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Aug 24, 2016

Kavalan: Taiwan's premier single malt whisky maker is worth a visit

A whisky fit for meaningful conversation or quiet contemplation.

A few months ago I traveled to Taiwan, where I learned that this island nation has in recent years been producing award-winning single malt whisky. The whisky is aged in American oak barrels that previously stored white and red wines, including sherries.

Is it good? You better believe it. As a headline in the March 23, 2015 issue of Time Magazine put it after Kavalan snagged a top World Whiskies Award, “You Won’t Believe Where the World’s Best Whiskey Comes From: Sorry, Scotland...” The article quoted contest judges' descriptions of the Kavalan spirit as “surprisingly smooth on the palate” and noted that “it’s like Bourbon infused milk chocolate.”

Thus far in 2016 alone, Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, which was established 11 years ago, has won:

  • Five gold medals at the Internatioal Spirits Challenge (ISC) for its Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength, Ex-Bourbon Oak, Podium, Brandy Single Cask Strength, and Moscatel Sherry Single Cask Strength whiskies.
  • A top World Whiskies Awards for World’s Best Single Cask (Solist Amontillado Sherry Single Malt Whisky).
  • Four Double Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (Solist Fino Sherry Cask Strength, Manzanilla Sherry Cask Strength, Moscatel Sherry Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, and Port Cask Strength).
On the tour you'll see impressive distillery equipment.

I took a tour of Kavalan on my trip, which I recommend for whisky fans. It's a beautiful facility, you'll learn quite a lot about whisky distillation through exhibits and signage, you'll be able to taste some of the whiskies, and there is a huge store where you can shop for gifts to bring home.

The tour brings you to one of the production distilleries, where you can see what’s involved with mashing, distillation, fermentation, bottling and barrel storage. Displays provide an explanation about the entire whisky-making process, even allowing you to smell wheat in its pre-smoked and post-smoked versions.

One of many clearly-written displays that explain the distillation process at Kavalan.

A DIY Blending seminar can be booked online, in which you’ll blend one or more bottles of whisky yourself and bring them home, each branded with your name and the words “Master Blender.” The cost for each bottle is 1500 NTS, which is roughly $47.

Unlike Scotland, temperatures in Taiwan are temperate and humid, which permits a much faster cask maturation for the whiskey. In other words, the whisky doesn’t need to age nearly as long as whiskies brewed in colder climes. Fans of tradition might be tempted to say that this results in lesser quality, but with Kavalan racking up so many top awards, that's a difficult statement to justify.
Aging barrels filled with whisky.
Kavalan is Taiwan’s first maker of whisky, and the nation's only family-owned distillery. It’s located in the northeastern part of Taiwan—an area characterized by fresh Pacific Ocean breezes, with pure water drawn from the springs of the Central Mountain range and the island’s second-tallest peak, 3,886-foot Hsueshan (Snow) Mountain. 

Open daily to visitors, Kavalan charges no entrance fee. Reservations are necessary only for groups of 20 or more. One-hour tours, given throughout the day, include a short film about the company and its whisky; a walk through the mash house, still house and maturation warehouse; and a tasting of Kavalan Classic. 

By the way, Kavalan is becoming easier to find in the United States. To locate a store near you, visit this page. For more info about Kavalan, visit Kavalan Single Malt Whisky.  

And for the best glasses to enjoy single malt and other whiskies, check out Reidel's superb single-malt whisky glasses.
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