Since arriving on the whisky scene towards the end of 2005, the Kavalan distillery has enjoyed a dramatic rise in prominence and reputation. Situated in the Taiwanese Yuanshan township its name is taken from the indigenous Kavalan residents, which means flatland people.
Since arriving on the whisky scene towards the end of 2005, the Kavalan distillery has enjoyed a dramatic rise in prominence and reputation. Situated in the Taiwanese Yuanshan township its name is taken from the indigenous Kavalan residents, which means flatland people. Sourcing inspiration from this history and the natural resources offered by this subtropical location, the distillery was founded by Tien-Tsai Lee who also owns the parent King Car conglomerate.
The company itself has diverse interests ranging from the production of instant coffee to fast food, healthy alternatives including dietary enriched drinks and eventually whisky. Lee had considered building a distillery since 2002 but seeking help and expertise including from the late Dr Swan, the spirit did not flow at the site until 2006. At the heart of his vision was traditional craftsmanship combined with cutting edge technology – this is utilised to increase capacity to around 9 million litres per year. The entire process is automated, which does contradict the craftsmanship element somewhat, but clearly the initial resource and development has paid dividends. However, the distillery was built within 9 months and has since grown dramatically. The Yuan Shan distillery features 10 stills and as a result of the 2015 expansion, production was trebled at the site with plans afoot to increase the number again to massive 20 stills in total. This would give Kavalan a turbo boost in production as it eyes sustained worldwide growth as a single malt.
The climate is always a concern and whilst promoting reflux during distillation, condensers and subcoolers are required to minimise the effects of environmental conditions. These concerns continue to the five story warehouses on site that house American white oak casks during maturation that were previously sourced from Jim Beam until their takeover by Suntory. Nowadays casks are sourced American producers such as Four Roses and Buffalo Trace. The warehouses experience varying levels of evaporation depending on which floor a cask is stored upon. This is seen throughout many tropical climates and the bourbon warehouses of North American where cask observation is a consistent undertaking. On average annually, a cask at Kavalan can lose almost 12% through evaporation with the upside being this accelerated interaction with the wood creates a characterful whisky far more quickly than seen in Scotland. Rather than try to limit the effects of this maturation, Kavalan actively encourages it by closing the warehouse windows during the summer months to heighten temperatures and then reversing the approach during winter.
The distillery itself has become a major tourist attraction for Taiwan and annually welcomes over a million visitors to the site. This potentially is enriched by the prospect of a free tour and free drams as part of the overall experience. However, it also shows the appetite across the region for whisky and knowledge with industry awards being received for the tour experience itself. This is reflected across the Kavalan range that continues to grow with the entry level whisky being the Kavalan Classic that showcases the distillery DNA, with a higher ABV version being released recently featuring more types of casks within its component mix. The range then expands in all directions allowing consumers to experiment and find their own favourite. The Concertmaster showcases a Port finish, whilst the increasingly popular Solist releases highlight single casks of note from the warehouses. The Solist range has continued to grow and today features several unusual cask types utilised by Kavalan these include Moscatel, Manzanilla and Amontillado casks that you’ll find stocked here at Abbey Whisky. These appear alongside more familiar cask types such as bourbon, sherry and Pedro Ximénez.
Currently Kavalan only offers a non-peated whisky however peated spirit has been distilled at the distillery and we eagerly await its future release. If you haven’t heard of Kavalan until now or even tried a whisky from this distillery then isn’t it about time?