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Can Taiwan produce a world-class tipple?
But he also said it was too expensive for Taiwanese.
Richard Ma, a spokesman for the King Car Group, which makes Kavalan, suggested that the company may offer lower-priced whiskeys in the future. But he said the high price reflected the company's faith in its product.
"We're in this for the long term — not just five or ten years, but 100," said Ma. "By insisting in our belief in our whiskey, consumers will eventually realize it's worth it."
King Car began building the distillery in 2005, just three years after Taiwan's government opened the domestic spirits market to private companies. It began distilling in March 2006, and sold its first bottles a year ago.
Chang, the blender, said Kavalan is specially tweaked for Taiwanese tastes. While Westerners prefer a dry, "not so sweet" taste, Taiwanese like an oily, smooth texture with some sweetness, he said. Kavalan is chemically engineered to boast hints of mango and green apple, with a cinnamon note that's "unique to Taiwan whiskey," said Chang.
Kavalan gets its malt barley from Scotland, because Taiwan is too humid to grow and dry it. The water comes from a natural underground spring 200 feet below the distillery.
Kavalan's warehouses boast 30,000 barrels for aging. About 40 percent are recycled, oak Kentucky bourbon barrels, preferred to European oak barrels because they have fewer tannins, said Chang. (More tannins makes for a more bitter, drier whiskey).
Chang said Kavalan already picked up some awards, and is shooting for two gold medals at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London in July.
"This is still early days for Kavalan — we have a long way to go," said Chang. "But we want to convince Taiwan consumers that whiskey doesn't have to be foreign to be good."
"Taiwan can make a good whiskey. We just need to have a little faith and confidence in ourselves."