Kavalan: The Biggest Whisky Surprise of the Last Years

Kavalan: The Biggest Whisky Surprise of the Last Years

It’s no secret anymore that some amazing Whiskies are produced around the world in countries other than Scotland. Taiwan, of all places, is where one of the biggest Whisky hits of the last years has come from.

Flaviaristas know a good drink when they taste one – so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when Kavalan Whisky won the “Best of 2015 Flaviar Community” award.

Ian Chang, Kavalan - Photo: Kavalan DistilleryKavalan Whiskies are the result of the work of a small but dedicated team at the Taiwanese King Car distillery led by Master Blender Ian Chang. We were lucky enough to have caught up with him for a chat in between his job sniffing the Whisky samples and circling the globe as a Kavalan representative and spokesperson.

Mr Chang, you have been with Kavalan since the distillery was established in 2005. What is your vision for the Kavalan Whisky and its signature flavour profile?
Kavalan is the former name of the modern-day Yi-Lan County, where the distillery resides. We named this brand Kavalan because we know without the climate and the natural resources of Yi-Lan, we would not be able to produce our high quality Kavalan Whisky expressions.

How would you describe Kavalan Whisky in 3 words?
Rich, fruity, mouth-coating

The combination of our craftsmanship and great cask selection contributes to the unique flavours of Kavalan Whisky. It is incredibly smooth, mellow, and creamy with those fragrant, pleasant, and tropical fruity, sweet characters. I would say that both the flavour and aroma of Kavalan are unique compared to all other single malt Whiskies. At Kavalan, we want you to taste the richness of life to the fullest.

How does the hot and humid climate of Taiwan influence the Whisky production?
The subtropical heat and high humidity of Yi-Lan cause an accelerated maturation, ensuring a rich, complex Whisky in just a few years which we often refer to as Maturity Redefined. In the heat of Taiwan, after maturation, Whisky becomes even softer and smoother in a very short time.

One of our challenges is to change the method of Whisky production to suit a hot climate. The sub-tropical climate of the seasons accelerates maturation but is bad for the angel's share – there is a lot of evaporation.

Kavalan distillery - Photo: Kavalan Distillery

We believe that technology can be the solution to many problems, and technology has always been a major part of our production. By using state of the art computerized equipment, we can make sure that our new spirits are consistent from batch to batch. This is very important, because if we can make our new spirits consistent, we can make sure that after maturation, our results will be even better. The underlying technology and quality of the casks are also key to ensuring the consistency, complexity, richness, and quality of the spirit.

What kind of barrels do you use for maturation? Where do you get your barrels, stills, and raw ingredients from?
We use different kinds of barrels from all around the world for different Kavalan Whisky expressions. We age all of our Whisky in American oak, which is better in hot weather because it has less tannin than European oak.

Also, we imported our pot stills from Scotland. We attribute Kavalan single malt Whisky’s signature smoothness with subtropical fruitiness and rich flavours to the clean, pure spring water from the surrounding mountains, malted barley from European countries, and our unique maturation process.

Still in the Kavalan King Car distillery - Photo: Kavalan Distillery

Was it hard to make a breakthrough for Kavalan? What were the major milestones on Kavalan’s path to success it’s seeing today?
We officially launched our first expression, the Kavalan classic single malt Whisky, in late 2008.

Charring of the barrels at Kavalan Distillery - Photo: Kavalan DistilleryIn a stunning early achievement, Kavalan bested several Scotch Whiskies at a blind tasting during Scotland’s Burns Night festival in 2010. Among Scotch blends and English single malts, Kavalan won the highest score.

This surprised everyone and started to attract the attention of the journalists, bloggers, and Whisky experts from Europe and the US in particular (which both have mature Whisky markets).

That same year, Jim Murray named it the New World Whisky of the Year in The Whisky Bible, while Ian Buxton proclaimed it as one of the “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die.” In 2015, Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique was crowned the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards in 2015.

This once again set a new milestone in the history of Kavalan distillery, and these accolades have made people within the industry and consumers alike take serious notice to us.

You graduated studying food science. How does that knowledge help you with your work? Do you like to pair whisky with food?
I am so grateful to the university where I studied for my vast amount of knowledge regarding food technology, food chemistry, and microbiology. These are all scientific disciplines that a good Whisky blender requires. I do not usually pair Whisky with food, but I have always had an interest in the art of Whisky and food matching.

Ageing warehouse at the Kavalan Distillery - Photo: Kavalan Distillery

The flavours and aromas of Whisky and a meal can be in good harmony. I would say every Kavalan Whisky expression could be paired with a different kind of food…especially Taiwanese food. Drinking Whisky with food is a very distinctive feature of Taiwanese drinking culture.

What is your favourite music and what drink goes with it?
I enjoy a dram of Whisky after a long day work and it gets even better when the stereo is on playing smooth jazz or classical music.

What are Kavalan’s plans for the future? Do you have any plans to produce spirits other than Whisky?
We are planning and working on producing Gin, which I am really excited about. Gin has always been a strong foothold in spirit markets and has become the drink of choice for a new breed of drink aficionados.

Gin drinkers, rejoice! If Gin is going to be anything like their Whisky, you’ll soon have another superb drink to choose from.

Back to blog