I have to admit: the very fact that I am writing this article for a publication enjoyed only by genuine connoisseurs of quality drinks fills me with excitement. I take a cautious sip of my "lyrical hero", Kavalan ex-Sherry Cask, the excitement builds, invading all my senses, and then booom! A rich, lustful aroma with many layers explodes on the palate, catalyzed by the serious alcohol percentage. Yet, it does not burn, it just instills respect as if saying "This is not a drink for crybabies!" The finish is long, soft and smooth, and the aftertaste is a generous fantasy that makes you smack for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Honestly, after a few sips of Kavalan, all other whiskies will seem flat and impersonal to you, at least in the next hour or two.
My personal acquaintance with Kavalan took place just 3 or 4 years ago, at the Whiskey Fest Sofia. Since then, there is this one question that has been plaguing me...what is the secret of this Taiwanese whisky sensation that seems to have barged in and rewritten the rules of a centuries-old industry? Scottish distilleries flourish on ancient history, specific northern climate, salty sea wind, family traditions, coats of arms and secret recipes passed on from one generation to the next... But all of a sudden all this sounds like a marketing myth as this brand-new player, the first ever Taiwanese whisky, suc- ceeds only a few years after the opening of the distillery (in December 2008) to literally reap awards and competitions the world over.
The first sign of the upcoming furor comes as early as 2010. On the traditional Burns Night Whisky (in memory of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns), organized by the Times, an unknown whisky brand knocked down four British heavy- weights! There was no room for cheating as the whiskies were blind tasted, and the participant that struck all judges dumb was the Taiwanese total debutant!
In 2012, Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask won “Double Gold” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the title Best Rest of the World Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards! As if this was not enough, in 2015 Kavalan Vinho Barrique Expression was named World's Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards, and a year later Kavalan Solist Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength was crowned the World's Best Single Cask Single Malt at the same awards.
And the explanation? Well, besides the typical Asian tenacity, patience, hard work and manic attention to the smallest detail, the sensational success of Kavalan is rooted in some quite objective factors. One of them is the Yilan River coming from the Snow Mountain and providing a rich influx of fresh spring water, considered to be the most fresh and clean water in all of Taiwan. It is not by chance that Mr. T. T. Lee chose this exact location for his distillery. Another factor is the interaction of Taiwan's hot and humid subtropical climate with oak barrels (carefully selected from all over the world), which ensures an incredibly rapid maturation and produces outstanding single malt in an amazingly short time. Understandably, the Kavalan whisky has no designated year or aging period (an approach that has already been adopted by the legendary Macallan), but each series achieves the perfect harmony of flavor, taste, depth and strength.
Of course, there was no way to go on without getting support from the West, so the financially powerful King Car Group with their long experience in the production of alcoholic drinks hired the international expert Dr. Jim Swan. It is he who orga- nized the entire process so that the internationally gathered know-how, the state-of-the-art equipment and the unique climatic conditions of Taiwan would harmoniously blend to give rise to a masterpiece.
Kavalan is not the type of whisky you can find just at any shop or bar. It is on a whole other level. The distribution is precisely targeted, and the price is fully in line with its quality and prestige. The portfolio now offers 19 varieties in the Kavalan, Solist and Premium series, and will surely surprise even the most discerning of tasters who want to blend into the subtle differences between bourbon and sherry barrel flavors, delicate shades and various alcoholic strengths (with percentage ranging from the standard 40% to the respectable 59% vol.).
I wholeheartedly recommend that you enjoy this truly unique single malt in every opportunity you get (in reasonable quantities, of course), because it leaves no-one indifferent.