SB meets… Ian Chang, KavalanBy Melita Kiely
Kavalan master blender Ian Chang on creating Taiwan’s first whisky, family ownership and a tantalising teaser about the company’s future plans.
When was Kavalan founded and how did you establish the distillery?
In March 2006, the distillery was completed in a record nine months. With the first new make in the country rolling off our stills, it was a very moving event for us and historic, not just for Kavalan, but also for Taiwan. Kavalan Distillery is an entrepreneur’s dream come true. Mr Tien-Tsai Lee, the founder of the King Car conglomerate, had long dreamed of producing a Taiwanese whisky, yet it was not until 2002 when Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization that his goal could be achieved. The distillery brings together a professional whisky R&D team, as well as the expertise of renowned whisky specialist, the late Dr Jim Swan. The team implements the highly specialised distilling and blending skills that King Car Group has cultivated for more than 30 years through beverage experience and knowledge.
Tell me a fun fact about Kavalan.
Actually, before Kavalan was established people told our founder Mr TT Lee that it was impossible. While Scotch is made in colder climates, our climate in Taiwan can get very hot in summer with average temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius. In addition, before Kavalan no one had ever attempted to make whisky in Taiwan, so there was no tradition or manual that existed in the country that we could learn from. It’s a different story now, with Kavalan having laid out the path in Taiwan.
What is it like to have a father-and-son team leading the distillery?
When there’s someone in the workplace who’s instrumental, they often say: “I’m afraid there’s only one me.” The benefit of working with this father and son partnership is we get two. Two leaders who are both diligent, efficient, ambitious and creative. We have our plates very full achieving their joint vision.
How does Taiwanese whisky compare to other styles of whisky?
Well, I wanted to create something special for the first ever whisky in Taiwan. So I wanted Kavalan to be all about quality and the flavour profile. When you taste Kavalan, you’ll find it is incredibly smooth, mellow and creamy with a rich fragrance of tropical, fruity and sweet characters. In particular, apple and mango, and also orchids, which are native to Yilan County, Taiwan.
Which Kavalan whisky expression was your favourite to create and why?
One of the first things we did at the outset was to set up a lab focused on innovations in quality and flavour. As a young whisky distillery, we understood that technology could hold the key to our competitive advantage and we invested in the latest state-of-the-art equipment to carry out our research. Through our experiments, we began developing our first-of-a-kind STR (shaving-toasting and re-charring) method within the first few years of our launch. This was how we created the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, which went on to win the World Whiskies Awards’ ‘World’s Best Single Malt Whisky’ in 2015.
You opened a second distillery in 2016 to double capacity to 10 million bottles per year. Do you have plans to expand further?
We are now constructing a third maturation warehouse in order to meet global rising demand. Construction is expected to be completed in 2019.
What is the proudest moment of your career?
I can’t say there is only one because actually it’s the ‘smaller’ moments, if you can call them that, which lift me up. When consumers really appreciate Kavalan whisky, and when the people I meet at shows and other events are eager to know more about Kavalan, this day-to-day recognition gives me a sense of fulfilment in my job.
What can we expect to see from Kavalan in the next year?
A major new whisky, several new markets, product diversification and the same passion for promoting Yilan, Taiwan as an exciting new spirits homeland. 2019 may well be a pivotal year for Kavalan.