When Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask didn’t quite hit the mark

Next up in our “revisit” evening was a cask strength single cask whisky from Kavalan, part of their Solist line.

We sampled completely blind, revealing only after much debate and speculation.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask S090608029A Bottle No 269 of 485 58.6% (Bottled 2017.10.02)

  • Colour – The colour was remarkable – so dark it was more like coffee with a rich ruby hue than whisky!
  • Nose – Pure sherry, coffee, lots of rummy, plummy notes, complex, chocolate, dark fruits, weighty, kept thinking of chocolate covered raisins, sweet spices, caramel toffee
  • Palate – Unexpected. Packs a punch – and not in an entirely good way. Sulfur, rubber – as in burnt rubber tyres, dry bitter, tannic, lentil, neem
  • Finish – Spice sherry
  • Water – Completely changes – much more coherent, the bitterness a bit tamed, the red fruits came out even more

To be honest, we really struggled with this one. It had elements of a few different familiar whiskies but not when put together. And it just didn’t work somehow either. The nose was so incredibly promising but the palate…. frankly seemed “forced”. The colour also had us puzzled – it was so dark to provoke speculation that something was decidedly different.

With the reveal there was surprise! Particularly as we’d just sampled a Kavalan Solist Sherry mere months earlier.

Generally we’ve all had very positive experiences with Kavalan Solist – with the Sherry being their signature rich, complex, robust whisky. However this one simply didn’t hit the mark for us.

This was by no means our only brush with this particular whisky… however that’s the thing about Kavalan Solist Sherry, each cask is unique.

What do the Kavalan folks have to say?

  • Colour – Dark and mouth-watering raisin
  • Nose – Clean and complex with multi-layers of dried fruit, nuttiness and spices with some marzipan and vanilla touches to it as well
  • Palate – Rich, oily and full with pleasant dried fruit and spices that linger on in the mouth plus a hint of fine coffee

Here are a few others sampled over the last year or so….

Here is what else we tried in our “revisit” evening:

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Revisiting Johnnie Walker’s Green Label, Kavalan Solist Sherry, Kilchoman

One of the things I really appreciate about our original Mumbai tasting club is that our default is to sample blind. What the means is even something we thought we knew, we have an opportunity to rediscover.

Which was exactly our hosts theme – to revisit whiskies we all know – or at least we thought we did!

Here is what we tried:

With a bonus of Amrut’s Fever Club Con-Fusion Batch No 1, 46%

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Kavalan Solist Cask Trio – Sherry

After the Kavalan Solist Brandy and Port casks, we finished our trio with the familiar Sherry cask.

Except this is the thing about all Kavalan Solist whiskies, each is a unique cask which means there is also something to discover about the elements specific to that particular cask – be it from 2008, 2009 and even two from (20102010).

So which one did we try? A cask from June 2009….

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask S0906080388 Bottle 098/522 57.8%

Nikkhil’s tasting notes

  • Color: Dark Varnish
  • Nose: Now that’s what you call a Sherry monster! A blast of prunes, orange oil, espresso, chocolate. Whiff of pencil shavings, tobacco, leather, old furniture. Stunning!
  • Palate: Thick like treacle. Gorgeous mouthfeel, if only silk was edible! Follows the nose note to note. It was Christmas all over again. Drams like these should not be dissected. They are simply too complex for words. Hence I’m going to stop. Just sit back and enjoy this masterpiece.
  • With Water: All the gorgeousness gets amplified.
  • Finish: Long and warming. Like a conversation with an old friend.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

And now… to shift from what the tasting group had to say to the separate sampling session…

Carissa’s tasting notes:

  • Nose – More restrained than the 2nd dram, yet clearly has a solid sherry quality, dry, tight fruits
  • Palate – Rich, velvety quality, coffee, chocolate, complex, almost evaporates in the mouth, gorgeous and completely delicious, silky smooth and refined
  • Finish – Not just long, simply remarkable

The colour alone gives it away – deep dark maple syrup. Had all the hallmarks of a mature whisky – the way a sherry cask matured dram should be. “We are not worthy.” Exceptional.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

And the reveal?? Kavalan Sherry… not old at all, just the beneficiary of an accelerated maturation in the warm climate of Taiwan.

The folks at Kavalan have this to say about their Sherry Cask:

Matured in Spanish top quality oloroso sherry casks in special editions, Kavalan Solist Sherry is bottled at the distillery, without any colouring or chill-filtration. It is a naturally smooth and rich whisky with a complex character. It is clean and complex with multi-layers of dried fruit, nuttiness and spices with some marzipan and vanilla touches to it as well.

