies. We do apologise for the bad photos as we had to screengrab them from the Zoom sessions! It’s the most authentic photos that we want to portray that made us do screengrabbing!

If you would like to purchase bottles, head over to The Whisky Store and grab them!

 

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