John Distilleries to double single malt production capacity

John Distilleries, which sells single malt whisky under the Paul John brand, is in the process of doubling its malt whisky production capacity from the current 60,000 litres per month


John Distilleries chairman Paul P. John wants 20-25% of the spirits maker’s portfolio to consist of premium liquor brands. He plans to launch higher strength peated and non-peated variants of Paul John Single Malt Whisky in Goa this year. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
John Distilleries chairman Paul P. John wants 20-25% of the spirits maker’s portfolio to consist of premium liquor brands. He plans to launch higher strength peated and non-peated variants of Paul John Single Malt Whisky in Goa this year. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Bengaluru: John Distilleries Pvt. Ltd, India’s fifth largest spirits firm, is in the process of doubling its malt whisky production capacity. The company, which sells single malts under the Paul John brand, also plans to launch its higher strength peated and non-peated variants in Goa this year.

John Distilleries currently has a malt production capacity of 60,000 litres per month. The firm will begin to put its additional capacity to use in about two months, its chairman Paul P. John said in an interview.  John also said he wants 20-25% of the spirits maker’s portfolio to consist of premium liquor brands, including single malts, in five years. The company sold 20,000 six-bottle cases of its Paul John brand last year and is targeting 50,000 cases this year.

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“I believe there is great opportunity in the single malt segment because it is completely untapped. It’s been overpriced. Today, companies like ours are coming into the market with pricing that is ideal. And if you see, many people (from India) are travelling abroad now and are getting introduced to wine, whiskies,” said John, adding that such consumers typically retain their liking for those kind of beverages even when they are back in India. 

The basic Paul John single malt, a non-peated 46% alcohol by volume (ABV) version named Brilliance, retails at Rs3,600 in Karnataka for a 750ml bottle and at $55 in the US. At the higher end is its Peated Select Cask, a 55.5% ABV variant that retails at $100 in the US. In comparison, Amrut Distilleries Ltd’s basic single malt retails at Rs3,300 for a 750 ml bottle in Karnataka and its more premium peated variety retails at Rs3,900.

The Paul John Single Malt Whisky, the peated variant. Photo: Ramki Sreenivasan
The Paul John Single Malt Whisky, the peated variant. Photo: Ramki Sreenivasan

Peated whiskies are those that have an added smoky flavour, which can either come from peat fire that is used to dry the grain or from the addition of water drawn from areas rich in peat while making the whisky. Non-peated whisky does not have a smoky flavour.

While many states do not permit the sale of alcoholic beverages with an ABV higher than 46%, Goa has given John Distilleries permission to launch its higher ABV malts and the distiller is in the process of doing so.  John Distilleries first launched its Paul John single malts in the UK in 2012. It began selling that brand in India just a year ago and only in select markets Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Chandigarh, Pondicherry and Hyderabad. 

“Indian players need to get the positioning, taste and quality right. It is a very large market abroad. Even the Indian market today is opening up to premium alcohol consumption. With multiple new avenues opening up in the metros and the digital media influence even on buying alcohol, the market here is getting equally relevant,” said Sreedhar Prasad, partner, KPMG in India.

But even four years after its launch, the Paul John brand only accounts for less than 1% of John Distilleries’ overall portfolio. Bengaluru-based Amrut Distilleries launched its first single malt in Scotland in 2004. Single malts now account for 12% of its total revenue and its executive director, Rakshit Jagdale, expects that contribution to go up to 25% in five years. 

Amrut Distilleries sold about 30,000 12-bottle cases of its single malts last year and is targeting 35,000-40,000 cases this year. It currently has a production capacity of 350,000 litres per year and plans to distil close to a million litres each year one-and-a-half years from now.  But expanding single malt production is not easy, said Jagdale. “There are investments required in enhancing your process side and increasing your production to distil. And then you need enough warehousing space for casks. We have to anticipate what demand will be like four years from now and distil,” he said. 

John Distilleries’ chairman is of a similar view when it comes to expanding single malt production. And even though he is looking to aggressively raise the contribution from premium brands, and is even launching a new high-end brandy towards this end in three months, he expects getting there to be easier said than done.  Over 90% of revenue still comes from value segment whisky, brandy, rum and gin brand Original Choice. Shifting a majority of volumes from mass end to premium end will be a challenge, John said.

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