  • Color – Dark and mouth-watering raisin
  • Nose – Clean and complex with multi-layers of dried fruit, nuttiness and spices with some marzipan and vanilla touches to it as well.
  • Palate – Rich, oily and full with pleasant dried fruit and spices that linger on in the mouth plus a hint of fine coffee.
  • Tasting – We suggest drinking Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Cask neat.

Our Kavalan Cask Trio covered:

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Kavalan Solist Cask Trio – Port

Next up in our trio of Kavalan Solist cask explorations was a single malt matured in Port casks. While sherry casks is a standard, there are few examples of whiskies matured in port casks – however most are ‘finished’ rather than maturing the full time in an ex port cask. So, when tasting completely blind as we did for this whisky, we can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing it as a port cask rather than sherry.

And what was discovered in our two separate tastings?

Kavalan Solist Port Cask 0090728014A Bottle 188/205 58.6%

Nikkhil’s tasting notes with group:

  • Color: Dark Burgundy
  • Nose: Red fruits. Something immediately grassy about this one. Mildly citrus as in orange oil. A tad shy. After airing it a bit a lovely chocolate note appeared with more dark red fruits. A tiny hint of Sulphur but in a good way. Very interesting indeed.
  • Palate: Lovely creamy mouthfeel with beautiful notes of melons, currants, allspice. Some mellow ash, old furniture/bookshelves. Plums, raisins and star anise. Bitter tannic notes appear. Leather chairs and licorice. Very busy indeed and kept evolving. Super stuff.
  • With Water and a little rest that lovely chocolate note from the nose is brought to the forefront along with some toffee/coffee and roasted walnuts.
  • ​Finish: ​Long with spices, tobacco and slightly bitter tannins.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

Carissa’s tasting notes:

  • Nose – Mmmm… old wood, fruity – dark and dried, star anise, dry and dusty, prunes peaking behind… really growing, shifts into chocolate, complex, opens up more and more with rum raisins, seemed like a restrained sherry not the full on Christmas cake… just stunning, rich fruit
  • Palate – Super turbo star anise, polished old wood, full on spice, dry, deep flavours, as complex on the palate as the nose, sooo lovely, dried fruits, prunes, plums
  • Finish – Long, strong and beautiful

There is a concentrated quality to this dram. After setting it aside for a bit, revisited and found the nose had shifted into a bright citrus, palate retained the gorgeous spice and with a few drops of water opens up even more.

It gave the sense of being nearly Sherry… so when the reveal showed it wasn’t sherry at all but instead its cousin port, it all fell into place!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

The folks at Kavalan have this to say about their Port Cask:

Port is a Portuguese fortified wine that is robust and sweet with a fuller and richer body. It is therefore usually served as a dessert wine or digestif. Kavalan Solist Port Cask is fully matured in Portuguese Port barriques under the subtropical climate to create the multiple fruity flavours such as plum, blueberry, blackberry and strawberry just to name a few, with chocolate as the main background note.

  • Color – Deep ruby
  • Nose – The rich fruity and nutty flavours combined and enhanced by orange and citrus notes that can be enjoyed together with gentle and elegant wood spices of our American oakiness.
  • Palate – Satisfying fruitiness blended with quality chocolate aromas that melt delicately on your palate. A wonderful and long lasting after taste for your unique sampling pleasure.
  • Tasting – We suggest drinking Kavalan Solist Port Cask neat. It is also perfect with desserts.

Our Kavalan Cask Trio covered:

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Kavalan Solist Cask Trio – Brandy

What a remarkable opportunity – a trio of cask strength whiskies from the same new make spirit – each matured in a different cask.

First up from Kavalan was the Brandy Cask… Sampled initially by our regular tasting group completely blind with notes by Nikkhil then a sample sent to me… also sampled with no clue about the whisky.

Kavalan Solist Brandy Cask AO90709055 Bottle 052/281 55.6%

Nikkhil’s notes:

  • Color: Dark Amber
  • Nose: Initial hit of spirit vapors. Then overripe bananas, hint of honey, kafir lime citrus. Green apples, damp mud, sawdust. Some leather notes now along with beeswax. Overall there wasn’t a lot of weight on the nose suggesting a younger whisky.
  • Palate: Oh my god can somebody please dial the fire brigade! My nostrils are singed and throat scorched. The fire quickly spread around the group. I’ve never had a whisky that hot and raw. Once the fire was doused by glugging lots of water I nervously got back to tasting.  Young and rather thin on the palate and the heat was still simmering! Very little mouthfeel. Volatile. Bitter tannis and spirit driven. A very muted development. I think this one was bottled too early.
  • With water (and it could take a lot) and about 30mins of rest it transformed completely. That acrid heat was gone and the mouthfeel returned. Now there were tropical fruits, pineapple, some hints of mango, lychee and even coconut. On the palate it was now oily with some faint tobacco and star anise. It was also distinctly briny and the bitterness continued.
  • Finish: Very dry and the tannic bitterness continued with hints of licorice.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

