Since producing its first spirit in 2006, Kavalan distillery in Taiwan has become one of the finest whisky producers in the world. With a raft of awards including ‘World’s Best Single Malt’ for the Kavalan Vinho Barrique 2015 expression and ‘World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt’ for the Solist Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength bottling in 2016, if you’ve not yet tried these whiskies, they should be high up on your list!
Kavalan is owned by Taiwan’s King Car Group and the distillery is located in Yuanshan Township in Taiwan’s Yilan County. From the beginning the distillery has welcomed visitors, clearly understanding the need to promote Taiwanese whisky through tasting and experience and was awarded ‘Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year’ in 2011 by Whisky Magazine.
Making whisky in Taiwan is to produce a spirit that is unique. Kavalan take the meltwater from the local Snow Mountain that is rich in minerals and use this in their production. Adding to this is the high humidity and intense heat of the climate, against the sea and mountain breezes of the local area, means a rate of ageing and development unheard of in Scotland. The resulting whiskies are revered for their smoothness and fruit-driven character.
Former Kavalan Master Blender Ian Chang, one of the key components in the distillery’s successes, explains things perfectly.
“Kavalan ages its whisky in the hot and humid climate of Yilan, Taiwan. This subtropical environment accelerates the maturation of the new make spirit, ensuring a richer, more complex drop in terms of body and flavour. We refer to this unique ripening process as Maturity Redefined, which creates the signature character and style of Kavalan.”
The late whisky consultant Dr Jim Swan, who passed away in 2017, also had a big influence in setting the distillery on the right path. Wanting to create a profile that was ‘fruity, oily and complex’, Swan advised, alongside the whisky making process, that using American oak would help achieve the desired style rather than European oak, which would bring too much bitterness and astringency to the spirit when combined with the local climate.
Swan also introduced his shaved, toasted and re-charred (STR) approach to Kavalan. With refill casks being hard to find during the early days of the distillery, Swan pioneered the sourcing of ex-wine casks which were then shaved, toasted and re-charred in order to remove the old organic wine matter before being used to age Kavalan’s whiskies. The effect is essentially re-creating the ageing environment of a re-fill whisky cask.
A pioneering team making whisky in a completely new part of the world, Kavalan is an incredibly exciting project and very much worth adding to the collection.
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique 2015
Awarded the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky in 2015, the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique is quite a bottling. It is matured in American oak barrels that previously held red and white wines.
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