It wasn’t until 2009 that Taiwan was listed as a whisky making region in the Malt Whisky Yearbook, the definitive industry guidebook. The year prior, the Kavalan Distillery, the first and only distillery in Taiwan, had gone public with its first product, the Kavalan Classic Single Malt Whisky. However, the distillery was well into its adolescence, having been established by the King Car Group seven years prior — in 2002, a year that coincides with Taiwan’s inclusion in the WTO, allowing easier worldwide distribution. King Car’s founder Mr. Tien-Tsai Lee, had always dreamed of establishing whisky in Taiwan, and he set to work making the best whisky possible.
Then, in 2011, just two years after bottling their first whisky, as if they couldn’t wait long enough, the Kavalan Classic Single Malt defeated three Scottish whiskies, and one English whiskey, in a blind taste test panel presided over by author and whisky connoisseur Charles MacLean. The Times, a Scottish newspaper, covered the event, reporting that “Asians are not only some of the world’s most sophisticated consumers of Scotch, but have begun distilling malts that compete with the best Scottish distilleries.” Since their first brush with success, the distillery has earned more than 100 gold metals for its line of whiskies, including the prestigious “New Whisky of the Year” award from Jim Murray for their Solist Fino Sherry Cask release.
But it was this year that Kavalan Distillery galvanized Taiwanese whisky in the minds of single malt drinkers worldwide. The Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, first released at the end of 2012, was recently awarded “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” by the World Whiskey Awards. An unbelievable result considering it’s such a young whiskey from a young distillery. The Vinho Barrique is single malt from Kavalan’s Solist series aged in re-charred American oak casks that previously held both red and white wines, which lends a lot of dark fruit, citrus and vanilla, while the finish brings nuts and what tasters for the World Whiskey Awards described as “bourbon-infused milk chocolate.”
The unbelievably smooth dram is due in part to Taiwan’s warm year-round climate, which makes for faster aging, and King Car’s dedication to preserving tested distilling methods from Scotland, including importing copper stills and Scottish master distillers who integrated their methods with King Car’s history of 30 years in the beverage manufacturing industry. The Kavalan Distillery is the best and only whisky distillery in Taiwan, but hopefully it won’t be the last.
Aged: No age statement
Proof: 110 (varies)
Mash: malted barley
Barrels: re-charred American oak wine casks