Move over Japan – there’s a new Asian country that has planted its flag on the single malt map of the world.

For nearly five years now, Japanese single malts like Yamazaki, Hakushu and Miyagikyo have been the rage around the world, especially among those seeking non-Scottish whiskies. The Japanese ascendency followed that country’s triumph at the World Whiskies Awards, where one of its best known malts, Yamazaki, won the Best Single Malt award in 2011 and 2012, followed by Whiskey Bible’s 2015 World Whiskey of the Year award. And now, for the same reasons, another unlikely country is claiming its place on the whisky pantheon. Taiwan’s Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique was named the Best Single Malt Whiskey in the world at the  2015 World Whiskies Awards, and since then, duty free shops around the world have been dealing with a flood of requests for Taiwanese single malts. 

The Taiwanese economic miracle of the 1980s brought unprecedented prosperity to the country, which is when its people first began developing a passion for imported whiskies. The result is that today, some of the finest single malts from Scotland head towards Taipei for select cask strength releases, and many individuals own such casks in their own names. Thus it wasn’t surprising that over the last two decades, some of the food and alcohol companies from the country would try their hand at single malts. Two of them are particularly noteworthy — Kavalan and Nantou.

Kavalan

(King Car Distillery, Yuanshan Township, Yilan County)

King Car is a business conglomerate dating back to 1956. Their interests range from agriculture and aquaculture to food and beverages. The company began making single malt whisky in 2005, under the guidance of industry stalwart Dr. Jim Swan. The location of the distillery has distinct advantages. It is surrounded by mountains, which ensure fresh air and water. The spirit is matured in a mix of wood, mostly ex bourbon, although some of the finer versions of Kavalans are matured in more expensive Sherry, Fino Sherry and Pedro Ximinez casks. Kavalan has no age statement on its bottles, but nothing is bottled before a full three year period, which is the minimum age required to sell whisky in Europe, as per the Scotch Whisky Association norms. The basic flavour profile of the spirit is mango, but after ageing in a variety of casks, Kavalan develops complex characteristics. I have tried several of them, and I am yet to come across a bad Kavalan. My favorite versions are from the Kavalan Solist Range, especially the sherry cask matured ones. Here I list some of the finest. If you can find any, please grab them with both hands.

Kavalan Solist 57.7 %, Sherry Cask No. S060904031, 516 bottles

This one, when tasted blind in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2014, got a 90 plus score from 8 of the 9 judges, which is very rare.

Nose: Deeply sherried, with lots of rich fruits accompanied by heavy notes of rum cake. Some buttery notes with orange zests and oriental spices, like cloves, star anise and cinnamon.

Palate: Heavy and rich. Very sweet and spicy, and you get all the characteristics of the nose back on the palate, especially all those dry fruits.

Finish: Exceedingly long and unending, with rich notes of honeyed spices.

Kavalan Solist 58.6%, Sherry Cask no. S060904024, 551 Bottles

Nose: Fruits concoction. Cinnamon and cloves, dried fruits like raisins, dates and Christmas cake.

Palate: Lots of dried fruits experienced on a nose return on the palate. Very sweet.

Finish: Smooth and long lasting. A sherried monster.

Kavalan Solist 58.6%, Sherry Cask no. S060821035, 512 Bottles

Nose: Sherry voyeurism at its peak. You get all those dried fruits like figs, prunes, dates, sultanas and whatnot, accompanied by oriental spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Palate: Christmas cake with excess rum and brandy in it. Strong black oolong tea. Very tannic. Fruits and sweets come back on the palate in loads.

Finish: Extremely long and sweetish finish that stays on forever.

Nantou

(Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp, Taipei City, Distillery: Nantou County, Central Taiwan)

The story of Nantou is very similar to that of Kavalan (and our very own Amrut). The main company was established in 1947, having business interests in tobacco, beer and liqueur. It began making single malts in 2008. The distillery is situated in the land-locked county of Nantou, like Amrut, which is also made at a land-locked distillery near Bengaluru. There are other similarities as well. The temperature and humidity in both places is high, as a result of which the angel’s share (the loss of whisky due to evaporation from the cask) is also the same – around 7 per cent to 8 per cent per year. Most of the Nantou spirit is destined for blending local whiskies, and some select casks are released as single malts overseas, through stores in Europe, Canada and the USA. Nantou has several cask versions, the most common being the American bourbon casks. Here are some special versions to look out for.

Nantou 7Y ‘Omar’, 06.2008- 06.2015, 50.1%, Sherry cask No. 21090080

Nose: Dried coconuts. Lots of wood notes with varnish etc. Mild herbal hints pointing towards asafoetida and some Ayurvedic medicines that contain fennel or aniseeds. Some dried fruits, accompanied by bitter organic notes.

Palate: Exceedingly delicious. Loads of dried fruits come back on the palate. Very sweet.

Finish: Exceedingly long and honeyed.

Nantou ‘Omar’ 56%,Black Queen Wine Barrel

Nose: Very woody, almost like sweet bourbon wood. Spicy on the nose, like a Rye whisky. Some dark fruits.

Palate: Lots of tannins, spices and hints of coconut oil on the palate.

Finish: Very spicy and long.

Nantou 4Y ‘Omar’, 09.2010-06.2015, 58.4%, Sherry cask No. 21091305

Nose: Rich sherry, lots of candied fruits.

Palate: Very sweet, brown sugar etc. Loads of dried fruits. A little later, some organics and vegetal matters. Very dry, fruity and sweet.

Finish: Exceedingly long and sweet.

HOW TO READ THE CASK NUMBERS OF KAVALAN

The `S’ denotes Sherry cask, the last three digits denote cask number and the numbers before that represent the date, month and year. For example, S060904031 should be read as “Sherry cask no. 31 was filled with newly made spirit on 4th September, 2006.