The best whisky in the world is made in Taiwan by a company that started off making mosquito repellent and root beer.
The King Car Group’s Kavalan 10th Anniversary Sky Gold Wine Cask Matured Single Cask Single Malt Whisky has just been named “Best of the Best” single malt at the recent Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition (TWSC).
Awards are nothing new for Taiwanese whisky. From 2010, when its whiskies beat three Scottish whiskies and one English in a blind tasting in Scotland on Burns’ Night (owch), Mr Tien-Tsai Lee’s Taiwanese distillery has spearheaded warm weather maturation with the help of the late Dr Jim Swan, the consultant behind India’s Amrut, Penderyn of Wales, and Kilchoman on Islay. But despite Taiwan being the third largest consumer of single malt whisky in the world and fostering a burgeoning export market, Kavalan whiskies have only been available outside Taiwan and China since 2013.
Based in Yilan, an hour’s drive from Taipei, the distillery – named after the indigenous people of the “County of Water” – draws its mineral-rich meltwater from the Snowy Mountain and Central Mountains, bringing a trademark creamy, sweet mouthfeel. A subtropical climate and cold Siberian winter winds make the area the ideal climate in which to make whisky. The use of Scandinavian 2-row malted barley and two kinds of dry yeast create subtropical, fruity flavours such as pineapple, banana and green apple. Maturation is reduced by a third compared to Scottish malts.
“Yilan is considered the Speyside of Taiwan because of the environment and our natural resources,” says Master Distiller Ian Chang. “We have a hot climate, which is great for colour formation in whisky. All Kavalan expressions are caramel-free, unlike some other distilleries, so it’s all natural colours.”
Dr Swan is the man considered to have given Kavalan its DNA, says Kaitlyn Tsai, who was voted Icons of Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year 2021. “He visited us every year for more than a decade while we were setting up. He was gracious enough to bestow on our then-unknown distillery the genes to grow a world-class brand. For this, we will forever be grateful. It’s been more than three years now since his passing but there isn’t a day that we at Kavalan don’t talk of Dr Swan.”