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The Symphony of Kavalan - The Whisky Ardvark Observation

Updated: Mar 5

Kavalan whisky concert violin

All Images Ruined by The Whisky Ardvark

A normal day, spent boogling at the rows of Scotch in a whisky specialist shop, wondering why brands name their whiskies the way the do. Some draw inspiration from their surroundings, possibly using Gaelic words to sound 'catchy' but undoubtedly unpronounceable. Moving forward to world whiskies. Sweden, Germany, Japan, Taiwan... Why even name a whisky Concertmaster, or Podium for that matter? Or Solist? Whisky has nothing to do with music.

A light bulb!

It's a concert.

Now and then, we get an aha moment followed by, 'Well dah - how have we not noticed it before'? One of those times was the second we realised that Kavalan whiskies are all about notes - different expressions representing things related to a concert by a symphony orchestra. But instead of using instruments, they are using flavours found in whisky. Even by previously acknowledging that Kavalan is using music-related names, we had not stopped to think about why.

If you're like us and haven't thought about it before, let's explore the premise a bit closer. We invite you to see Kavalan in a different light. And yes, this article will include some music and theatre-related puns.

Take your seat. The concert is about to begin.


The Boring History Part

Kavalan distillery - owned by King Car Group - started production in 2006 with the help of the late great maestro Dr Jim Swan, nine months after the ground was first broken. The distillery was named after the old name of Yilan County, meaning 'A land of Blessings'. The site opened to the public in 2008, followed by the first single malt expression the same year.

The distillery came to be known as the home of master blender Ian Chang - a protégé of Dr Jim Swan, who helped bring Kavalan's vision to life. Dr Swan was particularly interested in the effects of climate on maturing whisky, and together with Chang, they created young, award-winning whiskies aged in the tropical climate of Taiwan. Chang left Kavalan in early 2020 to join the team at Komoro distillery in Japan.

We do not know who came up with the idea of naming whiskies with the orchestra theme, nor does Kavalan advertise (or mention) its whiskies that way. It is a bit sneaky but actually quite brilliant if you think about it since writing down flavour profiles for whiskies is all about the notes. Well done, Kavalan.

Kavalan whisky with a symphony orchestra

Image by Hancher Auditorium & The Whisky Ardvark


Starting With The Classic

A prelude to what's to come that also dictates the musical style of the distillery's fruity and rich character - Classic.

This first release from the distillery was aged exclusively in American oak casks, setting the baseline for the distillery style. Or maybe in this context, we should call it the bass line. As it turns out, the tropical climate has created major advantages for the distillery. Whiskies aged at the site mature faster, resulting in flavours more commonly associated with expressions trice as old.

Like in many other distilleries around the world, Kavalan uses American oak casks to create the base for other expressions - due to their relatively low cost and light, delicate, flavour-giving properties. With notes of vanilla and honey, ex-bourbon barrel whiskies are light enough to give room for prominent flavours to build upon without creating a mess on the palate.

Kavalan single malt

The bass line has a low pitch and is the lowest part of the music. It creates rhythm and harmony with the chords - adding texture to the music. Much like bourbon casks do for whiskies.

See where we're going with this? Good.


The Centre Stage


Centre stage. One platform. A podium waiting for the arrival of the conductor. Representing the place where the orchestra will get its cues, this expression is aged in a combination of virgin and re-fill bourbon casks. The delicate yet complex character of the whisky summons the purpose of the pedestal - much like the Classic, providing a base for the expressions that follow.

Kavalan Podium on a podium


King Car Conductor

The conductor enters the stage. King Car Conductor is named after the owner of the distillery and displays the diversity and complexity of the company that pulls the strings – or should we say, conducts the orchestra by bringing all elements together in one satisfying unison by setting the tempo of the piece performed.

King Car Conductor


The Orchestra


In an orchestra, the concertmaster is the first chair violinist who is a vital musical leader who is responsible for tuning the orchestra and being the communicating voice between the musicians and the conductor.

In Kavalan, the Concertmaster whiskies are expressions that have been finished in different casks, most notably in ex-Port or sherry barrels. This makes us think that these whiskies represent the point where two flavours meet and find common ground - just like a concertmaster in an orchestra.

Kavalan single malt concertmaster



Not an unconventional or rare name to give to an expression. But in the case of Kavalan, we feel that there is an underlying motive.

In classical music, a select is a smaller group of musicians chosen from the symphony orchestra to perform intricate and more advanced pieces than the regular orchestra. They also represent the company in venues where a full set is not possible. For example, Select Strings can be a small ensemble of two to eight string musicians.

Translated into whisky, these expressions offer a particular flavour profile that the distillery has chosen to represent them - more intricate on the palate and concentrated in one particular style. Whether it is light and fruity or rich and bold, these 'Select Flavours' can be seen as sections and different expressions from the distillery's repertoire.

Kavalan Select single malt 1 and 2

Select No. 1 has notes of tropical fruits, chocolate and creamy salted caramel toffee - Select Brass trumpet, tuba, French horn, baritone, and trombone.

Select No. 2 is more floral with notes of garden herbs, vanilla, pineapple and grapefruit zest - Select Winds flute, clarinet, saxophone, piccolo, bassoon, oboe.



Solist - or should we say - Soloist is dedicated to whiskies that have matured in different types of casks. From Vinho Barrique, Moscatel and oloroso, these single cask editions are the standalone acts that take centre stage to perform well-deserved solos. With different characteristics, these whiskies represent different instruments - the tones, range and feel all contribute to the overall experience.

Kavalan Solist


Artist Series

As a new addition to Kavalan, the Artist Series was launched with Paul Chiang as a visiting artistic visual soloist who has become a performer in his own right. In fact, some of his paintings are inspired by music. Traditional symphonies contain four movements, and with his pieces named Ocean, Air, Sunlight and Mother Earth, we see the elements-themed four-part symphony starting to take form.

Kavalan Artist Series single malt


Join us in a nutshell:

Kavalan Classic - Prelude, bass line, Contra Bass, creates rhythm, adds texture, and creates harmony with other flavours.

Kavalan Podium - A delicate yet complex whisky that provides a base for the other expressions that follow.

Kavalan King Car Conductor - Centre stage. Conducts the orchestra by bringing all elements together in one satisfying unison by setting the piece's tempo.

Kavalan Concertmaster - Lead violinist that represents cask finishes and the point where flavours meet and find common ground.

Kavalan Distillery Select - A small section, selected flavour profile showcasing different sides of the distillery, more intricate concentrated flavours.

Kavalan Solist Series - Standalone acts using different instruments that take centre stage to perform well-deserved solos.

Kavalan Artist Series - Visiting artistic visual soloists who have become artists in their own right.

Too much? That's ok.


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