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Whisky Reviews

Holy Distillery Salvation Taiwan Single Malt Whisky


Holy Distillery (transliterated as Heli Distillery) comes from Yingge in New Taipei City, Taiwan, and was established in 2016 by Alex Chang (who goes by Zhang Youren in Mandarin Chinese) - and yes, he's named his distillery after his Christian faith, he's even started his distillation on Christmas day.

Alex had spent over two decades in the US before returning to Taiwan to help out with his father's sorghum trading and thus began with selling sorghum wine, which they had packaged into mahjong-shaped bottles given his father's love for the popular Chinese board game. Nevertheless sorghum wine hasn't really enjoyed much popularity in recent years - but it most definitely enjoyed a whisky boom. Alex also noted that over in the US, rice spirits were doing pretty, and so he figured if Taiwan has a good amount of local rice, why couldn't he do something with it. 


Alex Chang. (Image Source: Foodnext)


His initial foray came in the form of him approaching a distillery in Tainan, asking them to help him combine local rice with oolong tea to make what he calls an oolong tea shochu - this kickstarted his curiosity in creating his own spirits. His further observation that despite Taiwan's whisky boom, there was only but two distilleries locally, he thus concluded that he had better get in the arena as well. This led to Holy's establishment in 2016.

His first run was to produce a rice whiskey, which he's named Holy Amazing Grace Rice Whiskey, which itself did pretty well at the World Whiskey Awards in the grain whiskey category. He soon expanded into two other whisky labels - the Salvation Single Malt Whisky, the Faith whiskey (which is made in accordance to Bourbon recipes where more than half of the mashbill is corn), and more recently Trinity (a malt and grain triple cask matured whiskey made with rice and malt). As if that wasn't enough, Holy has also produced its own rum - titled Purgatorio, the rum is distilled from sugarcane syrup and then matured in Napa Valley red wine casks.


(Image Source: Alvin, Critical Comment Network)


Yet, perhaps where Alex has found himself doing the most distilling has been in the gin category. This all started when two local bartenders from Sidebar and Fa Qin Bar, both Taiwanese bars, had asked Alex to help develop a gin for his book. This alerted Alex to the fact that most gins in Taiwan were imported and there wasn't much in the way of local production. Alex concluded what many fellow emerging whisky producers have - while the whisky ages, it might be a good idea to produce some gin in the meantime. And thus gin was added to Holy's stable, although it's worth noting that most of Holy's gin production has been dedicated to producing private label gins for a host of customers - after all, as Alex puts it, if it's edible you can turn it into a gin.

As you've probably noticed by now, Alex comes off as an incredibly curious distiller who is fascinated simply with the creating of various spirits regardless of category. And so he says that gin allows him the best canvas to capture the wide variety of local Taiwanese flavours - his gins have incorporated ingredients from local mussels, to pineapples and bamboos. The inspiration behind his most popular Valor series has been to capture the environment of the Taiwanese mountains (bamboo, alpine tea, hazelnuts), seas (mussels, scallions, horseradish, lemongrass), and fields (pineapple, ginger flower, passionfruit).


(Image Source: Alvin, Critical Comment Network)


He's even begun producing umeshu - at this rate vodka and agave spirits are probably next, all of which will also carry names lifted from religious language.

So having introduced Holy Distillery, its time to try his single malt, Salvation. Salvation is matured in American ex-Bourbon barrels and is bottled at at least 55% ABV, although this varies as each bottle is a single cask (the one I'm trying has a 55.5% ABV). No word on the age it's got here but considering Holy has been around only since late 2016, this can't be older than 7 years old.

Let's give it a shot! Onward!

Holy Distillery Salvation Taiwan Single Malt Whisky, Cask #7, 55.5% ABV - Review 

Tasting Notes 

Color: Copper

Aroma: Really deep aromatic richness, mostly classically Sherried flavours. Stewed plums, prunes, rose water, mulled wine, leather and some cigar notes. With time, it opens up into this incredible bouquet, perfumed and all engulfing. Heavy, heady, perfumed notes of rose, rose-flavoured Turkish delight, super rich here. Supported by light notes of cologne, acacia honey, hits of sarsaparilla root, licorice candy, cola cubes, and coconut flakes.

It starts off somewhat sherried but as it opens up, it leans incredibly into this massive bouquet of perfumery rose scents that's rich and fragrant - decked in rose perfume that is by no means thin or light.

Taste: That deep richness, and bam! We're back with heaps of rose, and I mean heaps! Honey, Sherry flavours of leather, plums, squeeze bottle honey, tobacco leaves, mulled wine, some rancio too - but frankly you just can't get away from the massive hit of rose water. It's incredibly reminiscent of local drink called Bandung (minus the milk). In spirt of the unusually heavy florals, it does blend well, with some progression as well. The rose hits first and then deepens before lifting up again. 

Finish: More rose flavoured Turkish delight - are we at all surprised? Really good richness that persists, brown sugar, cigar, tobacco leaves, leather, cooked plums, all of which of course are layered with perfumery rose water.


My Thoughts

To call this a memorable whisky would be an understatement - I have never had anything as perfumed or as distinctively floral as this! I can't quite wrap my head around how they've achieved this flavour profile, not the least of which from an ex-Bourbon cask.

But on to the whisky itself, I think the heavy perfumery notes work here because of the underlying richness and fuller body of the whisky, which supported those aromatic top notes with a hefty base. The roses never came off synthetic, chemical or thin, but were themselves pretty rich and heavy as well - pair that with lots of classic autumnal and sherried warm notes and it works really well.

Quite honestly, I enjoyed this greatly and I was very happy that the roses weren't simply on the nose but persists into the palate as well, carrying with it all the richness and fullness of body, which was consistent till the finish. Incredibly tasty and definitely one I'm going to remember. Give it a couple of minutes and watch it completely open up!

PS. A fellow drinker at the bar was pretty mused by my emphatic and effusive delight over this.