Vita Dulcis 16 – Taiwan’s Kavalan Concertmaster Port Finish 40%

Last from Asia in my  2020 Advent Calendar was a repeat (for me) from Kavalan with their Concertmaster Port Finish.

What did I find this time around?

Taiwan – Kavalan Concertmaster Port Finish 40%

  • Nose – Sugar plums, dark dried fruits and berries, caramelized
  • Palate – At first I found it quite light, then the flavours grew, taking on a a delightful spice with chewy prunes with a fullness one rarely finds at 40%
  • Finish – Mmmm… the port really comes through on the finish

I’ve had a whole range of experiences with Kavalan in the past – including this expression. I still remember being disappointed with the bottle I brought back from Taiwan nearly 9 years ago! And yet now, particularly after the Suntory “Toki” and Hatozaki Blend, I found myself really enjoying it.

What does Kavalan have to say about Concertmaster, now that it is back on their website?

Using Portuguese ruby Port wine casks as the main flavour, Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish single malt whisky is first matured in specially selected American oak casks and then finished in port barriques. The ageing in barriques mellows the flavours and adds indefinable smoothness to the whisky. It is rich bodied with natural sweetness and complexity.

  • Colour: Brownish red
  • Flavour: Tropical fruitiness with honey, vanilla, coconut and candy floss.
  • Palate: Rich bodied with natural sweetness and complexity.
  • Tasting pairing: Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish pairs indulgently with chocolate, making it even more delicious.

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Vita Dulcis 15 – Japan’s Kaikyo

Last year, Germany’s spirits importer Schlumberger brought two whiskies from Akashi-Tai’s Kaikyo Distillery – including this “Hatozaki Whisky,” named after a lighthouse nearby that dates back to 1657.

Naturally curious, I was happy to see it part of my Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar.

Japan – Kaikyo Distillery Hatozaki Blended Whisky 40%

  • Colour – So pale, it almost looks like water
  • Nose – It started off with soft brie or camembert, citrus spice… as it opened up, it became fruitier – particularly white nectarines and the cereals became more prominent
  • Palate – Apple juice that morphed into apple sauce with a bit of cinnamon and cheese, bit of honey
  • Finish – Light

I kept thinking of a platter full of different kinds of cheese, apples, figs, a scattering of nuts… it also reminded me of Akashi’s Red, perhaps even more so the White Oak.

What more do we know?

Based on the ABV, it seems clear the ‘Finest Japanese’ expression (not small batch) Hatozaki made its way to Germany.

From this interview with the owner Kimio Yonezawa, it is a blend of malt and grain, whiskies distilled in Japan and outside. In terms of casks, they use sherry, bourbon and Mizunara oak…. even XO plum Umeshu!

As for official tasting notes, here is what I could find:

Hatozaki Finest Japanese Whisky is a premium blend of whiskies, aged up to 12 years in barrel with a minimum malt whisky content of 40%. Light in style with a rich backbone of malt whisky character. Cereal notes and a light sweetness allow for the whisky to be used in both highball and straight pours.

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Vita Dulcis 14 – Japan’s Suntory Toki 43%

Next up is a wee jaunt over to Asia to check out a trio from my 2020 Vita Dulcis Adventkalendar…. two of which I’ve already sampled… many years ago!

I decided to start with the “Toki” as I remembered it being light, fruity, easy drinking.

What did I find in this most recent encounter?

Japan – Suntory “Toki” Blend 43%

  • Nose – Lightly citrus, fresh green apples and cheese, honey
  • Palate – Apples, bit of ginger, light spice, more of that citrus, mint
  • Finish – Consistent with the palate, light spice

Spot on with my memory – simple, refreshing, easy to drink – think of a mint julep or lemonade!

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Vita Dulcis 13 – Canada’s J.P. Wiser’s 18 year 40%

A nice surprise in my international Advent Calendar was a chance to ‘virtually’ take a trip to Canada shortly before Xmas!

As I had some catching up to do, I speed tasted a few sips of four drams… one after the other… with this one the last. Good thing as it was a clear departure and one that needed time to settle into…

Here is what I found!

