Kavalan Vinho Barrique Price Drop PLUS 40th Anniversary Collectors Bottling
We were fortunate enough to have Kavalan's Master Blender; Ian Chang visit us at the store in May, 2015. Tasting the range with Chang revealed a collection of young, precocious malts that demonstrate age isn't everything. Taiwan's tropical climate pushes maturity at a phenomenal rate, but the overall quality has continued to defy the skeptics.
Named for the ancient Yi-Lan county in the northeast , where the venture is located, Kavalan is Taiwan's only distillery at present, but that may soon change.
In a market previously dominated by Cognac, Taiwan is now one of the world's biggest consumers of whisky. Scotch has become an aspirational status symbol and 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, especially given Taiwan's proximity to the lucrative Chinese market.
Kavalan is owned by the King Car group, a family company 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. Mr. Lee is a man who likes to control his own destiny and insists the company will never be floated.
The distillery which was completed in 2005 is one hour train ride from Taipei and a 10-15 minute ride out of Yilan proper. It’s an expansive, highly automated barn-like 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 in 2008. Chang who spent two years studying whisky production in Scotland, takes his lead from Dr. Jim Swan, the world's foremost independent consultant on whisky production and maturation.
Like Glenmorangie and other industry benchmarks, his wood policy is obsessive - all the more critical in these climes. The maturation process is 'forced' due to the higher than average tempratures. Everything is accelerated. As whisky writer, Charles MacLean, adds, "You've gotta have the right casks to do the job in such a short time. The expressions I have tasted have clearly demonstrated good wood."
Chang concedes that Kavalan will almost certainly never release anything older than 10 years. If they waited that long, most of the whisky would have evaporated anyway, making it both physically and financially unviable. The quick maturation cycles have spurred a recent counter-campaign from at least one Scotch Whisky producer - namely, Chivas's "Age Matters" campaign. However, Maclean, a long time Scotch whisky evangelist admits, "it doesn't when you have the right spirit in the right casks for the right length of time! Go figure!"
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.
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 breached the mythical 3 digit barrier, rated 100 points by the highly respected ‘Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago. The 2015 World Whisky Award is just one in a steady stream of commendations, proving that nowadays, lengthy maturation is no longer the rule when it comes to great whisky.