Tag Archives: Best

The Best New Whiskey: Kavalan

If I told you that not only does the best new whiskey come from Taiwan, but that it beat out a host of top-notch whiskeys in an international competition, you’d think I was crazy or biased (after all, I am Taiwanese!) or both.  But before you raise your eyebrow and question why Kavalan’s single malt is one of the best-tasting whiskeys on the market, let me show you some hard, non-biased evidence.

According to the famous British newspaper, The Times, Kavalan was the top pick in a connoisseurs’ blind taste test in Scotland.  “It beat a trio of top Scottish blends.” Shocked?  Amazed?  You’re not the only one.  “Oh my God,” commented whiskey-connoisseur Charles MacLean when the result was announced in 2010, the same year Kavalan won a Gold Award and made it into Jim Murray’s 2010 edition of the Whisky Bible, the world’s leading whiskey guide.

Although whiskey isn’t my soul mate like tea is, whiskey has been my choice of poison for the past decade.  I like my poison the way I like my men – strong and quiet. With at least 40% alcohol, whiskey means business.  But more important, whiskey is a quiet drink.  It doesn’t come with artificial color, sugar or an umbrella which screams, “I’m so pretty.  Look at me!” Best of all, it doesn’t give me a bad hangover the next day.

I first heard of Kavalan Whisky from my niece, Hui-jen, when my friends and I decided to tour around Taiwan. She thought my American friends, visiting Formosa for the first time, might enjoy sampling some local whiskey.  Without an actual address, we ventured to Yilan in search of the distillery.  Just as we guessed, Kavalan was very well-known to the Yilan natives and the first person we asked pointed us in the right direction.  When we got to the distillery, the woman in front told us we’d just missed the guided tour by 25 minutes, so we rushed to the second plant, ran through the different rooms where gigantic machines worked in some, where barrels of whiskey aged in others, and finally caught up with the tour. The view of the tasting room, the room at the end of our mad dash, was spectacular – a huge hall packed with a few hundred Asian tourists.  Having no seats, my friends and I sat at the bar and chatted with the bartenders.  And this turned out to be the best experience of the whole tour.  When we asked to sample different whiskeys, the bartender glanced at the other tourists, who were tasting only one whiskey, and told us, very quietly, to wait until they were gone.  Sure enough, when the mass exodus was over, the bartender brought out several different bottles of Kavalan for the four of us to try.  He answered all of our questions and the whiskey certainly quenched our thirst.  By the time we left the distillery we were happily buzzed.

The experts had given Kavalan a big thumbs up.  But what about an amateur whiskey drinker like me who’s only been drinking the good stuff for a decade?  After our personal tasting, I was convinced that Kavalan single malt was the best whiskey I’d ever had the pleasure to drink.  Rich, smooth, with a great after taste, this Taiwanese whiskey was tops.

With a blind-taste-test victory under its belt, along with my amateur’s decree, the question about Kavalan’s rank as a premier whiskey had been answered.  But another question remained:  how could Taiwan produce a top-shelf whiskey that could compete against Scotland’s finest blends?  The Chinese philosopher Mencius believed there are three fundamental elements for success: 天時 (the right timing), 地利 (the right location), and人和 (the right people).  Kavalan was putting out the best new whiskey because King Car, the company that owns the Kavalan distillery, utilized all three elements to delicious advantage.

The Right Location – Great Water with Shorter Brewing Time

Although I don’t know much about making a good whiskey, I know a lot about making a good tea.  Like whiskey, making tea requires only two ingredients and one vessel: water, tea leaves or grain, and a tea pot or cask.  When a beverage has only a few ingredients, it’s harder to perfect and the quality of each ingredient is vital.

King Car chose Yilan as its production site, a decision that makes perfect sense because Yilan’s water comes from one of the top two cold spring resources in the world (the other spot is in Italy).  Pure, cold, clear and odorless, it’s the ideal water to brew a great beverage like whiskey or tea.

Taiwan also has the perfect climate, with its warm temperatures and high humidity, for making great whiskey.  On average, Taiwan is twenty degrees (Celsius) warmer than Scotland and these warmer temperatures mean a shorter brewing time.  In other words, Taiwan requires only about three years to produce a full-bodied, mature, complex scotch, half the time Scotland needs.

The Right People – Scottish Management and Sophisticated Consumers

As you can guess, Taiwan didn’t have much experience making whiskey. King Car was wise enough to hire Scottish management for Kavalan and utilize their expertise.

As you might not guess, Asians are among the most sophisticated whiskey consumers in the world.  According to my first-hand observations, Taiwan’s whiskey drinkers consume, predominantly, high-end whiskey.  Since Kavalan is exclusively sold in Taiwan and Japan, King Car has every reason to produce and market a top-shelf whiskey for the discerning drinker.

The Right Timing – Consumers Are Ready to Spend Money on Premium Whiskey

Taiwan has become an economic power in the world since it transformed itself from a country exporting labor-intensive goods to one producing high-tech products.   With the GDP ranked 19th in the world, Taiwanese people certainly have the purchasing power to afford a top-shelf whiskey.  The timing is right.  I have to admit that Kavalan’s going price, $60 for a 750ml bottle, is very high, especially for a low-brand-recognition whiskey like Kavalan.  And Kavalan probably needs to lower its price (or consumers need to accept the fact that the price for a local-brewed whiskey is much higher than a well-known Scotch).  Still, Kavalan’s taste and texture will make the sixty dollars easy to swallow.  Unfortunately, Kavalan is now only sold in Taiwan and three stores in Japan.  But I’ll keep you posted at Asia By Frida when Kavalan becomes available in the US and other countries.

