Aug 252016
 

Kavalan Solist Sherry S100209017AIMG_2374

57.8% abv

Score:  90/100

 

I am a huge fan of the Solist brand from Kavalan.  In fact, one of the single greatest malts I’ve ever tried in my life was an earlier edition of this very same expression.  That bottle is inextricably tied to some very special memories now, but I can’t help but mourn it nevertheless.  More than that, though, I wish I could step back in time and kick myself for not buying more than one bottle of it when I had the opportunity.

If you’ve not tried these cask strength sherry bombs you’ll likely have no idea as to just how over-the-top rich and expressive they can be.  Thick and gargantuan, in fact.  Unquestionably some of the biggest drams I’ve drunk.  I compare my contemporary Solist Sherry experiences with first meeting Aberour a’bunadh all those years ago.

If you’re looking for some sort of metrics or comparables in the Scotch whisky world the closest approximation I can give you to a dram like this would be a 40 year old sherry-matured Longmorn or GlenDronach or something akin.  And even then, the flavours won’t align with expectations.  Kavalan matures very rapidly in the subtropical climes of Taiwan, making time less a factor in the spirit’s evolution than ambient temperature and cask breathability.  It makes for an instantly identifiable profile, but sometimes forgoes nuance and complexity in favour of bombast, uniqueness of character and a juicy, spicy profile.  Either way…I love it.  But then again, I wasn’t looking for ‘Scotch redux’.  I’d much rather a drink that carves its own path.

This particular bottling is actually a less than spectacular batch, but even so it scores this high.  Neat stuff, and utterly singular.

*One final note: I did try one batch (read: single cask) of this whisky that was a right mess.  Sulphuric offnotes and a lot of bitter unpleasantness.  Such is the nature of single cask releases.  However…it also serves to illustrate that it’s always worth going back and double checking a brand from time to time.  Fortunately that one bad experience was an anomaly.

Nose:  Rich syrupy dark fruits.  Oily dried fruit.  Coffee and dark chocolate.  Orange zest.  A touch of licorice.  Black cherry.  Fudge.  Molasses.  Strong exotic spices.  A hint of hoisin.  Moist fruitcake.  Dark soil.  Prunes.  Very ‘jammy’, as we like to say.

Palate:  Chocolate.  Jammy, stewed fruits.  More of that licorice note.  Big, wet woody notes.  Cold espresso.  A hint of Sen-sens and maybe Fisherman’s Friend cough sweets.  Coffee grounds.  Again…thick jam notes and more on that fruitcake, or Christmas cake, or whatever you want to call it.  Long, long, finish with some neat fruits at the back end.

Thoughts:  Give it time to breathe.  Oxygenation – both in the bottle and the glass – brings this one new dimensions.  Worth giving it some time.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 5:51 pm
Apr 062016
 

Kavalan Solist Bourbon Cask #B100811025AIMG_1423

58.6% abv

Score:  90/100

 

This is the 13th release I’ve tried from the Solist series.  Solist, if you’ve not been acquainted, is the cask strength, single cask range from Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery.  As with any single cask releases, we’re bound to find a mix of diamonds and coal.  I’ve tried a few of these young malts that soared well into the 90s (in my opinion anyway), and I’ve also tried a couple sulphured sherried ones that were almost grotesque caricatures.  Typically though, I’ve found the sherry cask matured Solist usually outshines the ex-bourbon.  But we’re not looking at the sherried version today.

This release, tasted with the Liquorature club a few months back, was a very pleasant surprise.  It’s big on tangy fruits and leans much more toward the sweet camp than the spices that have dominated some of the other editions I’ve tried.  The distillery’s sub-tropical setting allows for a lot of oak expansion – molecular spread in the barrels, if you will – permitting the spirit to pull from deep within the tight oak grain.  Hence the reason these malts mature so quickly, and with such big flavour.

On the plus side of things…this is hell of a whisky, mature beyond it’s short life in wood (maybe 5 years?).  On the down side…no age statement.  C’mon, Kavalan.  We know it’s young.  How ’bout telling us just how young?

Typical of these cask strength limited runs, this one came out at a shockingly low outturn.  Hefty angel’s share in this warm environment.  Only 187 bottles hit the markets after all was said and done.

