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:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

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:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

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

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

A’bunadh Batch #52 (2015) 60.5%

During our December sampling session, one of our fellow tasters brought along an Abelour A’bunadh. It is remarkable to  realize they are on to batches in the 50s… and soon to hit 60! I still have fond memories of their sherry bombs of the 20s…

But  on to this one… what did we think?

Abelour A’bunadh Aberlour A’bunadh Batch No 52 (NAS 2015) 60.5%

  • Nose – As expected – a complete sherry bomb, lots of chewy black cherries, Christmas cake, dark dried fruits, almost rum like
  • Taste – Christmas cake, a drizzle of caramel, warm and smooth, apply cider, raisins, prunes, robust and bursting with character, a little ginger, creamy and very berry Christmassy
  • Finish – Sweet spice with more of those dark cherries
  • Water – As always, opens up with a generous dollop of water

Worked for us and met every expectation for a Christmas sherry bomb dram!

And what about other Aberlour experiences?

And other drams sampled in our chilled out evening?

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Zuidam Millstone Sherry 55.5%

This was my 1st taste of Zuidam’s Millstone Whiskies… This Dutch distillery is known for its uncompromising quality.

Malt Maniac 2016 Awards

Zuidam Millstone (11.9.1998/5.8.2016) Odoroso Sherry Cask #2530 55.5% OB 44 of 203 bottles

  • Nose – Sharp juicy fruits, plum wine, dash of sweet spices with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, back to a burst of red fruits, sultanas, honey water then prunes, a shifting spice from black pepper to cayenne, then back to fruity boiled sweets or candied orange
  • Palate – Wow! Now we are talking a serious dram. Om biscuits with that distinctive caraway, perhaps a bit of kalonji too. Clear stamp of sherry with some age behind it too…
  • Finish – Gorgeous finish
  • Water – No interest in adding…

An unmistakable Christmas dram. Stunning.

While this was an official bottling, there are no notes on the Zuidam website…  however this dram won Malt Maniac’s 2016 “Thumbs Up” award so clearly someone agrees this is a mighty fine dram!

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Nikka’s “From the Barrel”

Last in the Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening was a “head to head” comparison between two Nikka blends – their cask strength “From the Barrel” and a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

Most would know that Nikka, the company, uses “Nikka” as the brand name for their range of whisky blends which are either:

Both our whiskies fall into the “blend” category… What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4%

  • Nose – Coconut, like sweet honey nectar, fruits like pears, a bit of acetone, then coriander (or cilantro or… there was a debate on the different varieties!). After a sip, the nose gained some oil and nuts, then shifted into marshmallow and candied nuts.
  • Palate – We found it was like melted caramel, dense and buttery like a maple butter tart, some sweet raisins too… quite thick on the palate
  • Finish – Last and last and lasts.

Some absolutely loved it! Appreciating how it is bursting with character, a complex drink, one where a little goes a long way.

Words like “Fabulous!” and “Mmmm” could be heard. The finish in particular was described as a “Fabulous, fantastic finish!” And exclaims of how well it could pair with certain food too.

And yet for some, this was almost too much… in its sweet aromas, its dense concentration of flavours and long finish.

What do the folks at Nikka have to say about “From the Barrel”?

This is a blend of multiple types of malt and grain that Nikka reserves. Nikka From the Barrel was created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher alcohol of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid “marriage” in used casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize. The concept of the unique short squared bottle is “a small lump of whisky”, which perfectly visualizes the rich and strong taste of the whisky inside.

PS – There may be added colour i.e. caramel.

So then how did it stack up against the “Super Nikka”? Read on soon….

The Nikka “From the Barrel” is a 50 cl bottle, sometimes found in duty free for around $50-75 and was opened during our session.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Springbank 12 year cask strength 54.2%

While I was off gallivanting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil Shirodkar, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.

  • Nose: This time smoky. Think cured meats, bacon and ham. Lovely notes of orange rind and rose petals. Now some ginger, toffee and leather. Superbly balanced.
  • Palate: Beautiful heather notes with vanilla and menthol. Almost reminded me of the old Highland Park 18. The meaty notes turn into gentle vegetal peat. ​Old books/library​ with leather seating. It kept evolving with lovely sherry notes, roasted apricots and that menthol note again.
  • Finish: Long and warming. A touch of lime, dark chocolate and peat interplay in a magical way! A clear winner.
  • Water: With water the peat smoke gets amplified with pepper notes. Some Pastis? Lovely! Despite the strength, no burn or rough edges. Good mouthfeel.