Carissa’s tasting notes:

  • Nose – Woah! Varnish… sharp, astringent then started to settle down… light banana, honey, vanilla, shifting into caramel
  • Palate – Harsh, raw, salty, spice, quite a kick initially, very piquant, bit bitter, then a hint of coffee and chocolate
  • Finish – Warm burn, jaggery, lingers… with more of that spice, salty and bitter, long and tingly

Overall had a sense of being young as in very young, possibly ex-Bourbon cask. A bit “in your face” and seemed to have a high alcohol strength so… decided to try again with a generous splash of water…

  • Nose – Brightens it up, lemon, floral and more honey
  • Palate – Rounds it out, still bitter and reveals even a light leather, old wood and much more depth
  • Finish – Intense

While still young, with water much more approachable. Wait longer and it reveals even more.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What do the folks at Kavalan have to say about their Brandy Cask?

Part of the Kavalan Solist series, matured in the hand-selected and top-quality brandy cask which is then individually and meticulously selected by the master blender with his skill to create uniquely fruity flavors and distinct characteristics for your sampling pleasure. This cask strength single cask malt whisky is non chill-filtered with natural colour to retain the fullest flavours.

  • Color – Seductive midnight amber
  • Nose – Irresistible peach, passion fruit, strawberry and mango fragrances with delicious vanilla, toffee, spices and honey mingling in the background.
  • Palate – Oily, round and smooth with complex and long finish that ends with a taste of sweet lychee.
  • Tasting – We suggest drinking Kavalan Solist Brandy Cask neat.

Would we agree? For this particular cask, a healthy dollop of water and time to open up makes all the difference. Neat? No. Dillute and give it time… Yes.

Curious how we associated the Brandy with Bourbon cask – now knowing what we were sipping, it would be interesting to try it again side-by-side with the Solist bourbon cask.

Our Kavalan Cask Trio covered:

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Kavalan Solist Cask Collection – Brandy, Port, Sherry

The hard thing about having a “real” job rather than running my own business is that the variables beyond ones control are simply much higher. Which means sometimes, despite best efforts, I have to miss a whisky tasting session.

Galloping yet again to the rescue was our fabulous guest writer Nikkhil Shirodkar… except this time our host insisted on a different approach.

  • Our regular tasting group’s collective impressions were captured by Nikkhil who then also enjoyed the great reveal and further discussions
  • A sample trio was generously set aside for me to go through and jot down my notes separately
  • Both sets of notes to be compared to see how similar or different they were, with enthusiastic pressure put to “guess” the theme
  • Then finally… nearly a month later… the reveal

But it was worth it – completely worth it!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

So here we are… drum roll… our original group’s January trio:

It was a remarkable theme exploring three different casks from Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery with their Solist series of individual casks at full strength.

Nikkhil had this to share about their experience when the whiskies were revealed…

So the host decided to quiz by asking us to guess the producer of the whiskies. The only obvious give away before the reveal was that these were intensely Sherried drams. So we round up the usual suspects: Glenfarclas, Glendronach, Aberlour Abunah without thinking about Non-Scottish producers. I don’t think any Non-Scottish producer has an equivalent range to the Kavalan Solist. But then again, how often does one get to sample/drink a Kavalan Solist on a regular basis? We totally missed that one even though in hindsight it was so obvious.

What Kavalan has achieved in terms of the sheer quality of their offerings is truly remarkable. We are all aware of the hot tropical climes and its effect on maturation but its more than just the weather. Every process, right from the selection of the barley to the shape of their stills, the best wood policy and access to a variety of premier casks all add in delivering stunning whiskies.

Remember that the entire Kavalan range is NAS! Is age on the bottle then just a number? A quick a tip. Every bottle in the Solist range has a code which can be decoded very easily to reveal its age. For eg. S0906080388 bottled in 2015 makes it roughly 6yrs old. Here is how:

Sherry Cask | Year |  Mon |  Day |  Barrel on the Day

S  |   09 06   |  08  |  0388

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Kavalan Solist Peaty Cask 54.8%

In fashion, there is a little something called the “show stopper” which closes all the prancing and posing with panache and much applause. In our NAS whisky night, there was no doubt this Kavalan Solist Peaty Cask was the hit of the night!

