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Meet The Maker: Michael D’Souza

The master blender of Goa’s Paul John Single Malt Whisky talks to Douglas Blyde about the blend which moved him, the importance of showcasing “vibrancy” in every bottle, and his views on English whisky…

What did you want to grow up to do?

I grew up in south India, at a place called Kodagu or Coorg, located about 250 km from Bengaluru. Coorg produces the finest blends of Arabica and Robusta coffee in India, and the natives, known as “Kodavas”, are known to be great warriors and sportsmen – especially in hockey. Like any other Kodava, I too took up hockey as a passion and at one time dreamt of playing professionally as I played until I was 22, representing various clubs, university and state.

What was the first whisky to move you?

When I was young, we did not have much of an exposure to whiskies. I come from a region that was predominantly a rum and brandy-based market. One of the whisky brands that was accessible and affordable at the time was Johnny Walker Red Label. But the one whisky that moved me was the “something special” a blend of 35 different malts from Speyside and Islay aged in American and European casks created by Chivas Brothers.

What did you do before you became a Master Blender?

I started my career as an intern working under various blenders producing blended whiskies before getting into extra neutral alcohol distillation out of grain and molasses.

Describe the landscape and climate in which you are maturing whisky?

Goa is tropical in climate and humid and warm. The distillery is surrounded by mountains and palm trees.

Are you entirely responsible for the formula behind Paul John, being the World’s Most Awarded Asian Whisky?

Yes. Currently, I am the only person working as a blender for the brand, but have a few junior team members working as still men at the distillery.

How would you describe your style when it comes to the whiskies you craft?

Every whisky is unique. Climatic conditions, our philosophy and our approach towards making whisky has got us numerous accolades. India is a hugely vibrant nation. We wanted to deliver a similar vibrancy inside the bottle as well and have therefore striven to ensure our whiskies are rich and bold in nature.

How do you approach annual releases, including the Christmas edition?

The tradition of releasing an annual Christmas Edition started in 2018. Unlike the rest of the Paul John expressions, the Christmas Editions are a blend of various cask finishes. The Christmas Edition 2023 is a blend of unpeated single malt aged in ex-bourbon casks and Colheita tawny port casks. The Christmas Edition is currently the only expression that is released annually.

What is your opinion of peated whiskies?

The peated profile is an acquired taste. Not many people like peated whiskies. I do like peated malts especially Islay ones. But personally, I prefer unpeated over peated whiskies simply because I can experience nuances or subtle differences in whisky, while with peated malts you mostly experience smoke.

How important are markets outside of India for Paul John?

Every market is important to us. We launched our malts in the UK first and today we are available in 49 countries across the world. 50% of our sales are from international markets. Moreover, it is an honour and privilege to have renowned whisky aficionados and connoisseurs from all over appreciate our malts. The awards and accolades we have received have helped establish the quality and craftsmanship of our whiskies.

What releases are in the pipeline?

We have plans for one or two releases this year and will keep your readers posted once the plans are confirmed.

Do you think import tariffs on foreign whiskies entering India will ever be lifted?

This is highly unlikely. In India, alcohol is a state subject and hence there is no level playing field against the reduction of import duties. Moreover, zero tariffs mean no incentive to import and loss of revenue too.

What is your favourite Indian restaurant in London?

Trishna on Blandford Street.

What do you do in your time away from work?

Watching MotoGP is a favourite pastime, I enjoy football too and am a fan of EPL, Hockey Pro, and aquascaping.

What do you think of English whisky?

It’s different from scotch and is spicier than scotch. I like The English Whisky Co. single cask release and Lakes Whisky Makers edition, Infinity.

Tell us something surprising about yourself?

I am quite indecisive and I hate reading.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No