The distillery is about the size of an average distillery in Scotland.
This summer I had the pleasure of visiting Kavalan. Taiwan is tropical, so the enviroment is quite different than what I am used to when visiting similar distilleries in Scotland
Tours are in chinese. Some days there is english guides available, but not the day I had my visit scheduled
You have the possibility of doing a self guided tour and have a look at the distillery. You simply walk around in your own pace in a special tourist corridor that takes you through the distillery and also into a viewing platform in a gigantic warehouse. There is plenty of signs explaining thing, also in english
The Stills at Kavalan
Next to the distillery is the biggest visitor center I have seen in any distillery. Above the visitor centre is a coffee and cake cafe the same size. The company behind Kavalan is also have Mr. Brown Coffee, a big coffee brand in Taiwan. It is a good coffee by the way
Kavalan visitor centre. In July!
At one end of the visitor centre there is a bar where the tours ends with a tasting. Doing the self guided tour you can just join in and have some tastes. One of the guides at work that day spoke really good english and was able to serve me a few tasters and took her time to answer a couple of questions about the distillery.
The distillery is located in tropical Taiwan. Beneath a steep mountain range raising from the sea. The area is full of springs, both hot and cold and the supply of water is not the problem here. The high temperatures makes the maturing enviroment very different to Scotland. The angels share are very high, up to 15% annually. Basically this is high-speed matured whisky. Now how is their whisky?. Here is my opinion from a range of miniatures I bought at the distillery. I hope these wee tasting notes will give you a little idea about how Kavalan tastes!
1. King Car Conductor 46%.
Nose: Very pleasant and tropical, reminds of the delicate nose of old fragile speysiders, with the dominant sweet fruityness
Palate: The youth can't be hidden with an initial burn on your tip of the tongue. That said, this is easy drinking, with some added nutty/maltness to the tropical start
Finish: Short and some bitterness
2. Kavalan ex-bourbon oak 46%
Hand selected ex-bourbon casks
Nose: less tropical, with a minty touch. Light and delicate
Palate: Sweet and oily, with some bitterness
Finish : Medium
3. Kavalan Podium 46%
A mix of virgin oak and refill Kavalan casks
Nose: Vanilla and minty with a sweet spicyness
Palate: Fresh and then the fruityness hits
Finish: Sweet and less bitter than the first two. Medium length
4. Kavalan Sherry Oak 46%
A very dark whisky
Palate: Archetypical dry woody sherry. I am very sulphursensitive and tasting a clean sherry like this is pure enjoyment for a change. Nice spicy sherry, with more wood character than "dried fruits". My theory is that this is due to the climate enforced wood influence
This should be a must for all sherryfans to search out
Now onto the Solist range, which is a series of Kavalan Cask Strengths
5. Ex-bourbon Solist 57%
Nose: Tropical fruits, vanilla and mint
Palate: Minty and fresh, quite intense, with a hint of citrus. Burns a bit going down, also on my tip of the tongue
6. Solist Vinho Barrique 57%
Nose : Sweet and wine
Palate: I normally don't like wine flavoured whiskies but this works. The gentle wine impact surrounds the whisky and doesn't destroy nor overpower it. This is how to mature whisky on wine casks. The bitterness I do find in the Kavalan, probably due to the spirit working excessively with the wood in the hot tropical climate, needs some kind of sweetness to be balanced out. This works with new wood, sherry and also this winecasked whisky
7. Solist Sherry Cask 58.7%
Nose: Sulphur, then a lot of tropical fruits, and a fresh hint soap, almost like an unpeated Bowmore. This sounds a lot worse than it is :-). It's actual not that unpleasant and a bit intriguing
Palate: Dark licorise, hint of rubber. This is heavy licorise for sure. Dry and a faint bitterness. This is one of those challenging whiskies some entusiasts will really enjoy exploring
Finish: Medium and pleasant
My conclusion: I often prefer bourbon casks over other cask types, but this is not the case with Kavalan
Oh, and they got some german stills as well. When asked, she said they were making malt whisky on these to see how it turns out
I stayed in Jiaoxi, 5 minute train ride from Yilan. It was a very relaxed and friendly town, with few tourists but still lively and the only place in Taiwan I managed to find local microbrew, by finding that was pure luck , as searching the internet for good beer around Yilan and Jiaoxi didn't give me any help.
You see some quotes rating Kavalan well above 90 here and there on the internet. Up to 97. Don't get fooled, this whisky is not gonna make you fall down your chair and raise up again with a new whisky revelation.
It is indeed a good whisky, well worth searching out and trying. The whisky is young, usually revealed by some tonguetip burns and the wood influence is exceptional for this young age, with a lot of flavours I usually associate with a lot older whisky. Don't expect super soft whiskies, but expect some pleasant surprises flavourwise