KAVALAN WHISKY: MATURITY BEYOND ITS YEARS
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.*