Few distilleries have made such rapid progress as Kavalan has. In just a few years, the distillery has become a world whisky power, and has challenged the likes of Amrut and Japanese companies Suntory and Nikka for world awards.
Not everyone is convinced (yet) and some have a dismissive attitude towards Taiwanese whisky because it is bottled so young. Only time will tell, but the obvious riposte to such a view is, “So what?” – if the whisky tastes great and can be made quicker than Scotch whisky, then all the better. There is a view that though the whisky is still relatively young, it has already become as good as it will ever be. If this is the case, older expressions are unlikely in the future.
Furthermore, anyone who has tasted the whisky from Kavalan, and particularly those in its Solist range, cannot help but be impressed. If you spend any time with distiller Ian Chang, it is clear that whisky production is in the hands of a very dedicated, knowledgeable, and serious whisky maker.
Kavalan introduced itself to the world in 2008, with two samples of spirit aged for two years, labelled “China”. One was a deep yellow colour and matured in bourbon casks, and the other a deep-mahogany brown and matured in an ex-sherry cask. Both were astounding. Since then, the company has produced outstanding whiskies matured in ex-bourbon, Fino, and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.
The distillery is part of the large King Car Group food and drink business, which produces, among other things, a highly respected and popular bottled water sourced from a natural reservoir under the distillery. This water, the specially cultivated yeasts, and the clear mountainous air are cited as key reasons for the distinctive and fruity taste of the new-make spirit.
It is not easy to produce whisky in Taiwan. The owner called in international whisky troubleshooter Dr. Jim Swan to overcome the twin problems of humidity and heat. To ensure that the spirit recondenses properly, a special cooling system has been introduced, however the high rate of evaporation of spirit during maturation is unavoidable.
But the results from this impressive and sizeable distillery – it produces nearly 1.5 million litres (330,000 gallons) of whisky each year and is growing – have established it as a leading player in the world whisky market.