After the minion-Solist I reviewed last week, here is the first true Solist on these pages. I guess that any journey into the world of a particular Single Malt should actually start with the result from maturation in a cask that previously held Bourbon, because casks like these, especially refill casks, show the distillery character best, not overpowering the true nature of the spirit. So here we have a Solist, an ex-Bourbon single cask bottling bottled at cask strength. Beforehand I was quite excited to find out if this Malt would be closer to an Indian Malt or more like an aged Scottish Malt. As said in the previous review, Kavalan is mostly made with Scottish imported barley, but matured in the hot Taiwanese climate, whereas Indian Malts are predominantly made with Indian Six-row Barley, but also matured in a similarly hot climate. By the way, another fun fact, the Indian distilleries do import something else from Scotland though: Peat, and maybe Kavalan does so as well. I’ll look into this when reviewing a peated Kavalan. But first back to basics…
Nose: Spicy, sweetish, fresh and modern. Buttery and creamy. Microwave popcorn (the buttery/salty one, definitely not the sweet one) and latex paint for walls. (Not talking about solvents here, although maybe the tiniest hint of some acetone is noticeable, like you get from fermenting over-ripe yellow fruits). Pretty fruity from multiple yellow fruits, as well as a nice Asian florality. After a while the fruit turns slightly syrupy or jam-like. Medium spicy wood. Fresh and herbal. White pepper and pencil shavings. Slightly dry and dusty as well. Mocha and light milk chocolate with distant ice-cream. Some vanilla and wood spices, suggesting of course, American oak. After some breathing the more dusty and cardboard-like notes emerge, adding to the complexity. This is a very good example for a well aged Bourbon cask Whisky, only well aged in Taiwan has thus a different meaning than it does in Scotland. It takes much less time there than a similar example of Whisky aged in Scotland. This particular Kavalan reminds me a bit of Bourbon cask matured Glen Keiths from Signatory, but it could be similar to many other well aged ex-Bourbon cask matured Scottish Single Malt Whiskies as well. The point being, that the aforementioned Glen Keith’s are some 20 years old and I don’t think this Kavalan is a lot more than 5 or 6 years of age. So quite the result for a young Whisky. All in all, a clean smelling Kavalan, this is. Thank you, Mr. Yoda for that.
Taste: Very nutty and prickly, right from the start, fresh almonds. Nice sweetness but also a wonderful fruity acidity complements the sweetness very well, making it fresher and “lighter” than a similar Scottish counterpart. Didn’t pick up on a lot of this nuttiness on the nose though. Cocoa powder, wax and clay and with just the right amount of sweetness counter-parted by spiciness. Fresh and citrussy as well. Very fruity, very tasty. On the body, since a lot is already happening, not a lot of wood is discernible, but in the finish a bitter edge is there. Warming going down. Sure it has quite a high ABV, but it really doesn’t come across as one. Well balanced stuff this, just slightly less complex than the nose was.
This, (ex-Bourbon), is one of the more nicely priced Solists available, and if the price stays as it is, it most definitely is a good alternative for an older Bourbon cask matured Single Malt. It is also closer to a Scottish Single Malt than an Indian Whisky is, and with this, Kavalan seems to be not really carving out its own niche…but rather fishes in exactly the same pond as the Scots do. In that light some of the Solists have some pretty hefty prices. Nevertheless, this “basic one” is very well made, and it takes a lot less ageing time to match the quality of a Scottish Single Malt. Recommended.
Entirely by chance, I found out this malt works extremely well outside on a sunny day in spring (so when it’s still a bit chilly outside), combines very well with (cold) fresh air.