The Kavalan Distillery is to Taiwan what Three Ships is to South Africa. They’re the much-loved only child of the Taiwanese whisky industry, owned by a massive parent company (in this case, King Car Group) and absolutely showered in industry praise and accolades.
And just like in South Africa, Taiwan’s warmer climate means their whisky matures much faster than in the cold wastelands of Scotland or Ireland. Which means their whisky is relatively young… and as a result you won’t find a single age statement on any of Kavalan’s expressions. Nothing is sexy about a big “3” or “4” emblazoned on a bottle (actually, there are exceptions!) However given the quality of their whisky, and in particular – their casks – Kavalan is possibly the best way of proving to your whisky snob buddies that age statements mean very little when it comes to whisky quality.
I recently won a very cool Kavalan tasting set, complete with 5 miniatures from their core single malt and “Solist” ranges (their single cask, cask strength little beauties). Starting from the bottom, I’m diving straight into their entry-level expression, simply called the Kavalan Single Malt. The mini is bottled at a paltry 40% (sigh), although if you buy it off the shelf in SA it will of course be at a much more respectable 43%. Here goes the first of many!
There is simply no way anybody could differentiate this from Scotch, at least not by smell alone. It’s got a fruity, waxy, Speyside/Highland quality about it… Apples like a Glenfiddich, floral like Cragganmore, cherries like Oban. A light marzipan. And bananas. It’s surprisingly complex, and makes me wonder what casks are at work here – I’m convinced there some sherry, possibly some funky wine casks in there, but the barest touch. Slightly weak in terms of oomph – wishing I had it at 43%. But good stuff.
Tropical fruit juice, a little citrus. Hazelnuts. Very oily on the mouth. That banana smell has followed through, and the suggestion of wine casks as well. Less woody than expected. But unfortunately very weak for my tastes – I’m dreading adding water.
Bananas, bitter, lengthy. Somewhat strange – a tropical taste on the mouth, the first time it feels particularly “different”. Not unpleasant, though!
Kersplash! I completely killed it. Again, I’ll make a point of trying this at 43%, knowing how close the 40% bottling was to disaster.
Unfortunately, from what I understand Kavalan is pulling out of the South African market, and as a result the prices of their whiskies have absolutely skyrocketed. For a 750ml bottle of this entry-level malt you’re looking at a current price of R1400, which is simply bewildering. That’s Glenmorangie or Highland Park 18-year-old territory. Or 2 bottles of the Spice Tree. Or three bottles of Talisker 10. Or 8.75 bottles of Three Ships 5 (okay, that wasn’t fair). With the price in mind, I could never really recommend anyone grab a bottle of Kavalan Single Malt, not until the cost was literally cut in half.
The liquid itself however, is good stuff. It would be a toss up between this and the average starter bottle of other big brands. At 43% I think it would be a clear winner, but right now I’m divided… will have to retest in future!