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Taiwanese Whisky

It’s hard to believe given the success of the category that the first Taiwanese whiskies were only released back in 2008 King Car Group’s Kavalan brand. Known for mass producing bottled water and canned coffee, King Car were inspired by the country’s relatively huge consumption for Scotch in recent years.

The Kavalan distillery itself opened in 2005 with an ambition to create a fruit-centred spirit style from a willingness to experiment with multiple cask types and what is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of whisky production from this region: the rapid maturation caused by Taiwan’s tropical climate. The percentage of spirit lost to angels share can be as high as 12% to 15%, whereas with Scotch it’s closer to 2%, which means much of the whisky disappears rapidly. This is a costly reality that also provides the potential for an exceedingly over-aged spirit. This means it is simply not cost-effective to make whisky that could compete with Scotch aged 12 to 21 years, so Taiwanese whiskey distillers, Kavalan and Nantou, have pursued different goals.

A significant part of this process is understanding and harnessing the area's high temperatures (it can average 33 degrees Celsius in the summer) and sweltering humidity. The acceleration of the interaction of the spirit with the wood barrels has been utilised positively in Taiwan. The shorter maturation period means that in just four to six years a whisky can be produced that is arguably comparable to a Scotch that has been aged for 15 or 25 years. As one of the pioneers of this process, alongside Australian and Indian whisky, the island’s whisky makers have been able to capitalise on the tropical climate and provide an interesting perspective for those tend to judge whiskeys quality based on its age.

Taiwan itself has earned a reputation in just over a decade as a favourite category and destination for whisky connoisseurs. It is now available in more than 60 countries and in 2015 it ranked as the fourth largest market by value for Scotch, behind the US, France, and Singapore, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. A slew of awards have matched this popularity, with Kavalan winning more than 220 awards, including World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” for Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique from the prestigious World Whiskies Awards in 2015, while the Solist Amontillado was named the “World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt Whisky” at the same awards in 2017. The future is bright, too. Kavalan have announced plans to increase its production capacity to produce 9 million liters, which would make it one of the largest single malt whisky distilleries in the world and comparable in size to the oldest official Scottish distillery, The Glenlivet.

Taiwanese whiskies include Kavalan editions such as Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique and Kavalan Sherry Oak. The Omar brand is distilled at Nantou and currently features both a bourbon and a sherry edition.

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