What happens when you combine sweet, malted barley from tropical India with intense, medicinal peat from Islay? This! Paul John ‘Bold’ is the latest expression from a premium single malt brand that seems to be growing in popularity every day. It marks the 5th addition to Paul John’s core lineup and the first made with peat imported exclusively from Islay.
Now, those of you familiar with Paul John will already know that Bold is not their first ‘peated’ (think smoky) single malt offering. You’re correct. Bold happens to be their third following the lightly peated ‘Edited’ and the award-winning ‘Peated Cask Strength’. What makes Bold unique, however, is the source of the very peat that Paul John uses to produce it. While the previous two expressions are made using a combination of peat sourced from Aberdeen and Islay, Bold is made with 100% Islay peat.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Does that really make a difference?”. Think of it this way – peat is essentially a combination of dirt and decomposed vegetable matter compacted into earth. It’s cut into bricks, which in turn are then added to the kiln used to dry malted barley ahead of distillation. The smoke bonds to the barley, which carry the flavors all the way through distillation and into the final product. That is, in short, how you get the smoky flavor into whisky.
But just as cigar smoke comes in a variety of aromas and flavors dependent on the type of tobacco leaves used to make them, so does peat smoke. These flavors are derived from the very components of the peat, or the earth itself. Being a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, Islay peat is packed with organic coastal matter; salt, decomposed seaweed, and other elements that produce a thick, often medicinal smokiness. Aberdeen, on the other hand, is located near the coast (the other coast) but its terrain is far more gentle, clearly evidenced by the subtle, arguably more approachable aromas and flavors produced by smoking the local peat.
With no actual peat found in India, Paul John has to import it all from Scotland. For Bold, it is all sourced from Islay so we can and should expect a more coastal, sea-laden whisky when compared to the Edited and Peated Cask Strength before it. Will this somewhat scientific theory hold true? Let’s find out.
Ok on the nose, yep there it is! A deep, dense aroma of cold, coastal peat smoke quickly fills the air. As an Islay enthusiast myself, the fresh breeze of sea salt and hint of brine is both a familiar and welcomed. But there’s more this story, isn’t there? Of course there is. Buried beneath this thick veil of peat smoke are bright and nutty aromas evocative of what is can only be the house style of Paul John. Fresh mango and juicy papaya intertmixed with roasted peanuts and cereals.
On the palate, the first wave delivers all the traditional flavors you get from American ex-bourbon cask – a touch of vanilla, a bit of citrus peel and a dash of toasted honey. My guess is that the casks used to make this whisky were either predominately “first-fill” or the malt that came before this spent very little time in them. Very fresh on the bourbon notes. And then comes the peat. I’m a bit surprised it took this long but boy is it there. A surge of freshly cracked peppercorn and tobacco leaves come and go as white-fleshed fruits and a wonderful herbal note tie it all together. The texture is brilliant – thick and oily without over doing it. Perfect for what it is. The finish is somewhat medium in length with rich barley notes alongside dark chocolate and mild baking spices serving as the conclusion of what is quite a unique dram.
In conclusion, yeah, it’s good. Very good. I’ve always had a high opinion of Paul John but I’ve struggled to choose an expression, or even two, that I enjoy best. One week it’s the Classic Cask Strength and the next week it’s something else. For me, Bold, is quite possibly their most “complete” whisky to date. From start to finish, there is not a single element I would change. It truly is a collision of two worlds though. In one moment I’m on Islay and the next, the tropical beaches of Goa. Or am I? Perhaps I should ditch this narrow-minded desire for a sense of place and recognize this whisky for what it really is: the product of a skilled artisan who sees the entire world as his oyster. Way to embrace it, Paul John.