An Indian single malt whisky has been judged the third best in the world. Here's why
The Goans call it susegad. It is a word that encapsulates a contented life by the sea, defined as much by the high tide of waves on a moonlit night as by the warm, saltwater-kissed breeze on an evening drenched in crimson, caressed by the strains of jazz and blues.
Some would say susegad needs a mug of chilled beer, or a glass of robust port. Many, however, have started to believe that this way of life calls for ice clinking in a lowball — with some amber liquid splashing in it.
Enter a drink called Mithuna by Paul John — a new Indian single malt whisky creating global waves. Feted by experts, it is the latest offering from the Goa-based John Distilleries Pvt Ltd (JDPL).
Single malt lovers have eagerly been waiting for Mithuna — expected to be launched sometime in November — ever since famed reviewer Jim Murray ranked it the third finest whisky in the world in the 2021 edition of his iconic Whisky Bible, an annual compilation of the best spirits across the globe.
Murray tastes more than 4,700 whiskies for his annual edition; and in his ranking system, any whisky which scores from 94-97.5 is deemed a “superstar” liquor giving imbibers “a reason to live”.
India has been producing some quality single malt whiskies in recent times. Amrut and Rampur — two other Indian single malts — have their legions of fans. 'Single' in single malt means the whisky is the product of a single distillery. While single malts can contain whisky from many different casks, they should all come from one distillery.
Some whisky experts believe that the tropical climate in Goa and elsewhere in India helps whisky mature faster. It is argued that depending on the cask used — whisky is often aged in barrels which have earlier held bourbon — a four-year-old Indian whisky can taste as good as a Scottish one. And then, of course, Indian single malts are a lot less expensive than their Scottish cousins. The costs in India vary from ₹2,000 to, as in the case of the limited special release 'Mars Orbiter' by Paul John, ₹40,000. Mithuna may be priced at around ₹20,000 for a 750ml bottle.
Goa was specially chosen as the home of JDPL's single malts not just for the state's unique sun-soaked climate but also because it holds a special place in the heart of Paul P John, the distillery's chairman and managing director. John, who was born in Kerala and grew up in Bengaluru, zeroed in on Goa for his distillery 25 years ago because he loved its beaches and food and the warmth of its people.
For the malt, JDPL uses six-row barley sourced from regions across Rajasthan and the Himalayas. Harvested in the summer for just the right maturity of the cereal, the barley gives the whisky its intrinsic character. A six-row malt is derived from the kernels of six-row barley varieties, which have a higher protein content and enzyme activity compared to two-row barley.
Water is another major ingredient and the company says it utilises pure groundwater and rain-fed water sources. Copper pot stills were specially designed with long necks to create fruitier spirits. Double distillation in these pot-stills prolongs contact with the copper and this renders a distinctly rich and full-bodied flavour to the spirit, the distillers hold. The spirit is then matured in American white-oak barrels.
Mithuna by Paul John is the second expression of the Zodiac series of single malts from JDPL (after Kanya). Mithuna, or Gemini, hit a 97 score and was awarded the “Asian Whisky of the Year 2021” by Murray. Kanya, with a score of 96, was named “Asian Whisky of the Year 2018”.
Describing Mithuna by Paul John as “a whisky to devour”, Murray of the UK writes: “If Mithuna means Ultimate, then it is the perfect name. Or maybe Mithuna means Perfect, then it is pretty close. It is that very rarest of things. And, if nothing else, announces Paul John Distillery on the world stage of truly great distilleries.”
John is elated with the accolades. “For our whisky to be declared the world's third finest is perhaps the greatest achievement a whisky maker could possibly dream of and this speaks especially of the passion and dedication of our master distiller, Michael D'Souza,” he says. “For an Indian whisky to attain such an honour has proven that India is on a par with or even better in terms of quality than other international whiskies. It marks a turning point in the emergence of India as a serious player in the world of single malt,” he tells BLink.
D'Souza says of the whisky: “Sophisticated aromas of liquorice with gentle beeswax lead to a luxuriant delivery of ulmo honey on crisp toast, and tender notes of vanilla. Chewy flavours of coffee mocha, orange peel and delicate spice float on active tannins while gentle oils enjoy a gist of dark cocoa tones. The finish is gratifyingly long and complex with multi-toned sugars and delicate honeys.”
Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 adjudged Alberta Premium Cask Strength, produced by Canada's Calgary-based Alberta Distillers, the 'World Whisky of the Year'. New Orleans-based Sazerac's Stagg Jr Barrel Proof Bourbon won the second spot.
Meanwhile, in Goa, and elsewhere, whisky tumblers are being lined up. And if that's not susegad, what is?
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