Reveal: The host teasingly gave away the location to be Campbeltown. From there it was a no-brainer! We were left unimpressed with the Burgundy finish. Maybe as a stand alone whisky it would be a perfectly nice dram but not if it is followed by the vastly superior Springbank 12 year. The host however was of the opinion that the 10 year old – which was the official standard – is superior than the current 12 year old version. It would be interesting to do a comparative tasting.

Official notes:

  • Nose: It’s reminiscent of walking in an autumn forest full of pine and chestnut trees, before returning home to the iodine of a Campbeltown malt and ending with a delicate hint of peat.
  • Palate: A gorgeous richness on the palate which is balanced between citrus marmalade on toast and caramelised toasted marshmallows, not forgetting flavours of vanilla and pepper. It’s a lip licking meaty dram.
  • Finish: A delicious, viscous, smooth liquid with a salty edge. It brings back memories of a ham joint which has been marinated in a rich honey sauce and slow baked in the oven.

This whisky was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. With Springbank, it releases its cask strength avatars by editions which tend to sell out quickly. This edition was released in January 2017 and is no longer available.

PS – You can get Springbank 10 year and 18 year in India! Check out The Vault Fine Spirits.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Writers Tears 2013 Cask Strength 53%

While I was off jaunting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.
Pour 1: Writers Tears 2013 Cask Strength 53%
  • Nose: Citrus, lemon/lime hit which quickly faded into some mild honey followed by some baked/toasted cereal grain notes – think Marie biscuit. Then suddenly it turned solventy. The nose kept changing rapidly. Some odd notes of pressure cooker boiled peanuts. Hints of green apple. Overall very temperamental. And the initial citrus hit never returned. 
  • Palate: A swift uppercut! Hot but strangely not raw. Young and rather thin on the palate. We did speculate on this being a high strength bottling. Again just like the nose the heat faded quickly! Very little mouthfeel. Volatile. Bitter cereals, tannic and spirit driven. A very muted development. With water it turned more bitter. Some faint banana and herbal notes. We couldn’t quite place this spirit either in terms of its flavour profile or geography.
  • Finish: There was none! We were all unanimous on that.
Reveal: We were quite surprised (in disbelief) and those in the know of this brand were even more so. One member was disappointed as he had highly recommended it based on his previous encounter with Writers Tears in Glasgow. Another member was equally perplexed as this was high up on his wishlist having been recommended by an Irish whiskey aficionado.There was not a hint of the “pot still” character even though it claims to be a vatting of Irish single malt and Irish pot still.
In my experience Irish whiskies always start spirit driven and solventy and benefit immensely given some time in the glass. Could it be the same with this one? Did we sample it too quickly? Perhaps I should have poured one more, let it rest and then revisited it.
The discussion then turned to provenance or rather the lack of it when it comes to newer Irish whiskey with many NDPs (non distiller producer) sourcing the bulk of their matured stock from Cooleys and Middleton.
Official notes: 
 
  • Nose: Flashes of apple with hints of vanilla and honey over a distinctively Irish Pot Still base
  • Taste: Gently spiced with a burst of ginger and butterscotch with background notes of toasted oak
  • Finish: Long, elegant finish with subtle notes of milk chocolate and almonds

Writers Tears whiskies are a combination of unspecified Irish pot still and Irish single malt, triple distilled and aged in ex-bourbon casks.

This bottle was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. It can be found online at the Celtic Whisky Shop for €150.00.

The 2014 edition all appears to be sold out/discontinued on Master of Malt, however The Whisky Exchange still has the 2015 (2100 bottles at $151)  & 2016 (2640 bottles at $151) available. 

This may be a cask where variation between the years makes a difference. What was stellar one year becomes merely average another year or – gasp! – even a disappointment.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Origins and palate preferences?

While most of my posts are filled with tasting notes of various whiskies explored, I must disclose the observations are typically an amalgam of several palates as the drams are shared and discussed as part of whisky clubs of informal sessions with friends.

I value the different reactions to what we try and recognize our perceptions of a whisky’s aroma and taste is inextricably linked to associated memories of distinctive yet familiar smells and flavours.

Hence you will often find my tasting notes peppered with references that are both common to say North America and equally India. This is simply a part of the duality of my life – hailing originally from Canada but living long term in India. Our cultural and culinary context influences our interpretation of a whisky.

For the most part, palate preferences are specific to an individual. Some love deep dark rich sherry drams, others long for the curl of peat, some prefer fruity and others saltier fare… for many, like me, preferences are context and mood dependent. My preferences have also shifted significantly over the years as I’ve gained exposure into different styles and the extraordinary range the world of whisky has to offer.