Canada – JP Wiser’s 18 year Blended Whisky 40%

  • Nose – Initial hit was acidic, almost varnish or glue, but then it immediately mellowed, became sweeter, light tart fruits like a crisp apple, pine sol… and after the 1st sip reminded me of dried sour plums
  • Palate – Smooth, rounded…. tamarind… dried sour plum – a bit tart, a bit salty, a bit sweet and overall tangy
  • Finish – Long finish… which continued with the dried sour plum theme

Sometimes you come across a whisky that has a single predominant quality. Or at least once you catch that dimension, all senses become fixated on it. In the case of this J.P. Wiser’s 18 year, for me it was dried sour plums – Li hing mui (旅行梅) – specifically the red ones. This quality activated my taste buds with its combination of sour, salt and sweet. It also struck me that it might make an interesting addition to a cocktail.

While Canadian, this one reminded me of Asia. During my tasting, I was on a video chat with a friend in Canada and she immediately knew exactly what I meant.  She shared one of their favourite summer drinks is lemonade over ice with sour plums – the best part is how the sour plums help cut the sweet, add another element and then after soaking up the lemonade are delicious to eat.

Bottom line…. the more I sipped, the more I enjoyed this one… It was distinctive, interesting and a good shift in character after some less than stellar whiskies.

Distillery official tasting notes? I couldn’t really find… this is all they have to say:

Aged to perfection over 18 long years and blended with exacting care to deliver a premium whisky with the smoothest of finishes. This multiple award-winning spirit is something you’ll want to have on hand to serve and enjoy on special occasions.

Taste profile: Autumn florals, green apple, fresh pine, caramel, spice, oak 

Funny thing is… as I sat down to write up my notes, I discovered the Bombay Malt & Cigar lads and I had tried this whisky a few years ago during a special Canadian focused evening. When I read my old tasting notes, I could see the similarities but after fixating on sour plums, it was like a broken record… all I could ‘hear’ (taste/smell) was that!

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Vita Dulcis 12 – USA’s Legent “Two True Legends” 47%

This is my first encounter with Legent bourbon, which brings together Fred Noe (think Jim Beam 7th generation master distiller) and Shinji Fukuyo (Suntory), combining bourbon and blending of bourbon, sherry and red-wine casks.

It was third sampled in an evening of north american whiskies… what did I think?

USA – Legent “Two True Legends” Finished in Wine and Sherry Cask 47% – Kentucky Straight Bourbon

  • Nose – Young, granary, old spilt red wine
  • Palate – Alcohol kick. Brash spice, cloves and cinnamon, mash
  • Finish – Warm spice

They indicate it has been matured in sherry, but no hint of it in the whisky. As for the wine? Reminded me of some whiskies I have tried that are partly matured in Merlot or Pinot Noir – which to be honest, doesn’t tend to work for me. And this case? Hmm…. not really.

I must admit, I simply wasn’t in the mood so stopped after one sip.

So I decided to come back and give it another go… better… definitely better… or perhaps I calibrated to a different style.

What do they have to say?

Legent is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey partially finished in wine and sherry casks. But it’s more than that. It pushes the boundaries for how bourbons can be created while remaining true to the core of bourbon’s principles. It’s a collaboration between two whiskey legends – Fred Noe & Shinji Fukuyo – and two unique styles of whiskey making.

They speak of a three cask strategy:

  • Bourbon barrel aging. From these barrels, Legent absorbs char notes and rich, traditional bourbon cues like layers of caramel, oak and vanilla.
  • Sherry Cask finishing. Sherry casks add complex layers of spice, raisin and heavy dried fruit labor. These casks also help give Legent its deeper, reddish colour.
  • Red-wine cask aging. French oak wine casks impart different oak notes than traditional white oak bourbon barrels. These red-wine casks also give Legent mild, fruity undertones and a light acidity.

Now… back to the next in my Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar!

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Vita Dulcis 11 – USA’s Corsair Hydra 42%

Next up, a trip to Tennessee with a whisky from Corsair…. These folks are all about experimentation… Starting with beer, Darek Bell and Andrew Webber founded Corsair Distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2008. Two years later, Corsair shifted and became the first craft distillery in Nashville since prohibition, since expanding to two centres – both beer and spirits.

