This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the people who will be presenting whisky master classes at the 2018 Whisky & Spirits Live Festival being held in Johannesburg from 31 Oct – 2 Nov. Consider it a primer for the actual master class itself!
It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Kaitlyn Tsai…
WTF: Hi Kaitlyn, can you give my readers a bit of background into who you are, how you got into whisky and what your role is currently in the industry?
KT: My name is Kaitlyn Tsai. I am the global PR officer as well as brand ambassador at Kavalan Distillery. I was born in Taipei, however, my family actually moved from Yilan where Kavalan Distillery is based. My childhood memories are of playing in Yilan County’s lush green rice fields. I’ve visited Kavalan Distillery many times since I grew up. The impression you are left with is the quality of the whisky and the passion of the staff. That’s why it’s a dream come true to be working for Kavalan now.
I’ve also worked in the film industry, working closely with one of Taiwan’s most revered documentary directors, the late Po-Lin Chi, on his masterpiece series: “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above.”
In 2014, I thought Kavalan Whisky was magnificent in creating a new category in the global industry – Taiwanese Whisky – something that had not been promoted much, and I really wanted to be part of the Kavalan team going forward.
In my role, I interact with our master blender Mr. Ian Chang, the marketing department, sales representatives and the media. I also travel internationally, sharing our brand story and whisky portfolio, presenting Kavalan Distillery at whisky shows and festivals.
WTF: This isn’t your first time to South Africa is it? What keeps you coming back?
KT: It is my second time in South Africa and I’m always taken back by how friendly South Africans are, which is very similar to what people say about Taiwanese. South Africa is a very important market for Kavalan. Statistics indicate whisky is the most consumed spirit in South Africa with over 4 million South Africans drinking it. We understand in South Africa there are increasing numbers of sophisticated and knowledgeable drinkers who are seeking out new experiences beyond the more traditional whiskies.
I keep coming back not only because I want to connect more South Africans with a glass of Kavalan Whisky, but as a nature lover, I also would love to experience more of the natural beauty of your country.
WTF: Can you give us a brief overview of the Kavalan distillery, where you are located and the types of whisky you make?
KT: Kavalan Distillery has been pioneering the art of single malt whisky in Taiwan since 2005. That means we create all our whiskies on site at the distillery – from milling and mashing to distillation and maturation. We age our single malts in a wide variety of cask types. Our family-owned distillery takes the old name for Yilan County in Taiwan’s mountainous northeast. We think of our home, Yilan County, as sacred because it’s blessed with abundant, flowing spring waters. We take the purest, mineral-rich waters from Snow Mountain to make our fruity, highly aromatic new make. This is then matured in Yilan’s successive summer heat and winter sea and mountain breezes.
Our master blender has coined this ageing process: Maturation Redefined. It’s the secret to creating all the creaminess, smoothness and complexity that our whisky is known for. Kavalan is the dream come true of founder Mr TT Lee and it’s now being driven forward by his son Mr YT Lee. Kavalan single-handedly created a nation’s whisky industry, achieving Taiwan’s first listing in 2010 in the Malt Whisky Yearbook. It has been built on the vision of creating on Taiwanese soil the world’s finest whisky.
WTF: What Kavalan expressions are currently available in South Africa?
KT: We have 8 different expressions available in South Africa: Kavalan Classic, Kavalan Concertmaster, King Car Conductor, Kavalan Podium, Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask, Kavalan Solist Sherry Single Cask, Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique and Kavalan Solist Port Cask.
Moreover, we are very excited to share the good news that we are going to launch our brand new expression Kavalan Distillery Select by the end of 2018 in South Africa. Here is some information about the new expression:
Kavalan Distillery Select: This elegant, quintessential single malt celebrates the craftsmanship of Kavalan’s master blender released after his hat-trick of top prizes: the Icons of Whisky’s 2018 “Distiller of the Year” and its 2017 “World Brand Ambassador”, as well as the World Whiskies Awards’ 2015 “Distillery Manager and Master Distiller of the Year”.
In this unique drop, Master Blender Ian Chang has set out to create the purest and creamiest of whiskies to satisfy both the beginner drinker and the whisky connoisseur. Featuring Kavalan’s signature fruity sweetness and full body, Kavalan Distillery Select has been aged in quality casks to lock in rich layers of butterscotch, toffee and vanilla that intensify into a long, encored finish. Versatile and super smooth enjoyed in cocktails or neat, this single malt is a hugely satisfying experience to savour again and again.
WTF: Is this range going to be expanded upon locally?
KT: Yes, it is. At the moment we have total 19 expressions in Kavalan portfolio. We would love to keep bringing new Kavalan whisky expressions to South Africa.
WTF: Which is your favourite Kavalan expression and why?
KT: It is not easy for me to name my favourite, because every Kavalan whisky has its own interesting and unique character. At the moment, when I want to savour a whisky over conversation with friends, I will grab a glass of the Solist Ex-Bourbon. It is a single cask strength single malt whisky and our most award-winning whisky. In the past three years, it was awarded three trophies from the toughest competitions. The flavours you’ll taste are coconut, caramel-fudge, biscuit, coffee, vanilla, marzipan, apricot jam and spices.
WTF: What can we expect from your masterclass at Whisky Live? I believe you’re going to have 8 whiskies in your master class?! That’s great!
KT: Masterclass attendees can expect a rollercoaster ride as they learn the story of Kavalan and how this first ever whisky distillery in Taiwan made the impossible, possible. And yes, they will also enjoy 8 award-winning Kavalan whiskies during the masterclass as we like to be generous in spreading our Taiwanese spirit. We believe whisky is far more enjoyable when it’s shared. (WTF: Ain’t that the truth!)
Kaitlyn will be hosting a master class on Friday, 2nd Nov at 18:45. To book, head on over to www.ticketpros.co.za and search for “Kavalan”. Tickets cost R160.
WTF: Any tips for people new to whisky, or something the seasoned whisky drinker may not know about Kavalan?
KT: My tips would be:
- Recognize the origin and types of whisky: whiskies distilled in different countries and different ways come with unique characteristics of their own.
- Nose your glass: The way we identify aromas and flavors is by both taste and smell, and it is often said that the nose informs more than the mouth. This means particularly complex flavors, like those found in whisky, can only be fully unlocked if you use your sense of smell as well as your taste buds. Take a few sniff and then take a sip to roll the whisky around in your mouth.
- Take your time and enjoy: Hold the liquid in your mouth for a few seconds in order to taste all the flavors. Take half an hour to an hour to drink and find your own favorite and enjoy this beautiful drink as you wish.
WTF: Thanks for your time Kaitlyn, I look forward to catching up with you at the show!
KT: Thank you!
Read more 2018 Whisky Live WTF Insider Interviews
Insider Interview #1: Robert Gray
Insider Interview #2: Georgie Bell
Insider Interview #3: Michael D’Souza
Insider Interview #4: Kaitlyn Tsai
Insider Interview #5: Kevin Liu