For decades, American whiskey drinkers have had just a handful of countries to choose from when selecting a dram: the U.S., Ireland, Scotland and maybe Japan. But even in the tradition-bound world of distilled spirits, people want to try something new. And in recent years, a crop of single malts from all over the world has been making its way to our shores, with products like India’s Amrut, Sweden’s Mackmyra and France’s Brenne bringing a new set of flavors to the whiskey palette.
The latest of these international spirits to hit the States, the Taiwanese Kavalan launched seven different bottlings on the American market in late April. All seven began as the same spirit coming out of the still, but they’re aged in different combinations of bourbon, sherry and wine casks to achieve startlingly different tastes.
The Classic Whisky is definitely a traditional single malt, superficially similar to a Speyside Scotch or Japanese whisky, with a nice malty element on the nose. But it also offers some tropical-fruit aromas that start to hint at what makes it different. Take a sip and the fruit takes over, hitting you with mango, pear and floral sweetness, along with a nice backbone of spice and sherry-like dryness that keeps it from becoming cloying.
You can chalk up Kavalan’s uniqueness to the hot climate in Taiwan, which makes the aging process happen much faster than in chillier Scotland, Japan and America. The Classic Whisky couldn’t possibly be older than nine years (there’s no age statement on the bottle, but Kavalan Distillery opened in 2005), but you could easily mistake it for a 15- or 18-year-old Scotch.
This stuff ain’t cheap—the $90 Classic Whisky is the lowest-priced of the bunch, which ranges all the way up to the $425 Fino Sherry Cask Whisky—but for a whiskey fan who’s looking for something new, it’s pretty perfect.
Jason Horn is Playboy.com’s spirits columnist. He lives in Los Angeles and you can follow him on Twitter @messyepicure.