So why then was I so surprised at our last Whisky Ladies session? Where there was a very clear distinction between the reaction of those whose origins are outside of India vs those whose origins are within?

It was our first and only time where there was such a divide – sure we have different reactions and different opinions. That’s a huge part of the fun of tasting together! But not so diametrically opposed along lines of origins.

And what was the controversial whisky that provoked such a reaction? The Aultmore 5 year 66.8% Master of Malt which was first sampled as part of an exception evening of “Dream Drams” with India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

The notes I took did not reflect the full story:

  • Nose – Sherry, chocolate, nutty, figs, dates, banana bread with nuts and sultanas
  • Palate – For some it was smooth, bursting with rich Christmas cake for others a complete brushfire – of pure fire
  • Finish – Very dry, long, cinnamon and cloves spice… for others just numbing like going for dental surgery
  • Water – Helped make it a bit more accessible

So what was the distinction? Well… those originally from India found it just too much alcohol and simply didn’t care for it at all… in short found it nearly undrinkable.

And those originally from outside India who have adopted India as home? Could go past the high alcohol strength to find interesting elements… in short found it drinkable. While perhaps not a 1st choice, certainly not a last one.

It was awkward to have such a peculiar palate divide and strange to have origins so firmly come into play.

However, our best discovery of the evening? The cask strength Aultmore goes brilliantly with our host’s home made banana bread! Just as we discovered those notes in the whisky, like magic – out came one of the best banana breads I’ve had in literally years!

Good baking and whisky – fabulous combination! And a great close to our sampling session.

What else did we taste in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

Our final dram of our monsoon malt evening was my bottle of Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%, bought to join an undisclosed distilleries session.

The story of Vintage Malt Whisky Company‘s  Finlaggan is deliberately unclear. As an independent bottler, Brian Crook‘s team has managed to pull off a feat of balancing quality with price for their brand ‘Finlaggan‘ while shrouding in mystery whether they are from many or a single anonymous distillery. Most speculation favours a single distillery – with names bandied about including Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Caol Ila.

The name Finlaggan comes from a loch on the north side of Islay, just west of Port Askaig and the whiskies under this label are intended to “embody the spirit of Islay” with three core NAS expressions: Old Reserve 40%, Eilean Mor 46% and Cask Strength 58%.

They also bottle Islay Storm, which strikes me as clearly Kilchoman – an opinion shared by another fan of the distillery.

I had the pleasure of sampling the Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% three times with other whisky aficionados and again last night in an impromptu, informal random yet most enjoyable evening at home. While the different tasting notes are all variations on a quite similar theme, together they represent an interesting exploration of an exceptionally affordable, quality dram.

1. The Single Cask – Open bottle

  • Nose – Tar, asphalt, leather, grass, flowers, quite sweet yet also oddly shy and slightly mute
  • Palate – Sharp leather, warm balanced evolution, rather tasty
  • Finish – Sweet spice liquor

It may sounds like a contradiction but it was indeed oddly muted and shy – I couldn’t  help but suspect the bottle was open too long with oxidation taking its toll.

2. The Bombay Malt & Cigar (BMC) Club – Closed bottle

  • Nose – Pudding, overripe bannoffee pie, coconut, Jamaican sugar cane, lemon curd, nutmeg, spice, dry leaves and hay, vegetable… and yes, a curl of delicious smoke
  • Palate – Peppery peat, sweet, great mouthfeel
  • Finish – Smokey bitter ash chased by cinnamon sweet
  • Water – It softened the whisky considerably, bringing out juicy fruits – particularly peaches

Our guesses? After an initial speculation may perhaps be Caol Ila, Bowmore… settled on Laphroaig. But of an older style.

3. Monsoon malts and more – Open bottle from BMC evening

  • Nose – Light leather, slight iodine, chocolate, roasted sesame seed, so sweet
  • Palate – More smoke than heavy peat, utterly delicious, one to enjoy rolling around your mouth
  • Finish – Lovely long smoky cinnamon finish

Rolling around on our palate, considering all factors… our guess was Lagavulin.

The Vintage Malt Whisky Company has this to say about their Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%:

  • Nose: Lovely pungent peat smoke. Smoky bacon with a touch of old leather
  • Palate: Rich sweet smoke. Iodine, lemon zest with a beautiful mouth coating oiliness. Waves of tarry peat
  • Finish: Peppery peat. Soot and ash. Long and warming

No matter the impression, its a marvellously tasty dram at a most affordable price. Definitely gets full marks for value.

Purchased from The Whisky Exchange in London for £48.95 in 2017.

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on: