Kavalan is the first and only single malt whisky from the Asian island of Taiwan. It is produced by the King Car Corporation, which was set up in 1979 and is now Taiwan's biggest food and beverage manufacturer. The new distillery was built in just eight months in 2005/06 and is one of the most technically advanced in the world. It is located in Yuanshan, which lies in the north of the island and is to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung, 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.
The name of Kavalan is taken from a group of indigenous people who once lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is located. The Kavalan whiskies have been created, selected and blended by Ian Chang under the guidance of the legendary Dr. Jim Swan, who is 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. The first single malt, which is matured in ex-bourbon casks, was released at the end of 2008. This was joined in 2009 by another matured in ex-Port wine casks and two cask strength, single cask releases – one from an ex-bourbon cask and one from a sherry cask. The range is currently only sold in Taiwan and in a small selection of cities in China, as well as various airport locations in south east Asia.
This peated version of Kavalan is yet to be released and we are lucky enough to have received this advanced sample from Kavalan’s Head Distiller Ian Chang. It is young at just over two years of age – Kavalan release their whiskies at this age because the whisky ages much faster and evaporates more quickly than elsewhere in the world, due to the high humidity and heat in Taiwan. This sample is drawn directly from the cask and is at 57.6% ABV. The story is that the whisky was accidentally filled to ex-bourbon casks that had previously held some peaty Scottish whisky and King Car are not sure if they will ever release it. We therefore thank Ian for this unique opportunity.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this Kavalan Peated is a light golden yellow and the nose is expressive, but not obviously peaty to start with. There is plenty of oak and vanilla notes and these are backed up by some distinct cereal grains, lots of sweet honey and an intense, hot prickle from the high alcohol level. The peat begins to come through with time in the glass and has a damp earthy quality, with a hint of dried grass. However, the peat smoke remains understated and It is very promising and makes you want to taste immediately. On the palate, this feels juicy,fresh and zingy (think of lemon zest) with plenty of vanilla and sweet, sugary honey. It is also intense with the high alcohol level accentuating each note to a higher level. The sweet elements are complimented by noticeable wood spices (imagine nutmeg and ginger). The peaty smoke is again understated, before bursting on to the palate once the whisky is swallowed. The smokiness then takes on a much higher level than suggested on the nose and remains earthy and grassy, although with a more bonfire ashy edge. The finish starts sweetly with oak and vanilla again prominent. Then the peat kicks in to make the finish very dry and ashy in the end, with your mouth watering and wanting more.
What's the verdict?
This is a lovely whisky and possibly our favourite Kavalan that we have tried to date - click here to view our other Kavalan reviews. That is saying something, as we have enjoyed all of the range so far. The reason for saying that it is our favourite is simple - the whisky is intense but has a great subtly and balance. The peaty smoke is obviously present but adds to the balance rather than being the dominating feature, as can be the case in young smoky whiskies.
So, should Kavalan release this whisky? - a definite YES! It may not be to the Taiwanese taste but if they put this in to the European or north American markets, then it would undoubtedly sell. This is especially true if you consider four factors. 1 - Kavalan is a unique product that has created much interest around the world, 2 - we are approaching winter in the northern hemisphere and peaty whiskies always sell better in colder weather, 3 - a number of traditional 'non peaty' distilleries, such as Balvenie and Glenmorangie, are branching out in to this market with their new 17 years old Peated Cask and Finealta expressions respectively, and 4 - it tastes really, really good!