Nose:  Sweet and fruity.  Soft caramel notes (surprising for a nearly 60%er).  Like all Kavalan, smells mature beyond its years.  Gummy candies.  Maybe some Roman Nougat.  Toasted marchmallow.  Red Dino-sours.  Gorgeous soft spices.  More on nutmeg than cinnamon.  Definitely a big bourbon influence from either some lively wood or just a very humid environment leading to cask breathing.

Palate:  A huge amount of fruit again.  Red fruits, juicy and sweet.  Loving the sweet barley notes that shine through.  Bigger spice here now.  Like sugar cookies on steroids.  More bourbon notes, by way of cinnamon and synthetic cherry.  Loud oaky background.  Oily.  Great long finish.

Thoughts:  Unquestionably a 90 point malt.  Absolutely mouthwatering.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:55 am
Apr 302014
 

Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique048

Cask #W080225006

59.2% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Let’s head East again for another great ‘world whisky’.  Namely, Kavalan’s Solist Vinho Barrique.

The Solist releases, as we’ve covered in past reviews, are the Taiwanese distillery’s massive, limited run, cask strength offerings.  This particular Solist expression was matured in American oak ex-wine barrels.  According to Kavalan, these barrels held both red and white wines for a little extra added complexity.

First things first…while I may only be a moderate Kavalan fan in general, I am definitely a HUGE fan of the distillery’s Solist series.  These strong and youthful whiskies are so deeply marbled with flavour and nuance that it’s honestly difficult not to get lost in the experience every time I pour one.  This isn’t hyperbole.  The Solists are malts to be slowly savoured.  The depth of character and utterly unique profile are worth complete attention and focus.

This Vinho, being a variation on a theme, was a welcome addition to the range.  I’ve tried a handful of the Solist sherry releases, a couple of the bourbon ones and one of the Fino.  All I can say is…man…I truly recommend getting out there and trying this stuff.  This particular bottling bears all the hallmarks of Kavalan’s now-familiar profile: exotic spice, rich woods, dark fruits and a surprising maturity.  What the wine cask influence brings to this one is open to debate (being nowhere near as ‘wine-y’ as I had expected), but I can certainly say that the sum total is dead on for my liking.

Great whisky.  Somewhat expensive.  Worth every penny.

Nose:  Deep, wet woods.  Aged rum.  Damp oiled leather.  Dark chocolate.  Cherries, plums and purple grapes.  Dark…almost burnt…vanilla.  Uber rich.  Some very mature notes on here, which are surprising considering the relative youth of this one (I’ll be pickled if it’s older than 5-7 years).  Reminds of some sort of Asian sauce.  Great waves of spice.  May be just a touch of smoke too.  Way less wine influence than I’d expected.

Palate:  Tart and tangy.  Juicy and mouth-watering.  Viscous, like a rich sauce.  Dark fruits and somewhat jammy (plum).  Slightly over-oaked, I’d say, but it somehow sorta compliments the over-the-top enormity of this one.  Sourness here too that is quite enjoyable.  Touch of varnish.

Thoughts:  This was a slightly polarizing one locally, but I loved it.  Something struck a chord here.  I’ll be honest and concede the palate is a little rockier than the nose, but it works for my own biases.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:44 am
Mar 072014
 

Kavalan Podium027

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

First things first…I’m almost as big a fan of Taiwan’s Kavalan as I am of Amrut or Karuizawa.  Let’s all face up to it together…there are some rather spectacular whiskies come out of the far corners of the world.  Asia, in particular.  I’ve shared notes on some of the big cask strength Kavalans from the Solist range, so how ’bout we look at one of the more wallet-friendly expressions now?

This is Kavalan Podium.  The Kavalan site mentions American oak casks mixed with their own refill casks.  Not sure what those refill casks had held previously, but there is certainly some sort of wine/sherry influence at work here.  That guesswork is a bit of what is rubbing a couple mates of mine the wrong way.  Kavalan play their cards closer to the chest than Doc Holliday at a Faro table.  Finding out anything related to these whiskies is difficult, to say the least, and occasionally an exercise in futility.  Interestingly enough…I’ve heard that even a trip to the distillery does not really do much more in the way of illumination.  Oh well.  We can be a little more forgiving here with our world whiskies, I suppose, as these drams aren’t being governed under the strict protocol of the SWA.

