Newsweek - - PERISCOPE -

The in­cred­i­ble depth and smooth­ness of Kavalan Whisky takes many peo­ple by sur­prise. Es­pe­cially when they find out how long it’s been ma­tured.

Mr TT Lee is a man who has de­fied his crit­ics count­less times. He started man­u­fac­tur­ing in­sec­ti­cides and then took on bot­tled drinks. He saw the Ja­panese suc­ceed with canned cof­fee and then cre­ated the great­est Tai­wanese cof­fee brand. But per­haps the most re­mark­able in­stance of his hard­head­ed­ness is us­ing Tai­wan’s sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate to make some of the world’s smoothest whisky.

Be­fore Kavalan came into be­ing, Mr Lee was hand­ing over the ex­ec­u­tive reins of his mas­sive con­glom­er­ate to his son. Fa­ther and son knew their whisky could de­pend on Tai­wan’s purest wa­ter source from Snow Moun­tain, close to their bot­tled wa­ter fac­tory in Yi­lan County.

The prob­lem, or so they thought, was the cli­mate. As luck would have it, Mr YT Lee dis­cov­ered the heat did not, in fact, in­ter­fere with the mat­u­ra­tion of whisky. It en­hanced it. Mas­ter Blen­der Ian Chang calls Tai­wan’s cli­mate the “sand­pa­per” that “sands away the rough edges of the whisky,” mak­ing it smoother and mel­lower than you would ever imag­ine pos­si­ble.

YT Lee had ear­lier shown his smarts in hir­ing the “Ein­stein of Whisky,” the late Dr Jim Swan. Dr Swan and Chang, whose burn­ing po­ten­tial it was hard to miss, had ex­cit­edly shown Mr YT Lee the re­sults of their study: Tai­wan’s heat ac­cel­er­ated the aging of the whisky, and well, some­thing even more pro­found. Spey­side in Scot­land and Yi­lan in Tai­wan shared al­most the ex­act same tem­per­a­ture pro­file, stag­gered 15 de­grees apart.

If you had wanted to cre­ate a cli­mate like Spey­side where whisky with a sim­i­lar dis­tinct char­ac­ter could be made, only much faster, you couldn’t have en­gi­neered some­where much bet­ter than Yi­lan, Tai­wan. And a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to that 15 de­gree vari­ance holds the key for Kavalan.

Chang and Swan had found that this part of Tai­wan’s north east­ern coast is the first place on the is­land to re­ceive the Siberian winds of win­ter, which means Yi­lan ex­pe­ri­ences the brac­ing cool­ness and re­fresh­ing winds longer than any­where else. Kavalan could there­fore ex­tend the cru­cial “breath­ing in” part of the mat­u­ra­tion process.

Yi­lan County, then, was close to per­fect for whisky mat­u­ra­tion, hold­ing the prom­ise of an in­cred­i­bly rich and com­plex whisky in just a few years. The en­tire process, they dubbed, “Mat­u­ra­tion Rede­fined.”

Back in 2004 with their green light, the two whisky men saw to it that the 2-mil­lion-bot­tle-ca­pac­ity dis­tillery - Tai­wan’s first ever - be­came a re­al­ity faster than any other dis­tillery on Earth. In­deed “fast” be­came the buzz­word of “Op­er­a­tion Kavalan.” The brand name was cho­sen not only be­cause it paid homage to Yi­lan County, but be­cause it con­tained a triple “A.” Mr YT Lee did not want to make just “any whisky,” he wanted to pi­o­neer world-class Tai­wanese whisky.

*Ben­e­fit­ing from the unique com­bi­na­tion of in­tense sum­mer heat and cool win­ter breezes, as well as the purest wa­ter source in Tai­wan, Kavalan whisky has been pi­o­neer­ing the art of sin­gle malt whisky since 2006. Kavalan takes both the old name for Yi­lan County where it is based and the indige­nous peo­ple who set­tled the land.

Named in 2015 and 2016 the “World’s Best Sin­gle Malt” and the “World’s Best Sin­gle Cask Sin­gle Malt” by the pres­ti­gious World Whiskies Awards, Kavalan also re­cently won four best-in-class tro­phies at the In­ter­na­tional Spir­its Chal­lenge, the In­ter­na­tional Wine and Spir­its Com­pe­ti­tion and the In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Spir­its, as part of more than 250 top medals in the most com­pet­i­tive global con­tests.*

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