Paul John Indian Single Malts have been instrumental in building the single malt boom in India and in placing the Indian Single Malts on the world whisky map. Read the exclsuive interview of the Chairman of John Distilleries Pvt Ltd with Money Control on the burgeoning craft spirit space and his personal journey thus far.
Indian single malt has finally taken wing—in its country of origin. When Hemant Rao founded the Bangalore-based Single Malt Amateur Club, one of India's largest and most active whisky clubs, some 10 years ago, whisky lovers had very little to choose from. But today, he says, there are over 20 different expressions of Indian single malt in the Karnataka market alone.
As pertinently, says Rao, the first single malt many young whisky lovers taste is no longer an entry-level Glenlivet or Glenfiddich—it could as well be a whisky from Amrut or Paul John. Or, a Kamet, launched in end-2020, or, maybe, an Indri-Trini, which was launched by Haryana-based Piccadily Distilleries in December last year and has already won some shiny stuff in international competitions.
Sales have shot up, too. Indian single malts account for just over 30 percent of the whisky market, a 15 percent jump from about five years ago. And according to data available with the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies, made-in-India single malts are expected to widen the lead over their imported rivals further in the next couple of years.
In a new series, we speak to the people who have been instrumental in driving the single-malt boom in India to find out more about the new Indian whisky drinker, the burgeoning craft spirit space, and the challenges ahead for new entrants into the space.
We start with Paul John, who set up Goa-based John Distilleries in 1992. His eponymous single malt brand has won several awards over the last decade, and in late 2020, whisky guru Jim Murray named Paul John Mithuna as the world's third-finest in his influential Whisky Bible 2021. In April this year, John was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the World Whisky Awards 2022. Excerpts from the interview:
There is a lot of interest in Indian single malt today. Even MNCs such as Diageo have now gotten into the game. How do you view this uptick in sales of Indian single malt whisky?
We are still at a nascent stage of single malt drinking culture in India. But it's growing rapidly, thanks to technology, more awareness, and accessibility.
People in India do have money, so money does not seem to be a major issue now, unlike before. Of course, Indian consumers are still price-conscious but a substantial percentage is prepared to spend money on fine whiskies.
We are also now beginning to see that youngsters are moving into drinking single malts unlike earlier when it was always one's father or grandfather who would drink it.
At the same time, a lot of people still tend to drink whisky with soda. Single malt, however, is completely different. The way to imbibe it has to change, and if I can get people to drink single malt the way it should be drunk—when consumers are actually able to taste the flavours and appreciate the richness—I'll consider my job done. After that, it's just a matter of them tasting different single malts and figuring out which one is best.
Of course, these are companies that have a strong background and they will definitely be able to penetrate the market far better than even we are doing. But we are known for our quality and distinctive appeal, and this is what will help us stand out.
Both Amrut and Paul John have kept the Indian single malt flag flying high internationally, and I hope that the rest of the brands that are coming into the market do not dilute the appeal and high regard whisky lovers have for single malts made in India.
I'm glad that the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) has now stepped in and established some rules about what constitutes Indian single malts and how these have to be made. I'm hoping all states will accept these regulations.
Did you have a benchmark when you first thought of making single malt whisky in India?
Initially, I'd benchmarked it against Glenmorangie, which I was impressed with, and used to enjoy, back then. I'm a non-peat guy; I like my whiskies to be fruity. So, I wanted to make something that was non-smoky, more fruity, and, as we went along, I decided against chill filtration, as I believed that not chill-filtering the whisky would actually enhance its characteristics.
Paul John is one of the few Indian alcobev companies to attract foreign investment. How has having Sazerac on your side helped?
The liquor business is very capital-intensive, especially in the initial stages. That's why I decided to get in a private equity fund and that's how Gaja Capital came in. They helped me change the culture of the organisation and introduced several processes. We had a very good run with them. By the time Sazerac came into the picture, we had realised that it would be more beneficial if we got a strategic investor. I had done all I could, and we were aspiring to go international. So, that was a whole new ball game, and Sazerac has helped us gain access to a wider distribution network, tap into their technical know-how, and we have a lot more casks to choose from.
You launched your own wines (Big Banyan) a few years ago; and Paul John XO brandy in 2019. You also have a gin coming up. What else can we expect from John Distilleries?
I'm clear that Paul John will be increasingly looking at being a player in the high end or super premium space. I don't see our gin being a volume driver, it will be a niche, premium product made to the same exacting standards we follow for our whiskies. We have used a lot of Indian spices and I'm quite excited about it. We have also been experimenting with pure cane juice—distilled spirit that is being matured in casks, as we speak. So, in about a year from now, we might have something interesting for rum lovers.
You actually started a biscuit company before venturing into the liquor business. Tell us a little more about that.
Yes, that was the first business I ventured into. I was about 20 or 21 at the time, just out of college. I lost all the money I invested in about two years and, in fact, had to go into hiding (laughs). But Crisp Biscuit Company taught me what the real world was all about. One tends to be idealistic and naive when in college—if your friends borrow money, you know they will return it. But in the real world, it doesn't work that way. My first ever venture, despite being a failure, taught me a lot about manufacturing processes, labour laws, people…no Harvard MBA education would have given me those kinds of insights. I suppose I would attribute my success to the learnings I gained in those two years.
To read original news, Click Here.