Taiwan, once the home of mass production, is now home to one of the most celebrated single malts in recent years.
King Car Group, one of Taiwan’s biggest conglomerates, opened the Kavalan Distillery in 2005 and bottled their first expression in 2008. And thus began what historians will soon refer to as the Taiwanese whisky take over.
Based in the rural area of Ylan County, Kavalan is named after the indigenous people who have inhabited the region for centuries.
As you can imagine, the pressure of being the first Taiwanese distillery was massive, but King Car Group founder, T. T. Lee, was not daunted. He took the resources King Car Group’s history of beverage manufacturing had built up, and put them to good use.
Importing copper stills from Scotland and inviting a Scottish Master Distiller to help them refine their process, Kavalan soon hit the ground running.
Of course it may seem like the company takes a lot of advice from Scottish sources, but the whisky producers remain rooted in their own Taiwanese history and surroundings. These roots are traced back through the very water used to create Kavalan single malts.
Sourcing their water from the Central Mountain Range and the Snowy Mountain Range, this element allows Kavalan whisky to become the embodiment of Taiwan. The sea air that mixes with the mountain wind also plays a massive part, as it is absorbed by the casks and soaked into the whisky, giving it a taste of home.
Water and air are not the only Taiwanese elements that effect the creation of Kavalan. The hot, humid climate means that the whisky matures faster, and as such, the first bottling was available after only three years.
Being the first and only distillery in the country, you might not think much could come out of Kavalan, but you would be wrong. Not only does the distillery produce some of the best whisky around, but it has also produced many different expressions.
You might be wondering how such a whisky, new to the game and all that, might fair against the giant that is Scotch.
Well, in a blind taste test in 2010, the Taiwanese underdog, like Rocky vs Apollo Creed (the second time of course) destroyed what many saw as its greatest competitor.
On the most Scottish night of all nights, Burns Night, Kavalan was named top out of the three whiskies included in the test. Take that Apollo Creed!
Blind taste tests are not the only place where Kavalan out performs the rest of the whisky world. Since 2009 it has been dominating the international awards scene.
From the International Wine & Spirit Competition, to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Kavalan has taken the world by storm, winning gold and silver all over the place
The single malt alone has won the San Francisco World Spirits Competition Silver medal three years in a row, from 2009-2010. This is only the tip of the Kavalan awards iceberg.
Six more expressions have claimed gold and silver titles across a wealth of competitions. No longer is the phrase “Made in Taiwan” one of mockery or a sign of low quality.
Praise for Kavalan does not stop at awards either. Jim Murray, perhaps the greatest whisky critic, said of Kavalan, “Good whisky is, without question, a work of art; great whisky is a tone poem. And here, I beg to insist, is proof”
So there you have it. Taiwan no longer creates shoddy, mass-produced trinkets, but instead, produces some of the finest liquid works of art available.
Don’t just take Jim Murray’s word for it, go out and try it for yourself!