I first encountered Corsair in 2015 with their Triple Smoke… which happens to make a great old fashioned.

So, what about the Hydra?

USA – Corsair Hydra 42% – American Malt Whiskey

  • Nose – Started with smoked bacon, shifting into hickory then cedar, herbal, changing again… more like a balsam, with a drizzle of maple, a dash of cinnamon, some ripe apples, black current, hint of tea?
  • Palate – Spice but then mellows, more of that balsam wood, a bit of resin with smoke
  • Finish – Limited

Increasingly interesting as I sipped…. it was distinctly different. Clearly not Scottish and not a typical bourbon either. There is a freshness to the aroma. An interesting array of wood elements… came across as well crafted.

To be honest, I knew nothing about this before tasting…. just dove in ‘nearly’ blind.

What could I find out?

It is pot distilled from five hardwood smoked malts –  pecan nut, apple wood, sugar maple, black walnut wood and persimmon (fig/plum), matured for just 12 months.

And distillery official tasting notes? They are no longer included in their website as this was an expression from 2018, but rumour has it that their description was simple:

Smoke, Leather, Firewood

If you are interested in finding out more, I’d recommend checking out Whisky Jason’s video comparing Hydra and Triple Smoke in English or German.

Curious about other minis tried in December 2020? Check out how far I’ve reached in my journey through the Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar.

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Vita Dulcis 10 – USA Bulleit Frontier 10 year 45.6%

I thought to kick off a quick quartet of North American whiskies with a Kentucky Straight Bourbon from Bulleit… in this case their ‘Frontier’ 10 year...

USA – Bulleit Frontier Whiskey 10 year Kentucky Straight Bourbon 45.6%

  • Nose – A dusty granary, sweet corn, wood shavings
  • Palate – A bit sharp, raw… a bit sour
  • Finish – Minimal

Not such a bad way to ease into an evening of American drams… didn’t stand out but didn’t turn off either.

After tasting the other three whiskies, I returned…. to find it had become pure sour mash!

What about the Bulleit official tasting notes?

Aged in charred American white oak, select Bulleit Bourbon barrels were set aside to age for 10 years. The result is a special expression of Bulleit that provides a rich, deep, incredibly smooth sipping experience.

  • Deep russet in color, rich oaky aromas. Consistently smooth taste with vanilla, dried fruit, and a long, smoky finish.
  • 91.2 proof (45.6% ABV) • 68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley

Would I agree? Not really, but then this also isn’t the style of whisky I gravitate towards either, so don’t mean to be uncharitable.

Curious about the other minis sampled in December 2020? Check out the Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar.

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Vita Dulcis 9 – France’s Armorik Double Maturation 46%

I first tried this whisky in 2017 at Whisky Live Singapore as part of a trio of Armorik’s standards – Blended Grain, Classic, and Double Matured.

Since then, I’ve been curious to try more if and when the opportunity presents. When I purchased the Vita Dulcis 2020 Whiskey International Advent Calendar, it was specifically for the strong European representation in the offerings. My hope was this Armorik would be something new, however I was equally happy to revisit the Double Matured too.

Same approach as before – the whisky is double matured between local french oak barrels and ex-sherry casks for an undisclosed number of years.

What did I find the in 2020 version?

FranceArmorik Double Maturation 46%

  • Nose – Much like I found before – light cereal, apples with a citrus twist, honey sweetness
  • Palate – Oh! This was unexpected! It started off good and spicy. Then settled down, woody, apple sauce with light cinnamon
  • Finish – Spice comes back, mellowing into honey with almost a touch of smoke or bitterness at the tail end

Is it complex? No. But is it interesting? Yes.

I sampled this a night after being introduced to another trio from France – courtesy of Maison Benjamin Kuentz. I couldn’t help but compare the two “Bretagne” offerings – Aveux Gourmand (sheer divine decadence!) and the more restrained Armorik Double Maturation. More on Maison Benjamin Kuentz in the coming weeks but suffice to say… my interest in French whisky is fully re-piqued!

