Producing single malt is both art and science. And, Michael John D'souza is a master of both. The former athlete from Coorg is the man behind the Paul John Indian Single Malt whisky, which won many international awards, including the Liquid Gold award by Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible for 2013 and 2014. Excerpts from an interview:
How are single malt whiskies different?
Single malt whisky production is a combination of science and art, and one really needs to have a passion for it. It is different from blended whiskies as the single malts are the product of malted barley as the only grain ingredient, whereas a blended Scotch whisky is a result of mix of different two or more whiskies. In order to better understand single malt whiskies I made multiple trips to Scotland. There are close to 105 distilleries there and each distillery has a different style and equipment. This difference reflects in the taste of each single malt whisky brand manufactured in Scotland. The taste depends on the years of maturation of the whisky which is minimum of three years and in some cases can go up to more than 30 years.
How is a single malt produced?
The manufacturing process starts with the mashing of grains, then fermentation, distillation, maturation, vatting and finally bottling. Our single malt whisky is manufactured at our plant in Goa which has a tropical climate and has the ideal temperature for our whisky to mature. We mainly use three ingredients in the whisky making process―barley, water and yeast. The barley that we use is a 6-row Indian barley sourced from Uttarakhand, Haryana and the foothills of the Himalayas. Goa is known for its quality of water and we source that from our own bore wells, present on our own premises. Dry yeast is used for the alcoholic fermentation.
Why maturation is so important?
One of the main differentiation is the maturation of the single malt whisky. After the distillation process is over the 'new-make spirit', or un-aged whisky, is transferred into the new American white oak bourbon casks to mature and age for a minimum of three years. During the maturation or ageing, the whisky continues to develop and change as it spends time in the wooden barrels. While our whisky spends time in the wooden barrel, a significant percentage of each cask's contents evaporates. This evaporation is more in hot and humid weather and less in cold weather. Once matured, the single malt is drawn from the wooden barrels and vatted into stainless steel tanks. Cask-strength, or undiluted, whisky has an alcohol content upwards of 60 per cent. This is filtered to remove residues of charcoal before it is bottled.
How do you compare the taste and the market for single malt whisky in India and the west?
The market for single whiskies is very matured in the west. We are 15-20 years behind them in terms of consumption of single malt.