Welcome to the club, Taiwan

New Food’s Joshua Minchin explores the reasons behind Taiwanese distillery Kavalan’s success and asks whether the island can compete with the dominant forces in the whisky world.

Whisky manufacturing could be described as something of a closed shop. The simple fact that whisky needs between two and three years (depending on whether it’s a Scotch1 or a bourbon2) to be called whisky makes it difficult for new players to enter the market.

If it’s difficult to penetrate an existing market, then it’s harder still to create one from scratch and compete with some of the sector’s heavyweights. But that’s exactly what Kavalan is doing. Founded in 2005, the Taiwanese distillery is taking on some big names steeped in plenty of history…and winning.

Kavalan was named the world’s best distillery in the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, over the likes of Glenlivet, Macallan and Jim Beam, which have become household names over centuries of being at the top of the whisky pile. So how did Taiwan arrive at the table and is it here to stay?