Irrespective of what we know or don’t know about these whiskies from Taiwan, if you simply let your senses be your guide you’ll find out the only truly important thing that need be discerned: is it good stuff?  And for the most part…the answer is yes.

Nose:  Lychee nuts.  Some borderline tropical notes.  Cadbury Fruit And Nut bar.  Cinnamon and ginger snaps.  Gummy candy.  Some floral and soapy  notes.  Maybe a whiff of smoke.  Orange rind.  Maybe a hint of cherry.  Slightly wine-y.  Little bit of pepper.  Finally…some almost barbecue notes.

Palate:  Nice initial arrival.  Some chocolate and wine again.  Some ginger.  Pepper.  Not a lot of the tropical influence that is hinted at on the nose.  Grapes and nuts.  Best way I could describe this is ‘peppered green grape skins, sprinkled in pepper and drizzled in sherry’.  Touch of leather.  Kinda bitters out a bit, but not detrimentally so.  Very drinkable, all told.

Thoughts:  These lighter Kavalan releases can’t hold a candle to the ethereal beauty of the Solist editions.  They’re nice drams, of course, but once you’ve had the big’uns, there’s just no going back.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:53 pm
Jul 252013
 

Kavalan Solist Fino

Cask #S060814012

57.9% abv

Score:  82/100

 

This is almost heartbreaking.  Kinda like a red wine stain on an expensive carpet, this is a case of so much beauty marred by a flaw that can’t be scrubbed out.  I keep peeking around corners here, trying to find an angle from which I can appreciate this one more than I do, but sipped in a line-up of five other malts from the Far East this one simply fell flat.

Under the microscope here is a Kavalan Solist release, this time from a Fino sherry cask.  Fino brings a unique influence to the maturing/finishing of malt whisky, being the driest of sherries.  I’m thinking it’s probably the primary contributor to that nutty/caramel-heavy front note here.  This particular expression is one that shows some incredible nuance and quality in terms of the pure spirit itself, but a nasty sulphuric note (again almost certainly leeched from the sherry cask) brings this one down from the stratosphere to barely clearing the treetops. 

King Car’s Kavalan distillery is Taiwan’s contribution to the whisky world.  The distillery, one I hold in fairly high regard, has been in operation for only a handful of years now, but, much like Kilchoman, 2005’s other distillery success story, is already hitting homeruns.  A semi-tropical climate, key to a naturally accelerated maturation, is a prime contributor to the distillery’s success rate, as is a rather pliable and exotic spirit profile. 

Back to the glass at hand though… while I really love some of the individual flavours and aromas herein (especially the tobacco and dark rye bread scents I’m getting), I’m struggling against the off note.  I can’t go so far as to say the whisky is spoiled, but it’s simply not working for me.  If you can get your head around sulphur (and many can), it’s all yours.

Nose:  Heavy caramel.  Almost equally heavy on a sulphur note, throwing this one right out of kilter.  Still some highs, but they have a huge uphill battle after that brimstone low.  Nougat (and here is where the fruity notes are buried).  Rye bread, nuts and pepper.  Oily leather and seasoned tobacco pouch.  After some time in the glass it does get a bit creamier and the sulphur fades off a bit.

Palate:  Struck match.  Caramel.  Some vanilla, and full circle to those tobacco notes.  A little bit of pear.  Unique flavour spectrum and not quite what I would expect from Asian malt meeting sherry. 

After half an hour or so – when the majority of the sulphuric influence has dissipated – this would score extra points, but I won’t go there.  I shouldn’t have to wait that long to make the drink more palatable.  All told though…still a quaffable dram, and likely a very winning malt for those of the populace who find themselves immune to the influence of sulphur.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:58 am
Jul 172013
 

Kavalan Solist Bourbon

Cask #B070604058

58.2% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

No hiding anything here.  Just a nice clean straight forward whisky at a decent state of maturity, and served up at a belting cask strength.  Sounds just about right, no?

Here we have another of the Solist releases by Kavalan, served up this time from an ex-bourbon barrel.  This series has served up some very distinct and vibrant malts and this particular expression is simply a variation on a theme.  While more often than not I tend to gravitate towards the more robust notes found in some of the others in the range, I still find this cleaner and lighter approach refreshing from time to time.   

