The best single malt whisky in the world isn’t from Scotland. It isn’t even from the U.S., Japan or Ireland. In fact, it’s from a place thousands of miles away from the Scotch drenched shores of Islay.
Surprisingly, the best single malt whisky in the world comes from the tiny island of Taiwan off the coast of China, at least according to one international competition.
This island nation of 23 million people is home to the Kavalan Distillery, which only opened its doors in 2005, but was recently awarded the “Best Single Malt Whisky in the World” for their Solist Vinho Barrique at the World Whiskies Awards, an international competition organized by The Drinks Report and Whisky Magazine.
This is the first time a Taiwanese whisky has won such an accolade, which isn’t surprising considering that whisky production in Taiwan is a fairly new venture. “Prior to 2002, only our government could produce or sell alcohol,” says Master Blender Ian Chang. “In 2002, on the first of January, when Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization, the government loosened the regulations. That’s why we have the opportunity today to have our own private distilleries and wineries in Taiwan.”
The heat and humidity in Taiwan also make whisky production a bit more challenging, accelerating the speed of maturation. As a result, in Taiwan, whisky only needs to be matured for a minimum of two years. You notice Taiwan’s wall of heat and humidity as soon as you step out of the airport.
“When Mr. Lee [Kavalan’s owner] decided to make whisky back in 2002, many of his friends and relatives told him that it’s impossible to make quality whisky in Taiwan. Because they believe that quality whisky can only be produced in a colder climate,” says Chang. After much research, they realized that the heat and humidity could actually be used in their favor.
According to Chang, the heat helps soften the harsh edge of the whisky in a shorter period of time—like sandpaper that smoothes away rough edges.
Solist Vinho Barrique is aged in used wine casks as opposed to American oak barrels because of a world-wide shortage of whisky barrels from America. “We noticed that there were plenty of wine casks around the world,” Chang says. Initially, the name ‘Vinho’ was used because they bought many Portuguese wine casks. Currently, they use wine casks from California, Australian and some French wine casks for Solist Vinho Barrique.
The whisky was described by the World Whiskies Awards judges as a fruity, smooth, custard cream flavored whisky that is “like bourbon infused milk chocolate.”
Solist Vinho Barrique isn’t the only award winning whisky out of this young distillery. Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon has won gold at two International Spirit Competitions in recent years.
Find out more about Kavalan and Taiwanese whisky here.