Age: No age statement
When you say Taiwanese whisky, you say Kavalan, right? It might be time to update that notion, because there’s a new kid in town. Well… perhaps not all that new, since state-owned Nantou distillery has roots dating back to the Japanese colonial period. It was during this time that Nantou’s parent company Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation (TTL) was provided a monopoly on alcohol production and retail, which it maintained until Taiwan’s entry to the World Trade Organization in 2002. The distillery itself was set up in 2008, not so much out of an innate desire to make whisky, but to help domestic farmers who were facing export restrictions for their barley. Now there’s a policy that would earn my vote! TTL dispatched one of their employees to Scotland to learn the tricks of the trade, while a pair of stills went in the opposite direction.
Despite the fact that Nantou’s whiskies have been available for close to a decade, relatively few people outside of Taiwan have heard about Omar whisky (Omar is Gaelic for amber). This is because Omar was initially available only on the domestic market, with exports not kicking off until a few years ago. The state-owned distillery is unable to compete with the marketing machine that is Kavalan, but perhaps it’s able to ride high off its compatriot’s reputation. Using traditional production processes and ageing their spirit at least 3 years in the Scottish fashion (unlike Kavalan), Nantou produces a very decent drop of whisky. The hot, humid Taiwanese climate increases the spirit’s interaction with the oak casks and helps to speed up the maturation process. Although it results in an Angel’s Share as high as 10%, Nantou also estimates that one year of ageing in Taiwan equals three years in Scotland. This particular bottling was aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 46%. Not convinced to give it a try? Nantou leaves us with just a bit of propaganda on the packaging: It’s the best choice for you.
Colour: Old gold
Nose: The fragrance of vanilla custard and white chocolate gives this whisky a bourbon-like character. On the nose Omar is fresh and light, as fruity aromas of tangerines and ripe pear fuse with a hint of tobacco leaves. There’s some youthful elements as well, but on the whole this is quite pleasant.
Palate: Light bodied, with more sweet vanilla flavours. This gives way to an oaky bite, with chilli pepper and allspice providing a bit of a kick. Then sweet, malty flavours take over, like honeyed cereal mixed with butterscotch.
Finish: Reasonably long, with a pleasantly bitter herbal tang. Notes of sage intertwine with a delicately smoky character.
Verdict: Omar Bourbon Cask is a good, solid whisky that’s enjoyable without ever being extraordinary. While it doesn’t set a foot wrong, it also doesn’t particularly shine anywhere. Even so, Nantou distillery doesn’t need to feel at all shy about entering the world stage. While not as overtly flavourful as Kavalan, Omar is tasty in a more restrained fashion. And perhaps that’s a fitting difference between a commercial company and a state-owned distillery, Either way, Omar’s Bourbon bottling has made me curious enough to want to try some of Nantou’s other expressions.
Value for money: 🤩🤩🤩