“THIS is Kavalan – a Taiwanese whisky named after an indigenous tribe in the north east of the island,” Chi-Hua Ding told me over a wee dram in his office. 

The director general of the Taipei Representative Office in Edinburgh – and thus the island nation’s top diplomat in Scotland – wasn’t here to talk about the award-winning Taiwanese single malt, however.

The Taiwanese official was keen to talk about the “special” relationship between Scotland and Taiwan after it was revealed the country is the fourth biggest importer of Scotch whisky in the world.

"I can assure you that in Taiwan, we all love Scottish whisky," he told The National. 

READ MORE: Top Taiwanese diplomat calls for new Scottish international office in Taiwan

Taiwan imported a gargantuan £341 million of the stuff in 2023 according to the Scotch Whisky Association, a full £106m ahead of fifth placed China – despite its population of 24m being dwarfed by its neighbour’s over 1.4 billion – and only below the United States, France and Singapore.

It’s perhaps Scottish whisky’s market share in the country that is most stark, however. The US Department of Agriculture found that Scotland commands 92% of Taiwan’s imported whisky demand. US exporters, meanwhile, supply only 2% and Japan has a 4% share.

But why Taiwan’s love affair with Scottish whisky?

Scotland’s connection with Taiwan extends back to more than 150 years ago, with Scottish missionaries including Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell (below) coming to the island nation and, among other things, pioneering modern medicine in Taiwan.

The National:

Their contribution still benefits and is well-remembered by the Taiwanese people even now, Ding told me while showing a leaflet with pictures of various churches and public buildings he said were named after them in the country (below).

The National:

But it was really only in the mid-1990s that whisky from Scotland started supplanting cognac as the imported spirit of choice for the Taiwanese. And it wasn’t by accident.

The taste for whisky in Taiwan really started to explode when the island nation’s government reduced import taxes before joining the World Trade Organisation in 2002 – with Scottish brands taking the initiative and marketing the produce heavily thereafter.

Ding believes its success is also owed to a Taiwanese love for quality over quantity.

Afterall, while Taiwan is the fourth biggest importer – it doesn’t even break the top 10 in terms of the biggest markets for Scottish whisky by volume, suggesting its people are shelling out on top quality product.

The demand is only growing, too, with imports up 65% in Taiwan since 2019.

The diplomat also shared a list of the 10 main whiskys in Taiwan with The National – all of which are Scottish except one:

  • Johnnie Walker
  • Scottish Leader
  • Singleton
  • Glenlivet
  • Balvenie
  • Glenfiddich
  • Dalmore
  • Suntory (Japan)
  • Macallan
  • Famous Grouse

Ding said that given this love affair, he is calling on Scottish whisky distilleries to unveil a special Taiwanese whisky edition, perhaps coinciding with their national day or the birthday of one of the Scots – Maxwell or Mackay – who had such an influence on Taiwanese society.

“Or for example, in May our new president will take office. Of course, it's a very short time to prepare but if Johnny Walker could have some special edition for our presidential inauguration – I'm sure it would be very popular,” he said.

All of this popularity also comes down to a Taiwanese love for new and foreign products according to Ding.

“In Taiwan, we also have many different retailers and all these retailers, they love to explore new markets all around the world.”

“I believe because of the love between Taiwan and Scotland, Taiwanese retailers would like to explore new products from Scotland, and not only whisky.”

It’s already not only whisky

Of course, Taiwan already has an established trade presence with Scotland and the UK with total of £8.1bn in goods and services in 2023.

According to the Scottish Development International, Taiwan and Scotland in particular have trade and investment relations in a variety of industries – from electronics and health technology to food and drink, life sciences and textiles. It is also a key market for the offshore wind market.

Ding mentioned that Taiwan has a love of Scottish salmon, and this too is backed by figures. In fact, the nation was the seventh biggest importer of Scottish salmon in 2023 according to HMRC at £13.1m. It was also seventh in terms of volume at 1091 tonnes in 2023, representing a yearly increase of 40%.

Perhaps most surprising of all is Taiwan’s love for Mackie’s of Scotland ice cream.

Taiwan is Mackie’s largest overseas customer, with consumers purchasing over one million of Mackie’s Traditional tubs according to the company.

“Which if laid in a straight line would stretch from [the] Aberdeenshire farm to Edinburgh, ” a spokesperson previously said. 

Taiwan's love for Scottish products is why Ding is also calling for the Scottish Government to re-establish an international office to promote trade between the two countries.

Trade minister Richard Lochhead said: “Whisky is a Scottish success story with global impact – as evidenced by its popularity in Taiwan. 2023 was another hugely successful year for the industry with global exports totalling £5.6 billion.

“As an outward-facing nation, we’re continually working with partners across the globe to unlock new economic and trading opportunities, and helping businesses across our food and drink sector and beyond showcase our many iconic Scottish exports to international markets.”

Johnnie Walker have been approached for comment.