India is home to the John distillery, producers of Paul John whiskies, one of the most exciting brands to hit the whisky market in the past few years.
With the exception of the excellent Amrut brand of whisky, Indian whisky was associated with headaches, illness and death. Every year, many Indians die as a result of drinking poorly produced home-made spirits.
High in methanol, these toxic spirits are sold in plastic buckets while the more unscrupulous distillers colour the spirit with vegetable dye, bottle the poisonous liquid in empty bottles of well-known whisky brands, or bottles with fake labels.
It’s a serious issue and one that responsible liquor companies are keen to stamp out. Another warning: don’t drink in the sun, on the beach. There’s a bad element on some beaches in India and you may fall asleep, only to wake up as a slave in a Middle-Eastern country, with no whisky to drink.
Back to Paul John. India is a very hot country and the angel’s share of the whisky, the spirit that evaporates into the atmosphere, is around 8%, compared to 2% in Scotland.
It could be even higher but at the John distillery, the barrels mature underground, where it’s easier to control the temperature. In a warm climate, whiskies mature a lot quicker than spirits in cold climates.
The distillery started selling whisky fairly recently, in 2012, with a successful launch in London and have been available in South Africa since earlier this year. Michael D’Souza, the master distiller, started distilling in 1993, so there’s a fair amount of history in the bottles.
The barley used to make the whisky comes from the foot of the Himalayas, which is pretty unique in the whisky world.
Try Signature for richness and Bold for some smoke and peat.
From underground in India, we head to Taiwan, where Ian Chang, Kavalan’s master blender, will take us five storeys high in the maturation warehouse at King Car Distillery, home to Kavalan whisky. Actually, I’d prefer to stay on the ground as the temperature high up in the maturation warehouse reaches 45 degrees.
You may pass out from the stifling heat and inhaling the angel’s share evaporating from the barrels at up to 12%. That’s not the way you want to end a whisky tour.
After a brief absence from South African shelves, Kavalan is back in South Africa and we look forward to seeing Chang again. He was a regular visitor to South Africa and the Kavalan stand was a popular place at Whisky festivals.
Chang absorbed much whisky knowledge from Dr Jim Swan, a renowned whisky consultant to distilleries around the world, who is now enjoying his dram with the angels.
Dr Swan’s particular area of expertise was optimising whisky production and maturation for newer distilleries, extracting flavours and character earlier than usual in the maturation process.
It made perfect sense for him to get involved with Kavalan, where flavour extraction from the oak barrels needs to be carefully monitored to make sure the whisky is not over-oaked.
Kavalan is one of the most popular distilleries in the world with more than 1million visitors a year. The distillery was only planned soon after 2002, the first year the Taiwanese government allowed private companies to own distilleries. The whiskies are superb. Yes, you can add ice if you like and also try the whiskies with green tea.
You’ll enjoy some of the cask strength drams, at around 57% ABV, alcohol by volume. Normal whisky is 43% ABV so be careful
Questions about drinks: email [email protected] or tweet @bernardgwhisky