February 24, 2010 / 5:51 AM / 9 years ago

Standing up to Scotland: Taiwan's world-class whiskey

YUANSHAN, Taiwan (Reuters Life!) - Warm summers and year-long high humidity hardly make for world-class whiskey, but for Taiwan’s only distiller, the climate is just one more ingredient in its recipe for success.

A worker pours a glass of whisky inside the Kavalan Whisky aging warehouse and distillery in Ilan, north eastern Taiwan, February 9, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

King Car Food Industrial Co. has tolerated high evaporation rates at its distillery on Taiwan’s subtropical Pacific Coast since 2005 to produce award-winning Kavalan-brand whiskey that taps the region’s soft water for a taste aimed at Asian drinkers.

Kavalan also takes advantage of the climate to age the whiskey in two years versus four to eight years in cooler regions, though the processing speed may limit the flavor’s complexity, experts say.

Five Kavalan brands are already on the market.

Last year the brand won two awards, silvers in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the International Wine & Spirit Competition in England. A Kavalan whiskey also beat Scottish and English blends in a blind taste-test organized in Scotland last month to mark the annual Burn’s Night festival.

“I think this is all part and parcel of the 21st Century, when we can all do what we want and everything is acceptable,” said Gaz Regan, a New York-based writer of books and newsletters on whiskey and other alcoholic drinks, when asked about the whiskey’s atypical origin.

Kavalan whiskies with names such as Concertmaster and Solist Fino build on King Car’s older, main business of brewing Mr. Brown brand coffee for stores and cafes in Taiwan.

Wind circulation near the largely automated distillery also allows its carefully designed barrels to “breathe” better, said Allen Chen, who works for a university in the United States and toured the plant.

About the only hitches are the costs of importing grain, since Taiwan does not produce it, and a higher than normal evaporation due to the heat, the company says.

The distillery in rural Yilan county of northeast Taiwan has a capacity for nine million bottles per year and makes 60 percent of that now, said King Car planning vice-director Richard Ma. King Car is looking to the appeal of its water to reach capacity.

“Good whiskey needs to be made in a specific place,” Ma said. “Yilan county is very much suited to be a whiskey-making place. In Europe, it’s hard water, and that’s our difference.”

(Additional reporting by Nicky Loh)

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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