Friday, September 4, 2009

Taiwan malt whisky matures early

At this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Kavalan Single Malt Whisky walked away with a silver medal award. Three facts stunned whisky lovers – that the whisky was made in Taiwan, was only three years old, but cost three times more than other whiskies. This was one instance where science, technology, hard-work and a fat wallet triumphed over centuries-old distilleries.

In 1991, Taiwan lifted its ban on imported spirits and Taiwan’s connoisseurs began enjoying imported whisky to the tune of 14.2 million liters a year, or roughly one bottle for every one of Taiwan’s 23 million people, according to Taiwan Review. There was a definite market for whisky, but since neither oak nor barley grew in Taiwan, the barriers to entry seemed prohibitive. This, however, did not deter Lee Tien-tsai, a self-made entrepreneur who founded King Car Food Industries Co., Taiwan’s leading coffee brand.

Lee visited distilleries around the world and subsequently decided to set up Taiwan’s first whisky distillery in 2005. He chose to name his first whisky Kavalan, the old name of his hometown Yilan. He also located his distillery there, attracted by the clean mountain water and windswept climate. He poured nearly NT$1 billion (US$30 million) into purchasing the barrels alone. Lee also hired expert distillers from Scotland to help, but soon realized that fine-tuning to account for the non-traditional methods of whisky making would require a special type of talent.

This is where Jim Swan, a leading whisky expert, with a background heavy in the sciences, came in. Swan was able to take the different elements needed for producing a quality product and calculate a method that resulted in an award-winning whisky. Through the use of precision equipment to analyze samples at different stages, they were able to produce a marketable whisky in just three years.

To counter the low-aged bias and the higher price tag, King Car opened the distillery last December to educate visitors on the art of whisky making. So far, daily visitors to the distillery average around 7,500 on weekdays and 13,000 per day on weekends. At this pace, the company hopes to increase its production capacity of nine million bottles a year to 24 million bottles in two years.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.