Thursday, March 15, 2012

Taiwan: The Future for Whiskey

(Excerpt from Ian Buxton in just-drinks.com, 13 March 2012)
There’s a large and very prominently displayed sign at the entrance of Kavalan’s visitor centre in their distillery at Yi-Lan, Taiwan. “The New Homeland of Whisky”, it reads. Now, it would be easy to dismiss that as marketing hyperbole or simple self-aggrandisement, were it not that around 1m people a year see the sign.
That’s about as many visits as all the distillers in Scotland put together – and many of their visitors will have seen more than one distillery. And, it ignores the fierce national pride that - along with a multi-million dollar investment - researched, designed, built and began making whisky here as recently as 2006. I concluded that the sign was rather more than a slogan. It seemed to me that this was a serious declaration of intent. But, should it be taken seriously?
Whisky seemed generally in good heart in the bars, clubs and off-licences of Taipei – lots of Macallan, Dalmore and Glenfiddich in view, with brands created for Taiwan such as Spey also very evident. And, plenty was being drunk and local bar and drinks people appeared buoyant and confident at the Kavalan Masters Dialogue event. Around 350 delegates attended and five local TV channels provided news coverage. Interest in whisky in Taiwan continues unabated.
Paradoxically, there seemed less evidence of Kavalan in the accounts we visited. So, one might conclude that all’s well in one of Scotland’s most lucrative markets. And yet…
The Kavalan operation has only been running effectively for around five years. In that time, they’ve collected an enviable collection of awards for their trophy cabinet; released seven different expressions ,and fine-tuned distilling operations to cope with local maturation conditions. The two pairs of stills (from Scotland, of course) are now running at about 60% of capacity, with stocks being built up for a serious assault on China. Many of their visitors fly in from China to see the distillery so, quietly and slowly, brand awareness is being developed in a critical market.
As and when the brand launches fully there I expect it to become a serious mid-market challenger. The distillery is capable of rapid and very considerable expansion that would make it a significant volume operation, though not yet on the scale of the largest single malt plants in Scotland. (For the full report, see: http://www.just-drinks.com/comment/the-future-for-whiskey_id106582.aspx?lk=dm )

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