As 2019 is coming to an end, I shall try to be merry and turn off my being a snarkologist. Because all of us here, like to drink, I’m sure there is one question we ask ourselves as the festive season draws closer, “What do I drink for the holidays?” Luckily, it’s not a problem for me anymore, as I unintentionally bought x2 200ml bottles in August.

I am talking about this Omar cask strength single malt holiday set, I bought in the Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan. Sorry, but I lost the receipt and forgot the price. One is an ex-sherry matured single malt (57.6%) designated for Christmas. The other is an ex-bourbon matured whisky (57.8%) for the New Year. Both were barreled in 2013 and bottled in 2017. Both are 4 year old single cask strength releases. I’m curious if this set was stuck in limbo somewhere, or buyers were just unaware of what Omar whisky is.

I’d like to thank the Whisky Geeks SG for making it easier to learn about Omar single malt.

For the unaware, Omar whisky is made in the Nantou Distillery in Taiwan. Yup, there is another outfit making Taiwanese whisky. Nantou Distillery is situated in a city of the same name, located in the southern and outer area of Tai Chung city. It is owned by the government of Taiwan. I only heard about this in 2017, when a friend, who frequents Taiwan, showed me a bottle. To my surprise, the distillery has been around since 2008. It is part of Nantou Winery, which has been in operation since 1978.

Quoting what Zerlina Zhuang said in the link above, the reason for Nantou Distillery’s start is said to be a humanitarian one. It was the government’s way of helping out farmers who could not sell their barley due to export issues in 2007. So, the government bought all of the barley. Someone was sent to Scotland to learn distilling, while the distilling equipment was ordered. The distilling tools and the graduate distiller, returned in 2008.

Since Taiwan is small, there won’t be much difference between the climate of Kavalan and Nantou. Taiwan’s climate causes the high angel’s share to be on average 6-7%. Their typical maturation period is 4 to 5 years. Ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks are the typical casks they utilise. According to this other Whisky Geeks SG post, the ex-bourbon casks are used 2 to 3 times. Then some of the winery’s products like orange and lychee liqueur are put in the ex-bourbon barrels for seasoning. There was no mention how many times the ex-sherry casks are used. They don’t appear to have a proper cooperage, but they repair their own casks. Casks that are too broken down end up being used for decoration.

The barley Nantou uses are sourced from England and Scotland. Most of their non-peated barley is from England. The majority of the peated barley comes from Scotland. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel washbacks for 72 hours. On average 24 hours longer than most Scottish distilleries! Yes! The yeast is a French distilling variety and the resulting wash is around 7 – 8% abv.

True to Scottish style, Nantou has 4 pot stills with 2 wash stills and the remaining are spirit stills. The wash stills yield a spirit of 30% abv. The 2nd distillation yields a new make spirit that has 60% to 75% abv. I didn’t know this, but Taiwan has whisky legislation. So, Nantou is required to water down the new make to lower than 60% abv, before putting it into casks.

Based on the 2 links I shared, the Nantou distillery tour allows you to visit one of the warehouses. Call ahead to schedule a tour though. This sounds more similar to visiting Yamazaki and I guess other Scottish distillery tours. In the Kavalan distillery, you can only have a peak at the warehouse via a window in the still house. I know one of my next stops when I visit Taiwan!

Omar 2013 Bourbon New Year – review

Color: Amber

On the nose: A welcome party of barley husk, hints of coffee and sweet corn. The 2nd smell had gentle notes of honey, apples, apricots, dates, figs and raisins. A third smell gave off some wood, toffee and nuts. Succeeding sniffs of this gave mix these all up in random order but I got an added liquorice scent.

In the mouth: Some barley husk, burnt rubber, toffee, nuts and fresh green apples. Followed up by hints of honey, vanilla and Fuji apples. Dried apricots, charred corn, liquorice, candle wax and a very weak hint of dates. 2nd sip gave off a somewhat odd flavors of sultanas mixed with cherries and honey. But cut off the tartness and sweetness with honey and wax. I get some additional notes of burnt coffee after the 3rd sip. There’s a long lingering flavor of Fuji apples, apricot, honey and vanilla.

Score: 7/10

Omar 2013 Sherry Xmas – review

Color: Honey

On the nose: Harsh and fiery coated by hints of tart red cherries and lingering dates and sulfur. Followed by gentle scents of milk chocolate and coffee. Some hints of floral honey and melon mixed with herbal notes that remind me of thymes and sage.

In the mouth: Harsh and fiery as well. Some sulfur, cherries, hints of strawberries and dates. Hints of coffee and milk chocolate. Lingering flavors of dates, sulfur, cherries and oak. Some quick follow up notes of thyme and rosemary.

Score: 5/10


I do like the ex-bourbon single cask, it is well made. It’s not hot, despite the youth and strength. Although it has a good mouthfeel, I particularly like what I get on the nose more though. There’s so much complexity, but everything rushes to take their turns. In the mouth, it’s less complex, but the flavors linger for a bit more.

The ex-sherry cask, I don’t just like. It acts like its age and strength. The sulfur notes hide the other notes. It makes the whisky seem less complex and less layered. The flavors don’t linger as long as those in the ex-bouron aged Omar.

Since these are only the 2nd and 3rd Omar whiskies I’ve had, single casks at that, I won’t make any strong statements about Omar whisky yet. I haven’t tried any of their regular SKUs. I’m not going to finish any of these bottles, as I am curious to compare these with older Omar whisky I encounter in the future.


John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Andrew says:

    Interesting read John. The potted history of Omar is great!

    I’m finding myself moving away from Sherried stuff at the minute – maybe my choices of late haven’t been great but the sherry influence seems to drown all the nuances out from the spirit for me. Bourban casks always seem to be more delicate and complex.

    Have a very Merry one!

    1. John says:

      Hi Andrew, thank you for the kind comments.

      The quality of ex-sherry casks for maturing spirits aren’t what they used to be. Sherry is now just being used to season casks instead of spending time maturing in them. I bet the quality of the sherry themselves aren’t as good as the old days as well.

      Buying sherry matured spirits these days seem to be a losing gamble. The more veteran whisky collectors I know tend to gravitate toward ex-bourbon cask matured whisky as well.

      Happy holidays

  2. Sean says:

    I’ve been fortunate to visit the Omar Distillery and sample pretty much everything they have and, though the bar itself was rather drab and unappealing, the whisky certainly wasn’t. About the best I’ve tried (and still have half a bottle of) is a very hard to find 8yr cask strength bourbon cask, it is delightful and rich and just elevates the regular Omar cask strength (which I already enjoy) – I strongly suggest seeking out more as and when you’re able….beware the strange cask strength expressions though, they are a very mixed bag and I certainly couldn’t recommend purchasing a whole bottle without first trying their unique charms.

    Thanks for the review, good to see Omar getting some recognition

    1. John says:

      Hi Sean,

      Was it easy to get to the distillery? Thanks for the tip on the 8 year CS. I’ll try to get some when I’m back in Taiwan. My local market just got some of the ex-wine cask stuff but I haven’t gotten around to trying them yet due to the prohibitive price. I have a single cask of the peated Omar but havent opened it yet.

      Thanks for the kind words. and cheers

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