It has been an insanely long time since my last post. 2014 was a crazy year for me in that my day job was crushing me to the point that I had zero time to do much of anything outside the office. Fortunately, circumstances changed and I found myself in a new job that I both enjoy and allows me time outside of work to enjoy whiskey once again instead of drinking whiskey for the sole purpose of drowning my sorrows.
This post is about a line of single malts that I think are among the best in the world from Taiwanese producer, Kavalan. At this point in time, they’re gaining some notoriety in winning numerous awards, but for the average consumer at large, they’re relatively unknown. The reviews on their product line are overwhelmingly favorable across the board and they have racked up numerous awards at spirits competitions worldwide, most notably recently winning “Best Single Malt” in the World Whiskies Awards.
My hypothesis for the under exposure is that these whiskies come from a non-traditional whisky producing country, Taiwan. With the exception of Japan, the East Asian region is relatively unknown and new to the industry. Japan has done an incredible job making noise across the world with their excellent single malts. As many know, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask was bestowed with the honor of “2014’s World’s Best Whiskey” by Jim Murray, author of The Whiskey Bible. So while there is recognition being awarded, much of the region remains unknown to whiskey aficionados and the general public.
An additional hurdle is that Kavalan’s whiskies were not even sold in the US until 2014. I have faith that they will certainly receive their due credit in time as they produce a fantastic line of single malts – probably some of my favorites.
About the distillery:
The King Car Distillery is located in Yilan, Taiwan. Having a very tropical climate with extremely high temperatures and humidity levels, this whisky is subject to some intense heat – and therefore takes on the barrel influences at an accelerated rate.
According to their website (http://www.kavalanwhisky.com/en/news/news.aspx?ID=141):
Kavalan, which means “flatland people,” is named after the Taiwanese aboriginal ethnic group that originally inhabited modern-day Yilan County, where the Kavalan distillery resides. The warm sub-tropical climate of Taiwan ensures the whiskies mature faster than their Scottish, American and Japanese counterparts. Yilan was selected for its abundant supply of cold spring water flowing through the Central and Snow Mountain ranges and for its proximity to the Pacific Ocean resulting in ocean mists and mountain winds circulating around each cask. Master Blender Ian Chang and Dr. Jim Swan, an international whisky expert and consultant to Kavalan, have quickly established a reputation for their innovative incorporation of various types of wood casks. Accounting for the tastes of Taiwanese drinkers, Kavalan whiskies boast fruitier flavor profiles, thanks to modifications such as stainless steel fermentation tanks, oil-based fuel instead of peat, and ex-sherry, port and bourbon barrels for aging; all Kavalan whiskies are cask strength, non-chill filtered and natural in color.
In this post, I will be reviewing what they present as their three “core” offerings. All of these expressions are bottled at cask strength/barrel proof, which I love!
- Sherry Cask – aged in ex sherry casks
- Vinho Barrique – aged in barrels previously storing red and white wines
- Bourbon Cask – aged in barrels previously holding American Bourbon
Sherry Cask: 57.8 ABV
Dried plums, raisins, rich dark fruits, honeysuckle, heavy sherry influence
The sherry cask definitely has a heavy hand in the taste. It produces a dryness, almost a vermouth type of mouthfeel, but it’s not overdone. There’s a good balance with the sweetness that has some of the taste of dried plums I picked up on the nose. Overall, there’s a solid balance here and the burn is surprisingly not too overdone considering its proof of 115.6.
I’m very impressed with this. In my mind, I imagine that this would be similar to how a Yamazaki single malt would taste at cask strength. The dry mouthfeel took me a bit by surprise. If you like sherry bombs, then this is a definite must-try.
Rating: 4.5/5 Barrels
Vinho Barrique: 57.1 ABV
Dark berry jam, tropical fruits, floral honey, crystalized ginger
Bits of dried plums, caramelized sugar, a mix of rich tropical fruits
This dram blew me away. The wine casks have a great influence on the malt, not dissimilar from what I’ve found in other wine cask aged whiskies such as Glenmorangie La Quinta Ruban. Granted – they’re very different barrels (port vs. red/white wine barrels), and also the proofs definitely make a difference as Kavalan’s clocks in at cask strength. I can see this going well with a nice, medium bodied cigar.
Rating: 5/5 Barrels
Ex-Bourbon Cask: 55.6 ABV
Rich floral notes, honeydew melon, citrus, light ginger
Honey, Vanilla, light bits of caramel.
This dram surprised me. I was blown away with the Sherry Cask and Vinho Barrique as I feel the sherry and wine influences marry well with the malt. I wasn’t sure what to expect with an ex-bourbon cask as I imagined something lighter may not mesh as well. I’m happy to say that I was proven wrong. This dram has an excellent flavor and balance. There’s not too much dryness and the floral, almost citrus notes would make this a great after dinner dram.
Rating: 4.5/5 Barrels
These are ridiculously good single malts. Everything is well executed, including even the packaging – as they include a beautiful case and the brand and bottle design exude a feeling of luxury. But looks and aesthetics alone are not enough in the world of fine spirits! They deliver on all fronts as a high quality dram.
They can be on the higher end of pricing at around $120 per bottle, but if you’re looking for an excellent single malt that’s a little different from what is popular with the average drinker, I definitely recommend giving any one of these a go.