Things we associate with India: Gandhi, Elephants, Curry, and Whisky. Wait—not whisky? We don't think of India as a whisky kind of place? Are you sure?
In fact, there are some surprisingly capable epicenters of whisky production all around the world. Just as Japan has made a name for itself as a serious country of origin, so too is India gaining recognition. Probably not surprisingly, given the demographics. India consumes half of the world's whisky. They have a shitload of people, sure, but even per-capita they're ranked ninth. We Americans are ranked third in terms of our per-capita consumption, but don't worry, my friends and I are doing our best to close the gap.
So all the way from Goa, India comes this: the Paul John Brilliance. While there's no age statement, Goa is one of those places known for being hot and humid all of the time, so in general aging happens a hell of a lot faster than it does in regions like Scotland. According to the distiller, Michael John, the Brilliance is good to go in about four or five years. He says five years in Goa is about equivalent to fifteen in Scotland. That might sound like marketing fluff, but apparently there's some six times the level of normal evaporation at the Paul John distillery a result of the climate. Hard working barrels, those.
The distillery also has a goofy idea of effective marketing copy, so fans of, uh creative approaches to the English language will enjoy the reading material. The back of my bottle says, "The brilliance of Goa is captured at its best to delight your senses. That is Brilliance." The little booklet it comes with is also very careful to use "Brilliance" as every sixth word. All the more ironic, perhaps, given the name of another variety of single malt they produce: "Edited."
Cattiness aside, shouting brilliance in reference to yourself so frequently is a good way to create a set of expectations you might not be able to live up to. But here? Things are generally on point. First, it's non-chill filtered and bottled at a generous 46%. Second, Brilliance is a single-malt whisky, and here the malt comes in the form of Himalayan barley. Exotic, no?
What I can say is that the Himalayan barley produces a taste like none other. To me, the dominant taste in this whisky is peanut. Despite ex-bourbon finishing, there's less vanilla here than there is a huge development of stadium peanuts and an unusual (but not unpleasant) metallic brightness, like the sensation you'd get from licking a penny. In the finish, there's some sandalwood and touch of orchard fruit to keep things interesting. All the while, there's enough sweetness (presumably from a touch of added demerara sugar) that keeps things honeyed enough to stay in balance. Again, weird, but it's the kind of weird I can really get behind.
All in all, the Paul John grew on me quite a bit since it journeyed home with me as an impulse buy at Trader Joe's, of all places. Why they decided to stock an Indian single malt whiskey next to Rebel Yell and Jameson is beyond me, but as Yogi Berra said, "When you see a fork in the road, take it."