At Whisky For Everyone, we are always trying to bring new whiskies to a wider audience and here we are proud to bring you one of the newest and most undiscovered whiskies in the world - Kavalan, a whisky made by the King Car Corporation in Taiwan. We must thank Lisa Huang, who bought this whisky back from her recent trip to Taiwan and allowed us to sample it. Taiwanese whisky, we can hear you say? Is this for real? You better believe it ... so, what is the story?
Kavalan whisky is a new venture by the King Car Corporation. King Car was originally set up in 1979 and has grown to be one of Taiwan's biggest beverage and food manufacturers. As Taiwan's whisky drinking population has been growing considerably over the last two decades, the chairman of King Car decided to build his own whisky distillery. He assembled an experienced team of professionals from various sectors of his businesses and took them to Scotland to learn the whisky making processes, traditions and techniques.
The new distillery is one of the most technically advanced in the world and is located in Yuanshan, a town in the north of Taiwan. Yuanshan lies to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung and close to the Pacific coast. It has copper stills that were constructed in Scotland and the distillery has an annual capacity of approximately six million bottles. The whisky has been created, selected and blended by the legendary Dr. Jim Swan, the Master Distiller at Penderyn distillery in Wales. He is a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages and has consulted with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries over many years.
King Car decided to name their whisky range 'Kavalan' after a group of indigenous people who lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is based. The range of whisky is currently small and consists of a single malt, a blend and the Solist collection, which are three single cask single malts - this one from a bourbon cask, a sherry cask and a Madeira cask. This ex bourbon cask whisky is taken from the first single cask to ever be released by King Car and is non chill filtered and bottled at 58.8% ABV. It is only three years of age, but whisky ages much faster in Taiwan's warm and humid climate and loses around 10% of its volume each year to the angel's share (the angel's share is the name given to the evaporation of the spirit while maturing in the cask). In comparison, this figure is around 2% a year in Scotland. It is currently only available in Taiwan for around £60 a bottle.
The colour of this ex bourbon cask Solist is golden yellow and the nose is clean, fresh and aromatic. There is a lovely mix of vanilla, coconut, warm spices (think of ginger and cinnamon) and a hint of tropical fruits (imagine mango and pineapple). On the palate, this is sweet and creamy initially with lots of vanilla, cereal grains and woody oak. It is rounded and smooth with an interesting citrus tang (think of lemon zest) that gives it a freshness and mouth watering quality. It becomes less sweet with time in the mouth with some woody spice (imagine nutmeg and cinnamon) and coconut coming through. Due to the alcoholic strength, water was added although it was surprisingly easy drinking without. The water brings out the tropical fruits on the palate especially. The finish is medium sweet with vanilla and cereals present, before turning woody and oaky.
This Kavalan Solist from an ex bourbon cask is a lovely dram that surprised all of us that tried it with its smoothness, richness, balance and quality. They have done a very good job and it will be very interesting to taste future releases or some older whiskies from the distillery. The whisky is surprisingly easy drinking with lots of classical characteristics and is most reminiscent of a Speyside single malt. This would catch a lot of people out if tasted blind and Kavalan has already won a couple of silver medals at the IWSC Awards 2009 (International Wine & Spirits Competition). It is well worth a try if you get the chance.