I concede a certain preconconception has wedged itself in the corner of my mind that the Kavalan profile is more closely associated with boldly flying the flag of deep tangy sherries and a rainbow of interesting spices.  That’s based solely on my own mental blocks however and in no way reflective of any distillery limitations.  The only problem is…that’s where the distillery truly excels.  Stripped down to this more bare-bones presentation the whisky is slightly tame, if still of high quality.

Anyway…here we have a whisky that certainly carries a spicy zing, but being bourbon cask-matured, lacks the deep redolent jammy fruits we find in some of the other Kavalans.  Instead we get a lovely toastiness here and a vanilla-led charge.  Very typical of bourbon maturation of course.

While by no means the quintessential expression from this Taiwanese rising star, this is definitely a dram worth some contemplation.  For those so inclined…expect to pay for the privilege.  The prices are a little…errr…’elevated’ in my estimation.  Such is, though.  There’s a price to be paid to drink well.

Nose:  Clean and floral.  Vanilla and oak are driving here.  Orange and cream…vanilla and cream…banana and cream.  Toasted marshmallow.  Some polish and sunlit meadow.  Maybe even a touch of apple and cinnamon.  Ribbon candy.  I keep coming back to orange creamsicle.

Palate:  Oak, apple and vanilla.  Orange.  Thick and oily.  Citrus pith (sour and drying).  Bitter dark chocolate (surprisingly).  Quite a long finish for something so ‘straight edge’.  Clean and pure, but…boring.

Add a point for purity and such a clean, crisp spirit…deduct a point for a rather milktoast performance from a distillery that can, and should, absolutely sparkle.  Comes out even.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:53 pm
Jul 162013
 

Kavalan Solist Sherry20121102_193444

Cask #S060710026

59.4% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

Well, well…what have we here?  Yet another stunning bit of whisky magic from the far east.  Japan, India and Taiwan are putting on a hell of a show on the global stage of late.  These malts are getting more and more interesting (and more and more expensive).

First things first…I’m a little bit in love with Asian whiskies at the moment.  Need to share that bias right up front.  However, much like anything else, there are most definitely good and bad examples out there.  In recent days I have tasted some Kavalans that knocked my socks off (along with some Nikkas, Karuizawas and Amruts), but I’ve also sipped a couple that were either quite sharp or way, way, waaaaaaaay over-cooked.  All I’m saying is…you’re gonna see a high mark here, but it is based on a damn good dram, not simply skewed to my palate bias. 

If I understand correctly, Kavalan was begun almost as a vanity project.  This new kid on the block was founded in 2005, releasing their first whisky three years later, in 2008.  Now, in contrast to the machinations of Scottish distillers and the like, who release these young whiskies (under 10 years, I’d say) simply to generate early revenue (often irrespective of drinkability), the subtropical climes of some of these Asian distilleries allows for an incredibly accellerated maturation.  To put it simply…three years in these conditions is probably equivalent to four or five times that length of maturation in the more…errr…temperamental Scottish regions.  At these relatively ‘toddler-esque’ ages some of these whiskies are already immaculate.

There are, of course, many factors that contribute to the end product we consume, and I won’t pretend to know enough about this Taiwanese distillery’s water source, wood policy, maltings or what-have-you to allow me to speak with any real assurance, but I can say that whatever they’re doing at Kavalan is most definitely embraced with open arms here.

This particular Solist bottling is a singular dram.  A heavily sherried and flavour-bursting fireworks show.  I’ve tasted nothing like this one elsewhere.  Complex, deep, swirling and mysterious.  Love it.

Nose:  Heavy, heavy monolithic sherry.  Black cherry and raspberry jam.  Orange and some salty playdough notes.  Very syrupy smelling.  Raw tobacco with a hefty dose of spice.  Some tropical fruits here.  Caramelized ham skin.  Rum-soaked fruit cake.  Fresh eucalyptus and salt licorice.  Wow…is this ever a deep and swirling vortex.  An absolutely brilliant nose.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy.  Sweet and deep.  Very unique.  Raspberry jam in front, but some tropical in behind.  All sorts of magnified and amplified sherry flavors.  Slightly medicinal in some ways.  Kinda like an Aberlour a’bunadh meets an exotic and mysterious spice profile meets cough syrup.  I’ll be fucked, but it works.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:12 am