Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask (58.6%, OB, B111209041A, 2017.07.11, 184 bottles)

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…

Color: Gold.

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.

Points: 87

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.

Kavalan Sherry Oak Matured (46%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 2017.08.07)

Kavalan has been founded in 2005, built in 8 months and thus in 2006 the first spirit already started to run off the still. Fun fact, most of the Barley that goes into the Whisky is imported from…Scotland. Kavalan is a big distillery (very big actually, and they keep expanding it), and lies an hours’ drive away from Taipei (the capital of Taiwan). Kavalan makes and bottles a lot of Whisky in lots of expressions. In 2009 the first Solist saw the light of day. Solists are single cask expressions, although officially released in batches, so maybe not every batch is from a single cask? Solists are bottled at cask strength, and not only coming from ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, there are a lot of other variants as well, some of which are quite expensive, for a NAS-Whisky. Me, already being a fan of Indian single cask Whiskies, the Solists are the ones I was most keen on trying, buying and reviewing.

Indian Malts, made from Indian six-row Barley (which makes a difference), as well as the Whisky made in Taiwan “suffer” from a lot of evaporation (a similarity). In these countries with their hot climates, numbers between 10% and 15% evaporation from the cask, per annum, are quite normal. So, Kavalan is made with Scottish barley and put in casks that also could have wound up in Scotland, the water is obviously different, but the biggest difference is thus the climate ensuring a more speedy maturation. Before I get to reviewing a true Solist, here is first a sort of lighter version of a Solist bottling called, Kavalan Sherry oak, bottled at 46% ABV. Presentation looks quite similar to a Solist, surely these must have been made in (small) batches rather than a reduced single cask.

Color: Deep dark brown, slightly orange/red.

Nose: Cherries, Oloroso Sherry and maybe a wee hint of PX for good measure. Figs, light black coal, herbal licorice and spicy wood. Very aromatic. Fresh oak and toasted oak, and no tarry notes to be smelled. Sometimes very clean and modern (at first), yet at other times almost old skool in style, but also just damn nice smelling, very appetizing. No tar, but it does have this classic fatty black coal note. Quite some American oak vanilla. Slightly nutty and cardboardy with vanilla pods. Hints of dust, more licorice, horseradish, lavas, clay and meat. Fresh air and an even fresher minty bit. Thick syrupy fruit, red fruit jam. Dust from a bookshelf and stinging sawdust. Milk chocolate. Even though this is quite dark, this isn’t a big, heavy, black coal and tarry, old style Sherry monster, no, it does have lots of those aroma’s, but they are fresh and fruity, and considering this has been reduced, the total package is more of a Sherry Whisky suitable for a lukewarm sunny day, whereas the monsters are more for an cold yet calm, and not entirely unpleasant evening in autumn. Having said all that, after some more breathing, the Whisky gets deeper. Honey, even more licorice, raisins and more syrupy. Maybe I spoke to soon. The nose moves more towards a dark, sweet Sherry, more towards the profile of a PX, even though this has been solely made with Ex-Oloroso casks. The vanilla note stays throughout, so most casks used, if not all, were probably made with American oak. The darker tone evaporates again like it was blown out with a whiff of fresh air. More of the milk chocolate now combined with a toffee note and a hint of creamy latex paint, and a more dry and warm summer wind. It also retains its modern feel as well as the older style notes. Well balanced, and yet another example of a Malt that really gets better with some extensive breathing, at least the nose did.

Taste: Well, dare I say it, It’s tarry now, diluted red fruit lemonade, with an light to medium oaky bitterness. Less sweet than expected, yet more acidic. This feels like it’s sweet, but it got somewhat masked by the wood. Very drinkable and sometimes a bit thin on entry. It’s big on aroma, if you give it some time. The sweetness is a bit odd though, it has this cloying taste, even though the texture remains thin. It tastes a bit like overly sugared food does, or even better, come to think of it, Rum with too much added sugar. Like A.H. Riise or Plantation. Now I can even smell the Plantation Grenada Rum. Wood, dosed Rum and licorice, also hindering the balance. Now that it somehow tastes like a Rum, the point of no return (to Whisky) has been reached. These must have been very active, first fill Oloroso casks, overpowering the distillate an turning it into an Oloroso finished Rum. Tastes good though, it really does, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I’m buying a Sherried Single Malt Whisky. So, wonderful nose, Rum-like on the palate. Big bodied aroma, with some thin moments, but a rather short finish and hardly any aftertaste to speak of.

Up ’till this point I haven’t had the opportunity to taste a lot of Kavalan’s. But with this Sherry Oak edition and some others that I did taste, I have to say that the distillate is quite good, although in this one, exactly that has been completely masked. I will try to get my hands on some more expressions, most likely some Solists, since I just love cask strength. In the introduction of this review I mentioned Indian Malts, but I feel now, for the time being, that Kavalan, as a whole, has more similarities with Scottish Malts, than Indian Malts, so the six-row Barley (and maybe some other regional factors present in India) does its job, creating a little bit of uniqueness…

Points: 86

Empty glass (the next day) smells of wood, red fruit jam and surprisingly, horseradish.