Taiwan's first whisky
Kavalan is a single malt whisky that is made by the King Car Corporation in Taiwan. King Car was set up in 1979 and is now Taiwan's biggest beverage and food manufacturers. This 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 giving the distillery an annual capacity of approximately six million bottles. Kavalan is Taiwan's first and only whisky to date.
King Car decided to name their whisky range Kavalan after a group of indigenous people who once lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is located. The range of whisky is currently small and consists of two single malts (a bourbon cask version and a Port cask) and the Solist collection, which are bottled at cask strength and includes this sherry cask and one from a bourbon cask. The Kavalan whiskies have been created, selected and blended by the legendary Dr. Jim Swan - a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages. Dr. Swan has consulted with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries around the world over many years, including Penderyn in Wales.
Details of the whisky
This Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask is bottled at 58.2% ABV and is currently only available in Taiwan, some major cities in China and limited locations in the south east Asian travel retail sector. A bottle will cost the equivalent of £65. The whisky is aged for three years , but whisky ages much faster in Taiwan's warm and humid climate. They have to bottle it at this age as they lose around 10% of the whisky's volume each year to the angel's share (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 sending us this sample and for his support of Whisky For Everyone.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this Solist sherry cask is very dark and chestnut brown, almost mahogany, in colour. The nose has a clean freshness to it but is rich, intense and packed with aromas. There is a treacle/molasses-like sweetness present and this is joined by the further sweetness of lots of dark dried fruits (think of raisins, prunes, figs and dates). Behind the sweetness are hints of more bitter notes, including some herbs, eucalyptus or menthol, cocoa and roasted coffee beans. It is sumptuous and tempting, making you want to taste it. On the palate, this whisky is initially extremely fruity with plenty of those dark, juicy dried fruits present (especially the raisins and prunes). This characteristics turns a little more jammy or cooked as you hold it in your mouth (imagine plums and cherries). The syrupy sweetness of the treacle note hits the tip of the tongue and the whisky feels thick, coating the inside of the mouth. The darker, more bitter elements come through again (imagine menthol, cocoa powder and the coffee beans), as does a distinct hit of wood spice (think of allspice and nutmeg). The finish is long and toffee sweet before becoming very woody and spicy at the end (especially the nutmeg). Also, the strength of the high alcohol ABV is only really evident on the finish and gives a sharp, prickly heat.
What's the verdict?
This is fascinating stuff. The high ABV strength and the Taiwanese climate have accelerated and exaggerated the elements pulled from the sherry cask here. The cask was obviously of excellent quality, as there are none of the sulphuric notes that can sometimes appear in sherry cask matured whiskies and puts a few Scots to shame - the Kavalan remains clean throughout. It seems older than it is (although the alcohol strength gives it away on the finish) and is reminiscent of a brandy. One person tasting with us commented that it reminded him of an Italian digestif called Cynar, due to the distinct bitter menthol notes. It has to be said that there is so much sherry cask influence here that it could be difficult to identify it as a whisky, although this eases with the addition of water which allows some cereal notes to emerge. The Kavalan Solist sherry cask is a very nice dram indeed and one that becomes more user friendly with the more water that is added. This whisky maintains the high standards that we have tasted in other Kavalan releases.