- ABV may vary
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask Strength Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky (700ml)
In a market previously dominated by Cognac, Taiwan is now officially one of the world's biggest consumers of whisky. Soaring consumption amongst the island’s population of 23-million, is eclipsed only by the United States, France, Singapore and Spain.The young and newly affluent are driving sales, with consumers willing to shell out top dollar for a bottle of whisky in fashionable bars and clubs. Local expert Ivan Chang, comments ”Here, a night out typically starts with a group of friends and a bottle of whisky at a restaurant. From there, it's moved to a KTV or nightclub where it's time for the second bottle. At each new location, a further bottle is well likely to follow.”
Chang also concedes that Scotch has become an aspirational status symbol for many Taiwanese. Scotch whisky marketers have responded with numerous brands offering special releases exclusively for Taiwan. It’s one explanation behind the country’s changing drinking habits. There are others. Jens Kastner, writing in the Asia Times, notes that, according to industry sources “From the late 1990s on whisky gradually took over, after Scottish whisky makers, among those most prominently The Macallan, started sophisticated promotion campaigns. Face-to-face, small-group brand-training engagement activities were conducted all over the island.”
Chang believes there’s also a more mundane factor at play. ”Unlike Cognac, Scotch doesn't taste sweet. So Taiwanese don't think it makes you fat.”
Putting it all together paints an attractive argument for a local industry. So it comes as no surprise that Taiwan has now unveiled its very own distillery, “Kavalan” - the ancient name of Yi-Lan county in the northeast part of Taiwan, where the venture is located. It is owned by the King Car group, a company with more than 2000 employees, and with business in several fields including beverages, food, biotechnology and aquaculture. The brainchild of King Car's chairman, Mr. TT Lee, who always wanted his own high-quality whisky distillery, it was only conceivable after Taiwan joined the WTO in 2002, ending the country's alcohol monopoly system.
Completed in 2005, Kavalan is one hour train ride from Taipei and a 10-15 minute ride out of Yilan proper. It’s an expansive, highly automated complex with a conference and visitor centre, situated beside the ‘Snowy Mountain’ (which, incidentally has no snow, but there’s an abundant supply of pure spring water here). The first bottle of Kavalan was released to a skeptical public in 2008.
Respected spirits writer, David Broom, recalls, "When the news arrived that a distillery was being built in Taiwan, the whisky world pretty much dismissed it. When Kavalan appeared at a precocious 42 months, it sat up and took notice….with blender Ian Chang at the helm and a hotline to consultant Dr. Jim Swan. Taiwanís tropical climate pushes the maturation cycle along at a ferocious rate, but the key here is its complexity."
The casks, including ex-bourbon refill barrels, fresh sherry butts, and x Port casks as well as Kavalan's own dechar/rechar casks designed to a special recipe to complement the spirit's flavour, are stored in an unconventional five-story maturation warehouse. Like Glenmorangie and other industry greats, Chang has an obsessive wood policy. No doubt this attributes much to the stellar quality already on offer. Stylistically, Kavalan's whiskies cross a remarkable breadth. Their flavour profiles range from traditional Speyside through to more robust expressions reminiscent of many recent Australian efforts. They have already confounded many critics and a cask strength release recently breached the mythical 3 digit barrier, rated 100 points by the highly respected ‘Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago.
These new Jewels of Taiwan have just arrived in Australia and come highly recommended.
Tasting note: Pale gold / deep straw appearance. Opens with gobstopper and vanilla and goes on to develop some raisin -like notes. Gently bitter on entry, building into a concentrated, semi sweet profile; the controlled spicy surge is kept in perfect check. Slightly hollow at mid palate with bitter sweet flavours of vanilla and hints of fruit. Crescendos at the finish. Great balance. Exceptionally long aftertaste as the spices seem to pulse on forever. Masculine styled whisky reminiscent of some of Australia’s most robust efforts. 58.6% Alc./Vol.
Other reviews... This is the pick of the bunch, the whisky equivalent of Fountains of Wayne; an effervescent dessert whisky, which from the first aroma to the final finish is a consistent mix of vanilla, coconut, and overripe banana, sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon.
94 points - whiskyadvocate.com, reviewed by: Dominic Roskrow (Summer 2012)