Named after the indigenous people of Taiwan, Kavalan distillery is the first and only whiskey distillery in Taiwan. Situated an hour away from Taipei, this distillery (built in 2005) is the size of 30 football fields. It is possibly one of the most visited distilleries in the world, greeting more than one million visitors per year. Though this sounds like a commercial production, the whiskeys (single malts only) are hardly so – the Kavalan whiskeys are all complex, different and are all limited in production (each cask produces a number of bottles, and bottle is labelled and dated, indicating its limitability). We lay out Kavalan's selection so far in order of alcoholic strength, although if you'd like to skip us and go straight to buying the bottles, Fine Spirits by La Maison du Whisky is the place.
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Kavalan Single Malt ($109) | This bright yellow gold whiskey is stored in a bottle in the shape of Taiwan's famous building – and once the world's tallest skyscraper – Taipei 101. First released in December 2008, this is Kavalan's classic. Made in six different types of casks, it has a strong, clean nose with complex, ripe fruit (mangoes, vanilla and coconut) and floral taste. The finish is warm, woody and a little oily with perks of citrus and liquorice.
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Kavalan Concertmaster Single Malt Port Cask Finish Whiskey ($109) | Towards the end of its maturation, this whiskey is transferred into Portuguese ruby, tawny and vintage Port wine casks, so the caramel notes come across warmer. The brownish-red whiskey has tropical fruit tastes, leaning towards honey, vanilla, coconut. The nose and finish are sweet.
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King Car Conductor Single Malt Whisky ($113) | This is the start of the Cask Strength series. The "King Car" (they've indulged in a little superstition here – "King" sounds like "gold" in Mandarin) Conductor, is more floral than the classic. It is also clean in the nose, with sprights of fruit – the green apple came across the strongest for us. On the palate, it is rich, sweet and warm with a little bitterness. A complex but delicate whiskey.
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Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique (middle, $159) | The casks in which this sits have gone through shaving, toasting and recharging, so this amber-red whisky has an oaked flavour.
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Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique ($159) | The deep autumn-gold whiskey is a rich fusion of vanilla and caramel. Higher in alcohol content (59.2 per cent), this sandalwood-nosed dram ends clean and brightly warm, after the spices (cardamom and cinnamon), dates and cherry smoothens out. A drop or two of water will round this bold, sherry-like, whiskey out.
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Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask ($221) | A dark raisin colour, it's fitting this single malt also smells of dates, cherries and sweet spices. This intense dram is very high in alcohol content (57.8%); its warmth on the tongue is almost ethereal, smoothed out by its dense, rich and oily mouthfeel. The finish is long, with some bitterness from the oak. You won't forget this bold whiskey; it did win the Double Gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2012.
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Kavalan Fino Sherry Cask ($457) | Its price (and counterparts) should be hint enough that this is no run-of-the-mill whiskey. Matured in Fino sherry casks, this caramel-, almonds- and marzipan-tasting dark amber whiskey has plenty of fresh fruit. Crowned 'New World Whisky of the Year' in Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible, and a Murray's 'Liquid Gold' awardee (97 points) in 2013, this smooth drink smells a little of fudge and overly-ripe mangoes, while its long finish is a little smoky and sweet. it's so complex and so well-balanced, we're sure we're barely doing it justice in this write-up.