Kavalan: The Rise of Asian Whisky

IMG_20151029_013117_HDR

Many of you might know the finesse and quality of Japanese whisky but few people might have heard of Taiwanese whisky before. It seems that as more and more Asians are getting accustomed to whisky apart from the usual blends like Chivas and Johnnie Walker, Asian producers too have jumped on the bandwagon to meet the growing demand from this group of discerning palates.

The story of Kavalan is simple. The dream of one man to produce a whisky the Taiwanese can call their own. The Kavalan distillery is the brainchild of Mr Tsien-Tsai Lee, founder of the King Car Group which hahas over 30 years of experience in the Food and Beverage industry.

Kavalan is named after the indigenous aborigines people of Taiwan that used to occupy the fertile Kabalan Plains of Yilan County which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The distillery itself is relatively new, born only in 2002 and releasing its first whisky in 2006.

If you have been to Taiwan during the summer months, you will know that the weather can get really hot and humid which speeds up the process of maturation. This explains why their whisky only needed to spend 4 years in the cask compared to the 10 or 12 years commonly seen in scotch whisky. Accompanying the hot ambient temperature is also a larger angel’s share, or the percentage of whisky loss to evaporation every year. So if you think about it, maturing for longer periods would not be economically feasible for the distillery.

I always believe that whisky will take on a certain characteristic of the area in which it was produced. I had the opportunity to try 3 different samplings of Kavalan  and I must say that it is surprisingly good for such a new distillery. There is definitely a more tropical fruitish note to their whiskies which makes it really unique. One taste that continually pops up is mangoes.

Taiwan is home to another whisky producer, Nantou distillery located at the mountainous central highlands region of Taiwan. Taiwan is famous for its 高山茶 (literally translated as high-mountain tea) and Nantou sits squarely at the congregations of these mountains making it renowned for its tea as well.

IMG_20151018_092922

Funny thing is, you can see the TTL logo on the packaging and bottle. TTL is the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation, a giant state-owned behemoth. Surprisingly though, they are quite experimental in their whisky making. As I was walking to the bar one day, I met this Taiwanese stranger who offered me a dram of this OMAR Lychee Cask-Strength Whisky. Lychee, if you haven’t already known, is a very fruit native to Asia with an extremely floral aroma. Likewise, for the Japanese Hibiki which is aged in umeshu or plum liqueur barrels, OMAR was aged in lychee liqueur barrels. Taste-wise, upfront sweetness, nice floral undertones and that unmistakable lychee flavour.

Recently, Amrut has released another Asian-inspired whisky. The Amrut Naraangi was aged in barrels that previously held orange peel liqueur. Hope to see more Asian-Cask aging or finishes in the future. Considering the long tradition of distillation and drinking in Asia, I say that we have barely scratched the surface as to the cask aging and techniques that can be transferred to good ol’ scotch. As the globalization of whisky spreads, blending the East and West together, it is indeed an exciting new era for whisky.

Advertisements

Probably the only Organic Craft Beer Brewery in Japan.

The Zakkokku brewery in Ogawamachi, Saitama. (小川町) Just an hour ride by train from Ikebukkuro, this is possibly the most natural tasting beer you can get in Kanto.

image

I had to use Google Maps because in my excitement to get a drink was too much! As shown, it has a simple front and is just a 5 min walk from the station.

image

The place is run by a young couple who manages the store and brew in-house, and also by another man, the original founder whom he is the in-law.

The founder’s name is Baba-san. He has been making beer since the late 90s when he left his university professorship and never looked back. By using the fields he own in Ogawamachi, Baba-san grows his own wheat (komugi/小麦) barley (omugi/お麦) and millet .

With it, he makes 7 varietals but if i am not mistaken, only 3 are available all year-round. The 3 are the Hefeweizen, Pale Ale and Porter.

All of his crops are grown organically which brings about the most natural of flavours. The full-bodied maltiness cannot be described. It should be tasted. He brings in Germanic hops for the Hefe, uses Cascades for the Pale Ale, and i just can’t get an answer for the outstanding porter.

In case you want to give them a call or have a clear directional map, here is a picture of their business card.

image

Yes, it is abit far and expensive by train. But at ¥400 for an all-organic locally crafted beer? It is worth the journey. Especially when you have a famous tofu store that sells delicious tofu donuts just opposite the station. Eat the tofu fresh in the store with just shoyu (soya sauce) and green onions is just the most subliminal experience, especially with the tofu cheesecake after. The front of the shop is shown below.

image

And, if you have read till this part, there is the most amazing restaurant 20 mins away. It is secluded but it is so famous that sometimes, even NHK has their staff meeting and meals there because of the food! The restaurant used to operate at the NHK headquarters in Tokyo. But due to the age of the owners, they moved to Ogawamachi.

Who wouldn’t pay a visit if by paying just ¥1000, you get simmered sea bream straight from Tsukiji, and the best tamago ever. I kid you not.

image

Trust me. This is really worth the long walk. Below is the front of the shop.

image

Other than that, do drop by Ogawamachi. For the delicious organic beer, and fantastic food! Cheers!

Japanese Beer, and the rise of Happõshu.

I am sure many of you have been to Japan and enjoyed the difference of Japanese beer especially with the signature ‘karakuchi’ (dry) compared to the rest of the world. But, have you heard of Happõshu?

This, is the rise of a drink that might turn you away from Japanese beer, or have you spend less and enjoy the alcoholic high of these new beverages.

The market is now dominated by 4 larger beverage companies. Below shows the companies involved, with Asahi taking the lion’s share of the picture, as with the market.

image

So what is with this sudden explosion of Happõshu got to do with lovely, simple beer? Well. It all boils down to legislation. Japanese taxes go higher the higher the malt content is in the beer. Malt, being the processed form of barley is essential for beer. But the high taxation of 67% content and above is prohibitive to sales. Thus, began the age of Happõshu. Keep in mind that liquor like Barcadi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice is also considered happõshu.

First, they started with low-malt content beer. By replacing the malt with rice and wheat. But then they realised they can sell beer even cheaper to appeal more, because of the ever depressing Japanese economy. Thus they went creative, and almost nuts. They experimented with soybean protein and pea protein to yield 0-malt beer.Tasted good even though it sounds scary. Just wait till you read what they did next.

They proceeded to make beer-flavoured beverages. Laced with spirits from barley and wheat. Most of it tastes legit and good, but the smell does not lie about its origin. You can even pick one up for ¥98! God knows what did they use to achieve such a product.

Now, don’t panic. We all love beer and alcohol. It should be treated equally and appreciated separately. But for the discerning palate and health conscious bunch out there, below is a guide to avoid buying, and drinking happõshu.

image

As you can see here, the one above is happõshu. It is indicated in the bracket as 登泡酒。 Beer that uses 67% malt and more is shown in the pic below. Indicated by 非熟処理。 Or just read the all-malt label in english and 生 word. If all else fails, just buy Yebisu!

There are news circulating that the big 4 will soon shift production focus to happõshu only. But don’t fret. They won’t or else the new dawn of microbreweries would engulf Japan, and bring a new age of beer with it. Kampai!