As for Armorik? After 20 years, their bottle label design got a nice refresh in 2018 – clean, straight forward and far more elegant than their earlier label.

And the price? It has risen a bit – now in the EUR 48 – 58 range – however not something that will ‘break the bank.’

Curious to know more? Just check out what the folks at Armorik have to say. Or check out my encounters with Warenghem distillery:

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Vita Dulcis 8 – France’s Bellevoye Peat 43%

This is my first introduction to Bellevoye from France, thanks to my purchase of the Vita Dulcis 2020 International Advent Calendar.

As the label only identified this as “tourbée” (peaty), I reached out to find out more. Steven Baily Gibson from Les Bienheureux kindly helped confirm that the “tourbee” edition is “Noir”. More on that after my tasting…

France – Bellevoye Tourbee 43%

  • Colour – Golden hay
  • Nose – Sour cherries, almost liquor like, sweet spices of cloves, all spice and most of all cinnamon
  • Palate – Surprisingly smooth, a delightful and pronounced cinnamon, spiced apple crumble, fruity
  • Finish – More cinnamon spice, quite fruity

Overall this was a cinnamon candy – with peat! A promising start and after looking at their other profiles, would be interested in exploring further.

So what more do we know about Black? It is a blend of three ‘peaty’ Single Malt whiskies from Lorraine, Alsace, Nord, aged for 5-10 years in French Oak casks and then a secondary maturation – nine to 12 months post-blend – in French new oak casks particularly prepared and selected for this whisky.

The peat levels are not intense – around 45 p.p.m – and the distilleries are also not disclosed. My guess would be for Lorraine – Rozelieures – which is certainly putting out directly and indirectly some whiskies well worth exploring further.

As for Alsace? I couldn’t say for sure – so far we’ve only sampled one AWA Pinot Noir which wouldn’t be a good indicator for the profile in this Bellevoye expression. There is also Lehman’s, Meyer’s, plus an assortment of others.

And North? It all depends on whether “North” in this context also includes Bretagne with Werenghem and Glann ar Mor

Which ever the distillery, the plan seems to be to continue to work with three, crafting two batches per year, blending together with an aim to achieve a profile of:

“Complexity, fullness, balance and length.”

And what do the folks at Bellevoye share in their official tasting notes?

  • The intense nose reveals empyreumatic notes that evoke both ashes, toast and moka. Subtle touches of spices (cinnamon, nail clove) and liquorice reinforce its complexity.​
  • The mouth is thick, mellow and oily. Its salinity gives it a fresh and harmonious balance. Its structure is coated thanks to its elegant tannins.
  • The finish is long and persistent on aromas peat characteristics.​

It is available in Germany for EUR 48 – 59, depending on distributor. For my part, I was happy to have a chance to have this included in my miniatures explorations.

Curious about other encounters with French whisky?

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Vita Dulcis 7 – Germany Slyrs Oloroso 55.9%

Our 1st encounter with Slyrs was a few years ago as part of Whisky Ladies European evening with the Slyrs 51 51% – not really our tipple.  Fast forward and we quite enjoyed the Sild “Crannog” 3 year Single Malt 48%.

So I approached the Oloroso from the Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar with an open mind, curious to see what I would discover!

Germany – Slyrs “Worldwidespirits” Limited Edition Vintage 2012-16 Oloroso Cask 55.9%

  • Nose – OMG no! There is something rotten, frankly foul, if I’m charitable I would compare it to blue cheese… I’m so sorry… I just couldn’t get past the nose… Several times I went to take a sip and was turned away by the aromas…
  • Palate – But trooper that I am, eventually I managed to take a sip. Yes it was better than the nose but… other than vague over ripe prunes… sigh….
  • Finish – Yes… there is one… mostly dates

I could not even go back for a 2nd sip, no attempt to try with water… none of the normal things I would do even with a ‘challenging’ whisky.

I tried to find out more but didn’t have much luck with English language searches.

Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I was turned off by a whisky. I really don’t mean to be uncharitable but….

Just no.

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