Kavalan whisky is a new venture by the King Car Corporation in Taiwan. King Car was set up in 1979 and has grown to be one of Taiwan's biggest beverage and food manufacturers. Taiwan's whisky drinking population has grown considerably over the last two decades and the chairman of King Car decided to build his own whisky distillery. This new facility 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.
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. The Kavalan 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.
This Kavalan Single Malt, from the core range, is bottled at 40% ABV and is matured in ex-bourbon casks. It is currently only available in Taiwan and major cities in China, with a bottle costing around £40. The whisky is only three years of age, but whisky ages much faster in Taiwan's warm and humid climate, losing 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. We would like to thank Ian Chang, the Head Distiller at Kavalan, for giving us this sample.
The colour of this Kavalan Single Malt is golden and the nose is full of fresh bourbon cask characteristics - vanilla, cereal grains, oak, coconut and honey. There is also a slight herbal grassy note that comes through (think of dried grasses especially). On the palate, this whisky is fresh, zingy and vibrant with the vanilla and fresh oak prominent. A lovely sweetness is present that evolves from the malted barley and is reminiscent of honey. The coconut element is joined by almonds, a zesty lemon note and that dried grassy note again. The finish is of medium length and remains fresh, simple and full of vanilla oak and cereal grains. This Kavalan Single Malt is an uncomplicated but very enjoyable and easy drinking whisky. The intense ex-bourbon cask characteristics and the extra sweetness and creaminess from these result in a whisky that is closer to a bourbon than a Scottish or Irish whisky. It can easily be sampled on its own or would suit a mixer well and is definitely worth a try if you ever get the chance to or are in that part of the world.
We have already reviewed another Kavalan whisky - the Solist, a single cask release - which we preferred as it was more complex and rounded. The future looks promising for this new distillery and it will be interesting to see how the range of Kavalan grows and what other products will be released.