Kavalan, the whisky distillery from Taiwan, has had an incredible journey. Located at Yilan County near Taipei, Kavalan was established in 2005,when Taiwan joined WTO. The brand already has prominent presence across 60 international whisky markets. A single cask strength whisky produced at state-of-the-art distillery, Kavalan has risen up the charts as the favorite newest entrant at some of the finest single malt clubs across the world. Kavalan was also awarded the Distillery of the Year award in San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) recently.
Yilan County, nestled amidst green mountains and subtropical forests, is a two hour drive from Taipei. One look at the distillery and you know exactly why it has been voted as the Best Distillery in the World. It’s nothing like the Scottish Islay or Speyside, yet seems like an apt place to produce some of the best whiskies in the world, with its pure spring water and fresh air.
Kavalan is Taiwan’s only family-owned whisky distillery. The name originates from the old name of Yilan County. Since the climate in Taiwan is not suitable for the production of malt or the growing of barley, Kavalan imports its malts from UK and continental Europe. Almost everything at the distillery is either imported or has been custom-made by an international whisky expert. Says Derek Chiang, Export Manager and in-charge of Global Business Development, Kavalan whisky, who accompanied me during the visit, ‘The water used in the distillery is drawn from the springs of the snowy central mountains, which are very pure and clean. That makes the whisky taste so good.’
Kavalan Distillery also has a professional whisky R & D team managed by Master Blender Ian Chang whose team has gained a lot from the expertise of whisky specialist, the late Dr Jim Swan. Chiang adds, while speaking about the production process, ‘At Kavalan, we use the double distillation method. Usually, the stills work in pairs. The first distillation is to separate the alcohol and water and second is composed of three parts, the head, heart and the tail. The best part of the heart is then collected and filled into casks for maturation. Our whiskies are also non-chill filtered’. I also noticed that while the pot stills resembled the ones used in Scotland, they are in fact customized to suit the Taiwanese climate.
Kavalan has come a long way since it began operations. Beginning with 2 million bottles per year, it now produces 10 million bottles per year and will soon be adding gin to its portfolio. It also helps that Kavalan belongs to one of Taiwan’s biggest conglomerates — King Car Group, founded by Tien- Tsai Lee. The group has a number of agriculture and research products and services, including a packaged drinking water company and the famous Mr. Brown Coffee.
Well, Kavalan’s popularity is obvious from the large group of visitors gathered at the entrance to the distillery. According to Chiang, the distillery gets at least 800,000 to 10,00,000 visitors every year.
Inside the warehouse, I noticed the five storey high barrels stacked in pairs. As Taiwan is prone to a lot of earthquakes, the barrel pairs are tightly tied to each other so as to remain steady. Also, given Taiwan’s heat, the spirits extract the flavour from the oak at a faster rate inside the warehouse, which is not temperature controlled. The angel’s share here is around 10-12%,as against 2% in Scotland. This is one of the reasons why Kavalan whisky’s maturity levels are comparatively higher even at a young age. This also explains why none of the Kavalan single malts has an age statement. But the least ageing that you can have for any of the Kavalan whisky is four years.
Now coming to the most awaited part, the tasting, I was offered about five of the Kavalan Solist single cask strength single malts: The Solist Vinoh Barrique Single Cask Strength Single Malt (Gold medal winner at World Whiskies Awards 2017) priced at 115.5 USD, the Kavalan Solist Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength priced at 264 USD, the Solist Port Single Cask Strength priced at 115.5 USD, the Solist Ex-bourbon priced at 99 USD and the Classic Single Malt whisky priced at 70 USD. And here are my favourites– the Port cask and the Amontillado Sherry casks; the Classic and Vinoh Barrique come a close second.
Post the exclusive tasting sessions, I was taken to the special blending room. At the end of the tour, a delightful surprise awaited me — a bottle of my own blended whisky dated and marked with my name as the Master Blender!
Well, it was surely an experience to cherish.