Drinks, food

DRINK THIS: Kavalan Whisky


When you consider the process behind whisky-making, you’re probably imagining the rolling Highlands or the crisp County Antrim seaside (whiskey), with flushed, Wellie-wearing Scottish and Irish distillers braving the biting chill to blend, mature and bottle the spirits that we love so much. And yet Kavalan, named after the indigenous people who originally inhabited the area in which the distillery is located, creates its spirits in the subtropical climate of Taiwan, where temperatures average around 37°C. Whisky experts will know that the warmer environment means that the angels are getting boozed on their share, with the evaporation rate at around 10 per cent. To find out a little more about the anomalous whisky, which in 2011 received a gold at the International Wine & Spirit Competition and has beat out some of the top Scotches in blind taste tests, we caught up with Kavalan’s master blender Ian Chang at the recent FNB Whisky Live Showroom in Cape Town. The warm sub-tropical climate means that the whisky effectively matures more quickly and angel’s share is much higher. We hear that you’re experimenting with methods to reduce the angel’s share so that you lose less whisky. How will this be achieved? My mentor Dr Jim Swan and I are working on this project to try and reduce the angel’s share but at the same time without prolonging the maturation period. Normally when you try to reduce the angel’s share it means you have to cool down the temperature in the maturation warehouse. When temperature is lower it means longer maturation is required so we try to find a good middle ground for both the time and the quantity of maturation. As to how we do it, it is a secret I am afraid. If you would like to know the answer you will need to come to our distillery into the warehouse but there is a possibility that you will not come out again… ha! How old is the Kavalan Single Malt? It is a single malt from the barrels of whisky produced at Kavalan distillery (a single malt is defined as a malt whisky produced at a single distillery), and the average age is 4-5 years. What is the estimated age compared to Scottish whisky, owing to the faster maturation of Kavalan? One year in Taiwan’s climate equates to approximately 4-5 years maturation in a colder climate. We estimate this by doing many chemical analyses to see how much of those wood extracts there are in a whisky in comparison to the wood extracts that there might be after one year in a colder climate. With Kavalan receiving numerous accolades (including New World Whisky Of The Year in the Whisky Bible by the renowned Jim Murray) and now being sold in the UK, US, EU and Australia, how has it affected the marketing/sales and production? We started our export last year, and so far continental Europe and especially France and the US are our main markets. We see great potential for future expansion, and that is why when you come back to Kavalan in two years’ time you will see three more pairs of stills in production. We see huge global potential for Kavalan. Also our domestic consumers are not very confident with local spirits, so by doing well overseas it is an encouragement to our domestic consumers to gain confidence in Kavalan. We are loving the shape of the bottle. Is there a story behind it? The shape and inspiration come from the Taipei 101 building which used to be the tallest building in the world until 2010 [when it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa in Dubai]. We thought that since it was the tallest building at the time and also the landmark of Taiwan, we would take inspiration for the shape from it. Any reason for using green glass for the Kavalan Concertmaster Single malt Whisky matured in Port wine casks? It is very simple. Mr TT Lee, owner of the distillery, likes green. Is this your first visit to SA? Joanie [Tseng], our global business development manager, and I attended the FNB Whisky Live Festival in Sandton last year. South Africa is a beautiful country, I love it here. There is growth in terms of sales and brand awareness of Kavalan here and the future of whisky here is bright. Have you tried any of our locally produced whiskies (also produced in a warmer climate)? I have tried Bains Cape Mountain Whisky which was introduced to me by Andy Watts (master distiller) and it proved to me that the heat of SA also speeds up the maturation process. Compiled by Jolize Aschmann Enter our competition and you could win one of three bottles of Kavalan's Single Malt Whisky.