Single malt is thriving in its individuality – and Asia’s playing a big part
The world’s thirst for whisky has skyrocketed in recent years. However, as tastes evolve, so too does the demand for something a little more special. People are now looking for whiskies with a character and temperament all of their own.
“The trend is really to try new products in the single malt market,” says Arnaud Echalier, senior manager of beverage operations at Sands Cotai Central. “[Consumers] are going to smaller distilleries, looking for single malts aged in different woods, with different maturations and different finishes.”
It’s down to evolving palates, says Ronny Lau, chairman of the Hong Kong Wine and Spirits Writers Association. “Several years ago, the market liked more ‘balanced’ styles of whisky. But now, consumers are looking for different styles.”
Lau suggests the pattern mirrors that of wine. “People learned that different wine regions produce different styles. It’s the same with whisky: if they want to taste strong peat flavours, or very fruity whiskies, they have to look for different distilleries.”
These days, whisky is a proudly global product. Japan has been making whisky as early as the 1900s, backed by the twin Japanese powerhouses of Suntory and Nikka. Japanese drams are characterised by a fruity spiciness, with less peat than the average Scotch. For a long time, the rest of the world paid little attention to the Japanese whisky industry.
Everyone started to notice in 2001, when Nikka’s 10-year-old Yoichi single malt won "Best of the Best" at the Whisky Magazine Awards – with Suntory’s Hibiki 21-year-old coming second. Sadly, Japanese whiskies aren’t the secret, or the bargain, they once were. With demand far outstripping supply, stocks are low and prices are high, even in Japan.
Stepping into this gap, a Taiwanese distillery has been shocking the establishment by making whiskies that aren’t just good – they’ve been called the best in the world.
Kavalan distillery in Yilan County, northeast Taiwan, only opened in 2005, releasing its first spirit in 2008. In 2015, it surprised the whisky world, winning the “World’s Best Single Malt” title at the World Whiskies Awards. Last year, at the same awards, it won “World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt Whisky”.
How has this contender done so well out of nowhere? The secret lies in Taiwan’s climate, Echalier explains. Normally, single malts are aged in oak barrels in cold weather for many years, the raw spirit interacting with the wood, mellowing and taking on its flavours and tones.
But Taiwan’s hot, humid weather mean that the amount of alcohol that evaporates from the barrel as it ages – the so-called “angel’s share” – is far higher than in Scotland.
But this also supercharges the maturation process. A year in Taiwan can be equivalent to four or five elsewhere. That means a more a concentrated flavour sooner than you could ever achieve in Scotland. In a few short years, Kavalan has been able to produce whiskies that are mellow while also rich in flavour, with vibrant, fruity, spicy notes.
It’s a matter of time before more Asian distilleries provide serious competition for their Scots forerunners. In early December, Kavalan opened a second distillery in Yilan, doubling annual production capacity to 10 million bottles. Taiwan has seen the appearance of a second distillery, the state-owned Nantou. India’s Amrut distillery is also beginning to make world-class drams.
“Of course it takes time,” Lau says. “You have to start up, you have to learn by trial and error – but some of the distilleries have learned very quickly.” Whisky is a global trend: but it’s arcing towards Asia.
A dram for all
For the beginner…
Single malts are divided by the regions of origin. Speyside and southern Highland malts tend to be the most approachable for beginners, with less smoke and peat.
Old Pulteney 12-year-old
Region: Highland, Scotland Crisp, with a hint of brined sea air and citrus notes. Not too complicated, but a fine entry-level dram.
For the intermediate…
So you want something a little more complex?
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or 12-year-old
Region: Highland, Scotland Nectar D'Or is aged in Sauternes barrels: The sweet French wine lends this whisky rich, warm, spicy and honey flavours that form the perfect after-dinner dram.
Caol Ila 12-year-old
Region: Islay, Scotland This bottle is fairly easy to understand: It’s sweet and smooth-bodied, giving way to a smokiness that’s not too peaty. It’s the
ideal introduction to more complex, heavier whiskies.
For the seasoned tippler…
When you’re ready for something challenging, look towards the island of Islay (pronounced eye-lah), where the malts are stronger in personality… and in peat.
Region: Islay, Scotland Uigeadail is Gaelic for “dark and mysterious place”,
and this whisky has plenty of personality to back up the name. Matured in bourbon and then sherry barrels, rich and caramel notes give way to plenty of
smoke and peat. A connoisseur’s drink.
For the discerning traveller…
Kavalan Solist Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength
Winner of the "World's Best Single Cask Single Malt" at the World Whiskies Awards, this Taiwanese tipple is finished in dry Amontillado sherry casks, imbuing it with notes of fresh exotic fruit, as well as nutty woody tones, ended by a caramel finish. It’s by no means cheap, but it’s an award-winner for a reason.
Where can I try them?
For full listings of all the bars Sands has to offer, visit www.sandsresortsmacao.com/restaurants/bars-and-lounges.html