The first Arkwrights tasting of 2017! This year marks 10 years of whisky tastings organised by Ken and Fran of Arkwrights. I count myself lucky to have attended many of the tastings over the years, there have been some memorable evenings and some truly wonderful drams sampled. Long may it continue!
The first tasting of this year introduces us to the Tawanese distillery Kavalan. Our presenter for the evening was Mr Ian Chang. A gentleman who has been with the King Car Group (the owners of the distillery) since 2005. At this moment in time he seems to hold multiple roles within the company; Brand Ambassador, Head of Global Operations and (most importantly?) Master Distiller & Blender. Ian’s story in itself is an interesting one, having lived and studied in England at the insistance of his father (who wanted to protect him from National Service because he thought he might be “too weak”!), before returning to his family in China, and eventually moving to Taiwan after the family business was sold. Despite not having a background in distillation, Ian was invited for an interview at the King Car Company, part of the interview being a challenge to nose and describe 15 samples of whisky. “Grandmas wardrobe”, and “nail varnish remover” were amongst the descriptions he noted, and he was obviously spot on because he was offered a job! Ian was subsequently send to Scotland to learn as much as possible about the industry, before returning to Taiwan to put into practice what he had discovered.
The King Car Group were established in 1956 and produce numerous products, including a range of canned coffee beverages that are apparently very popular in Germany. The Kavalan distillery itself was founded in 2005, and therefore is the latest venture of the Group. The distillery is located in Yilan County (Kavalan being the old name of the county), in the jungle, surrounded by mountains from where the water is sourced. Incredibly the distillery was built in only nine months! The build completed in December 2005 , and it took a further 45 days to complete all installations and conduct various ‘dry runs’ of all equipment. The first drop of new make spirit was produced on the 11th of March 2006 at 15:30.
The sub tropical climate of the area has a huge impact of the rate of maturation of their products. It’s hot and humid, and as a result the amount of spirit lost to the angels share is in the region of 8-10% per year (compare that to a rate of 2-3% in Scotland). Their warehouse is rather unique in that it is 5 storeys high and each floor has its own microclimate. For example, in the summer months when the outside temperature may be around 30 degrees, the temperature on the ground floor will hover around 27 degrees, whereas the top floor will be about 42 degrees. As a result the larger casks tend to be stored on the higher floors to balance maturation rates. They refer to this as “maturation re-defined”. There are no age statements on their products as they feel the age is almost irrelevant given that the climate speeds the maturations rates.
We tasted six different whiskies on the night, here are my notes on each expression:
Aged for 5-6 years in a cask made of a combination of wine staves. Bottled at 57.8%. Retailing for around £200.
This was named the world’s best single malt whisky at the World Whiskies Awards. It’s a really dark whisky!
Nose – Akin to a tawny port, really resinous. Juicy sultana, sweet dates. Exceptionately fruity and sweet but tempered by some leathery notes.
Palate – Very different, could divide opinion this one! Robust flavours… red wine, big sweet & thick port notes, brown sugar. Hints of liqorice & fennel temper the sweetness.
Finish – Star anise, treacle and tobacco linger for long time.
A really interesting line up that was varied and certainly divided opinions! I was particularly keen on the cask strength Solist and the Vino Barrique, whereas others on our table were fonder of the Podium or King Car Conductor. Everyone seemed to enjoy the Classic and Concertmaster though, agreeing that they were good quality, easy drinking whiskies.
The evening ended with Ian giving a special mention to Dr Jim Swan, a world renowned whisky consultant whose knowledge of distillation, maturation and wood management was sought by distilleries the world over. Dr Swan played a big part in shaping and developing the processes that Kavalan employ today, and it was obvious to see that Ian had been saddened by his passing back in February of this year. It was nice to see Ian acknowledging the fine work Jim did, and pay tribute to the man who has, in part, made Kavalan what it is today.