Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New releases > 'King Car' from Kavalan

king car single malt whisky from kavalanThe King Car Whisky is made by the Kavalan distillery on the island of Taiwan. Kavalan is one of the newest and most technically advanced distilleries in the world and is located in Yuanshan, a town in the north of the island. Yuanshan lies to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung and close to the Pacific coast. It was built over an eight month period in 2005 and 2006 and has copper stills that were constructed in Scotland. The distillery has a large 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 based.

This whisky is named after the King Car Corporation, who are the owners of Kavalan. King Car was originally set up in 1979 and has grown to be one of Taiwan's biggest beverage and food manufacturers. As Taiwan's whisky drinking population has grown considerably over the last two decades, the chairman of King Car decided to build his own whisky distillery. He assembled an experienced team of professionals and took them to Scotland to learn the whisky making processes, traditions and techniques. The whisky was initially created, selected and blended by the legendary Dr. Jim Swan - a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages and a consultant with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries over many years.

The range of whisky from Kavalan is currently small but is expanding all of the time. It is currently only available in Taiwan, larger cities in China and selected travel retail markets in south east Asia. The range consists of a single malt, a blend and the limited edition Solist collection. Kavalan's whiskies are usually released at a relatively young age (normally around three years old) - this is because the whisky ages much faster in Taiwan's warm and humid climate, losing around 10% of its volume each year to the angel's share (the angel's share is 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 a sample to taste and review. He explained to us about his special new single malt,

"The King Car single malt whisky is my latest creation and consists of 8 different types of casks. You have the most common refills, sherry and ex-bourbon casks plus 5 more specially selected casks in order to make the flavour to the fullest and most rounded possible. And this time, because we would like to retain the most flavours, the whisky is non-chill filtered and the alcoholic strength is raised to 46% ABV! This is the first expression in the name of King Car which is the name of the Group. The Chairman of the group, Mr. TT Lee, would like to have a whisky that can also represent the company to show the kind of diversity, multi-area of business that we do, and this King Car single malt can truly represent the company with its complex flavours, delicate aromas and multi layers of background fruitiness!"

Our tasting notes
The colour of King Car is a bright golden yellow and the nose has a good intensity and is fresh, vibrant and highly perfumed. Firstly, there is an aromatic blast of vanilla and honey, followed by some fresh tangy green fruit (think of pear and apple especially) and coconut. Further aromas begin to develop with time - underlying sultana and dried apricot, malty barley notes and subtle hints of wood spice (imagine cinnamon, nutmeg and cedar wood). There are also aromas reminiscent of orange oil and liquorice. This is very promising and makes you want to take a sip. On the palate, there is again immediate and obvious sweet notes of vanilla and honey, but they are joined by the coconut and wood spices much earlier than in the nose. It grips on to your tongue and mouth. Then comes a distinct woodiness (think of fresh wood shavings) and plenty of malty barley grains. These elements are balanced by a lovely tangy quality, which is led by notes of fresh green fruits (the pears and apples again) and some citrus zest (imagine orange and lemon zest). The finish is long, intense and vibrant, again with plenty of vanilla and barley notes which are complimented by the tangy zestiness and wood spices from the palate.

What's the verdict?
This is a lovely whisky that delivers on almost every level and is very enjoyable. The danger when trying to combine eight different types of cask could be to create a mish-mash of a whisky, that is neither one thing or the other. However, Kavalan have clearly used high quality casks in a sympathetic way to create a whisky that is delicious, fresh and stands out from the crowd. It is easy to see why Kavalan are taking the whisky world by storm and starting to bag some impressive awards. If they keep producing whisky of this standard (and to the standard of their other whiskies that we have reviewed), then even the most traditional of whisky drinkers will have to sit up and take note. Kavalan is here to stay - it is just a shame that it is not yet available to a wider audience.

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