You can be sure that when we went through customs, our bags contained a couple bottles of Kavalan.

Gan Bei! (Bottom’s up or, literally, Dry cup in Chinese)

Best Sealing Stick

Sealing Sticks – Best New Invention for Storing Food 

Unless we’re really hungry (or really depressed), we usually don’t polish off a bag of potato chips or a package of cookies in one sitting.  It’s the same thing with a bag of dumplings or a sack of rice.  In fact, most products come in bags that are designed to hold more food than you can handle (or should handle) in one sitting.  So what to do with the leftovers to keep them from going stale or prevent them from becoming spoiled?  No clip is big enough to seal a ten-ounce bag of tortilla chips or a fifteen-pound bag of rice.  And even if you’re lucky enough to find a clip big enough to seal these plus-sized bags, it takes Herculean strength to open these mega-clips.  Plus, if the clip is metal, you worry it might rust in the refrigerator.  No one wants that orange, rusty residue smearing their precious food.  So instead of using a metal clip to seal your bag of dumplings, you need to transport your dumplings, one by one, from their original packaging to a zip-lock bag in order to freeze them.  It’s enough to make you lose your appetite—almost!

Sealing Sticks – Best Solution To Seal Any Bag of Food

There are all kinds of clips on the market, but no clip compares to the Sealing Stick I discovered while strolling the night markets during my last trip to Taiwan.  I didn’t go to the night markets expecting to find a perfect product for storing food.  Like most people in Taiwan, I go to night markets to eat and then to walk off the food I just ate.  But more often than I’d like to admit, I end up going home with many novelty products I didn’t know I needed until I saw them.  The Sealing Stick was just such an item.  As I watched the vendor demonstrating all its different uses, as I observed the ease with which even difficult-to-close bags were sealed with a simple zip, I realized this was the gadget I’d been looking for.  Leave it to the Raohe Night Market to make life easy.

Since this product hasn’t yet been introduced to the US, there’s no official English name for it.  So I came up with my own name: the Convenient Zipper Sealing Stick I Always Dreamed Of, or, to save breath, the Sealing Stick for short.  The Sealing Stick is designed to seal all kinds of bags.  It’s made of lightweight plastic and comes in three sizes, small to large.  Each stick has a small handle at one end that looks like a slightly-crooked pointer with a small ball.  What you do is fold over the bag you want to seal, insert the small handle under the folded area, and slide the stick over the entire bag.  Voila!  The job is done.  To open the bag, simply slide the stick off the bag.  It’s completely effortless and you can seal a bag or open a bag in, literally, a second.

As I said, the Sealing Stick comes in three different sizes – 11. 8 1/2 and 7 inches.  You select the size that’s best for your bag.  I use the small sticks for my 0.25-pound bags of tea and the big sticks for my hefty rice bags.  They’re great for storing bags in dry areas and for keeping bags in the refrigerator—no metal means no rust.  And they always keep my food fresh and delicious.  If you’ve been searching for the perfect clip, search no more.

How To Use Sealing Sticks

1.  Fold the bag and place the crooked pointer with the ball under the fold

2.  Start sliding the stick across the bag.

3. Slide it all the way to the other side until the bag is sealed.

4. To open, slide the sealing back towards the crooked pointer.

Buy Sealing Sticks

The Best Asian Hot Sauces – Lao Gan Ma

When it comes to Asian hot sauce, you probably think Sriracha.  It’s the most common brand in US supermarkets and it does the job when you want to add bite to your bites.  But every condiment comes in many shapes, sizes and tastes and there are some fine alternatives to Sriracha if you look hard enough.  For me, the best hot sauces are rich, chunky, flavorful and, of course, hot.  My favorites also share another characteristic—I can actually see the ingredients in the sauce, whether chili peppers, hot oil, pieces of garlic, onion bits or soybeans.  Lao Gan Ma fits all my criteria.  It has complexity.  It has bite.  It’s an outstanding hot sauce.
I first experienced Lao Gan Ma in Tina’s Long Island home the day after Thanksgiving.  Turkey is a very dry bird to begin with and leftover turkey breast tastes just a little bit better than unsalted cardboard.  Tina must have seen my face as I tried to swallow each bite of this foul fowl.  She handed me a jar of red sauce and said, “Here, add this to your turkey.”  Tina is a first-generation Taiwanese whose parents immigrated from Szechuan, China, which means she grew up eating spicy food and lots of hot sauce.  I knew instantly that her sauce would be a fine addition to my dry turkey.  Indeed, all it took was half a teaspoon of Lao Gan Ma and in no time I had miraculously cleaned my plate.  Wanting more of her hot sauce, I asked Tina for more of her turkey.  She smiled and said, “I know you don’t like the turkey.  Do you want some Taiwanese egg-pancakes instead?  You can add the hot sauce on the pancakes too.”  I was nodding my head before she finished the sentence.

Lao Gan Ma has a long history and the company, which started as a one-woman business, has been perfecting this hot sauce for eighty years.  Already a very popular brand in China, the Chinese community in the US started to discover its appeal just a few years ago.  This unique sauce includes crisp red chilies, garlic, onions, soybeans, canola oil, tree nuts and, its most distinguishing ingredient, peanuts.  I use Lao Gan Ma as a both a dipping sauce and a cooking sauce, adding it to flavor many meals: dumplings, fried rice, noodles, hot pot, fried eggs and stir fries.  And on nights when I’m too tired to cook and want something quick and tasty, I simply boil some noodles, mix them with Lao Gan Ma, some light soy sauce, a half-teaspoon of black vinegar and two drops of sesame oil.  It’s delicious.