Over the years I’ve become a Kavalan convert. From a slightly disappointing start with the Concertmaster I picked up in Taipei to most recently a fantastic quick zip through their full core range at Whisky Live Singapore, there have been a few stunners along the way… particularly from the Solist Sherry Casks.

So when I spotted this Peaty Cask at Singapore airport, it simply had to be acquired and fit perfectly into our original club’s NAS themed evening. What makes it particularly interesting is the spirit isn’t peated… instead the peat comes from a cask that previously held a peaty Islay whisky, bringing a more subtle approach to peat dimension.

Kavalan Peaty Cask No R091214006A Bottle No 043/137 54.8%

Here is what we found:

  • Nose – Citrus lemon spice, bitter almond, oranges, apricots, subtle curl of smoke or perhaps a whiff of leather, vanilla
  • Palate – Peat, chocolate, coffee, oily and well-rounded, fruity, cinnamon
  • Finish – Fabulous! Long, lightly peated with a hint of ginger spice

The initial reaction was “Aaah… nice!” Then as we became more acquainted with it, “Oh! Really nice!” which then became “Very very good!” and overall degenerated into “Yummy!!!”

Overall our conclusion that while age plays a role, it is completely possible to have a complex, interesting and worthy dram when the whisky in question is one like this Kavalan.

Here’s what they have to say:

  • Nose – Rich in honey, toffee, bees wax and coconut. With water, more of the classic tropical fruit notes especially golden kiwi comes through. Very delicious and refreshing…
  • Palate – More toffee and butterscotch bring a peaty taste but rather subdued and more earthy than maritime. 
  • Finish – The finish is quite long with peppery notes of red chili. 

It is a perfectly balanced and quite complex – a beautiful whisky!

What else did we try in our NAS evening?

Other Kavalan’s explored include:

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Exploring NAS whiskies – Guillon, Oban, Arran + Kavalan

Sure folks still bemoan the days where “No Age Statement” whiskies were few and far between in the world of single malts, however NAS whiskies are here to stay! And frankly, some of them are rather good.

So it was rather apt that one of our retired whisky club members for his birthday (of years we shall not say!) turned to a quartet of NAS whiskies… which turned out not to all be whiskies… as there is a new avatar of ‘malt spirit’ which joins the fray.

Guess which one of our 4 bottles wasn’t a whisky after all?

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Krishna Collection – Kavalan Solist Sherry (2008) 55.6%

For a few years now, Kavalan from Taiwan has done rather well in the world whisky awards department – with good reason.

As the Malt Maniacs 2016 awards were released there was a lot of chatter in one Mumbai whisky WhatsApp group. Kavalan had clearly dominated – sweeping with the ‘Supreme Champion’ award, Ultra premium, Premium… with an insane 6 Gold awards, 13 Silver awards and 4 Bronze awards.

As Keith Wood shared the Malt Maniacs report, they “received 23 different cask entries of Kavalan; 2 bourbon, 3 port and 18 different sherry casks. At this point I must add that Kavalan themselves only entered the permitted 3 bottles, all others were from private cask owners.”

I thought of this development as I brushed off notes from a sampling of a 2015 Malt Maniac entry… here is what I found…

2016-04-25 Kavalan Solist

Not the whisky sampled – another Kavalan Solist Sherry (OB)

Kavalan Solist NAS Sherry Cask S081229026 55.6% 08 Bottle 421/527

  • Nose – More saccharin than honey, sweet prunes, dry fruits, heaps of dark chocolate
  • Palate – More mellow, sweet spices, cinnamon and oak bark, teasingly playful, peppers dipped in sugar
  • Finish – Very sweet finish, exceedingly long and lovely

What makes this one interesting is that it is vibrant, not mature and bursting with character. It may not be the most sophisticated whisky you will find, but it has a certain something that draws you back.

That’s just what Kavalan has accomplished with its Solist series – each single cask has a distinctive character. It may be in a similar family yet distinctive – take 2010’s casks S1001200358 vs S1001290048. All Solist single casks have unique qualities and can clearly stand on their own too. That cannot be said of all single casks.

Other whiskies sampled that evening with Krishna included:

Other whiskies previously sampled with Krishna:

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Whiskies shared… India’s own Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula

Each year Krishna Nakula makes his pilgrimage to Mumbai to battle with customs to get his annual Malt Maniacs samples into India.

Occasionally when he makes these trips, he brings a few remaining drops from previous years to enjoy with special folks.

Last year he generously introduced me to the gorgeous Glendronach grand dames and a stunning rare Karuizawa.

This year, he simply outdid himself, sharing from the 2015 collection:

All of these whiskies were a treat! And go to show that with a good whisky, even just a few drops can say a lot…

20151121_Rare Malts

Other whiskies sampled with Krishna:

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