While planning our mini-vacation in Goa I’d paid no mind to the fact that the Paul John distillery is in the state. Imagine my surprise then to see a sign not too far from where we were staying in Velim in South Goa that said that the distillery was a mere 10 km away. I asked the driver we had engaged for the stay about it and he said they had recently opened a shiny new visitor centre and that it was quite popular with tourists. And so it came to pass that on our last full day in Goa we took an hour’s detour from lunch to visit Paul John. While the family hung out in the fancy visitor centre and exploited their wifi, I did the basic tour. Here’s how it went.
I really had no idea what to expect. I’ve only ever visited an Indian distillery once before. That was in the mid-1980s and was a Shaw Wallace plant in the city of Aurangabad. We were visiting a cousin and her husband was a chemical engineer who managed the plant. I was very taken by the whole thing and determined I was going to be a chemical engineer too. This led to some terrible decisions and a nearly disastrous two years to end high school (it turned out I had no aptitude for chemistry). But all I really remembered of that distillery was the bottling plant. None of the rest of it was ever brought to mind on my visits to various Scottish distilleries in 2017 and 2018.
Paul John, however, is very much in the mold of the Scottish distilleries. There is no pagoda roof to be seen—instead there are plenty of palm trees—and it’s MUCH warmer, even in January, but otherwise the experience of the tour is identical to the Scottish model. It (unfortunately) begins with a video presentation on the company’s history following which you go to the still house and follow the same flow that you would on a tour of any Scottish distillery: you look at and sniff some barley, peer at their mash tun and washbacks, walk past their stills, gather at the spirit safe and then walk to the warehouse. All while your guide explains the production process. The one major difference between Paul John and the Scottish distilleries is that their sprit safe is not locked and so you are spared the comedian on the tour winking at the guide and asking who has the key to the lock.
None of this is surprising, of course, as Paul John makes single malt in the Scottish style and there’s no variance in their process. Oh yes, they have two spirit stills and two wash stills—so it’s not the largest operation. Our guide told us that their malt is distinguished from most Scottish malt by the fact that they use 6-row barley from North India. This led me to ask about the source of their peated barley and she allowed that they got all of that directly from Scotland, from somewhere in the highlands. She also informed us that it had been scientifically proven that one year of maturation in Goa is equivalent to some multiplier of years of maturation in Scotland—I forget what the multiplier was but we all looked suitably dubious about this, even the people who hadn’t known before the tour began that malt whisky is made from barley. These things aside, our guide was very good, very personable and knew her stuff—clearly well trained.
The warehouse is massive, the racks were at least 13 high—I have to believe there is major temperature variation from top to bottom. The casks come predominantly from the US—from a mix of distilleries, I think she said. After the warehouse visit—the only part of the tour where photography is prohibited, though you can take pictures from outside—you end up in their tasting room. Well, if you’ve purchased a tour with a tasting portion. I had not—the prospect of drinking whisky at 3 pm in 90ºf heat was not appealing—but was invited to hang around to hear her describe the whiskies from their core range anyway. As this kind of thing is my least favourite part of tours at any distillery, and as I’ve tried the core lineup already, I demurred. I picked up the family and we returned to the beach for one last sunset. Oh yes, the tour cost Rs. 350 or about $5. I’m not sure how much the tasting add-ons add to the price.
Take a look at the slideshow below and scroll down for a bit on the visitor centre.
A few words about the visitor centre. It is just about a year old and is very impressive. I would go so far as to say that it is fancier than any of the distillery visitor centres I’ve been to in Scotland (I have not been to Macallan). It is massive and very attractively laid out in an old-school Goan style—right down to the characteristic bright colours and art in the style of Mario Miranda. It is not air-conditioned but with the airy layout and high ceilings you won’t notice it. The distillery grounds, however, are not quite as attractive as at places like Glen Grant or Strathisla—and the immediate environs are a little dismally industrial (though not very much more so than at a distillery like Tomatin). At the visitor centre they offer the usual selection of branded merchandise for sale. However, due to Indian regulations on alcohol sales, they are not allowed to sell any whisky at the distillery—it goes without saying there is no distillery exclusive. I restricted myself to purchasing a Glencairn glass.
All in all, my uncertain expectations were handily exceeded. I would very much recommend a tour to anyone visiting Goa. Even if—as will probably be likely—you are staying in North Goa it will be worthwhile I think to make a day’s trip down to Paul John (keep in mind that they are closed on Sundays). You can combine it with a visit to and meal at the Palacio do Deao in Quepem (report coming soon) and some time at Cavelossim Beach. Now, do Amrut or Rampur have similar setups?
Coming up next from Goa: more Goan food!