Whisky Live Singapore – King Kavalan

Kavalan has been sweeping global awards – garnering top World Whiskies Awards,  dominated the Malt Maniacs Annual Awards 2016 and many more.

So what did I have the pleasure of perusing in Singapore?

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Kavalan Classic Single Malt 40%

  • Light, fresh nose, smooth on the palate with a slightly sour bitter quality
  • Was like sipping a blend of bourbon, sherry and wine

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Kavalan Concertmaster 40%

  • What can I say about this one? Tried it many times… nothing wrong but also nothing exceptional… reminded me that while pleasant, simply doesn’t float my boat whisky wise
  • Ex-bourbon cask, matured for 2-3 years with a Port finish

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Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak 46%

  • Nose was sweet honey delight, bright, uncomplicated
  • While clearly not sophisticated, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the ‘watered down’ version… having previously only been exposed to the ex-Bourbon’s cask strength cousin

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Kavalan Sherry Oak 46%

  • Lots of sherry berry nose, round soft on the palate with a bitter, dry finish that stays
  • Surprisingly enjoyable, nice long finish – much more than anticipated

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Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon B100924087A Bottle 008/200 59.4%

  • Sweet and sassy on the nose, tipping to the softer bourbon notes, palate has substance and the finish is well rounded

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Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask S1001290048 Bottle 102/489 57.8%

  • Familiar territory with this one! Rich, sherry, berry, bursting with flavours, lots of liquorice in this one with a great big sweeping finish

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Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask FI1007070264 Bottle 441/575 57%

  • I wanted to go “Wow!” but found this almost too dry and bitter for my taste, an interesting experiment and quite distinctive but not an easy dram

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Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique W120727102A Bottle 213/231 57.1%

  • Much more my style – some of the rich fruity elements yet more subtle than the sherry, a nice spice, dash of nuts, even a puff of smoke

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There is little doubt that in many circles Kavalan is indeed ‘King’ of whiskies at the moment. Even better – it remains accessible and even in the more affordable category versus others who have reached such heights.

Related Kavalan posts:

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Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask 57.8%

Our whisky ladies evening from the far east continued with a Kavalan comparison… After setting the stage with Concertmaster, the real symphony crashed on our senses with the remarkable Solist Sherry Cask. To say it hit some amazing high notes is an understatement!

2016-04-25 Kavalan Solist

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask No S1001200358, Bottle No 025/507 57.8%

  • Colour – Unbelievable colour! Like ruby coffee or a very dark maple syrup
  • Nose – Astounding. Coffee, prunes, rum soaked, very berry sherry, hazelnut, maple syrup, vanilla, raisins, almond and marzipan, sweet toffee, figs and other dried fruits
  • Palate – “Wow!” A flood of warm buttery yum. Like a hot rum toddy or warm mulled wine. Cloves, black pepper, allspice. Dry and chewy.
  • Finish – Absolutely gorgeous finish, rich, long and lingering… “The finish just doesn’t end!”
  • Comments“Giving me shivers up my spine!” “Quite heady and heavy” “Now THIS is a symphony unlike the Concertmaster!!”

Overall, we found this is the kind of whisky where a little goes a long way. It certainly isn’t one you would want to much of… Instead just one dram and you would be completely satisfied. Some compared it to a chewy chocolate candy like those ‘melody’ wrapped toffee coffee chocolate candies. It is a remarkable whisky – very different, big, rich, intense and one that requires you pay attention.

However, before moving on, we decided to experiment with adding water. Normally when we add water, it is just a few drops, however instinct prompted a different approach here… in part as it is cask strength and in part as its intensity begged a little taming…

  • A couple drops – Punched it up to make it even more forceful. It was as though the volume, already quite high, was increased to a thundering crescendo! Cranked up the spices, the sweetness and pushed it into the territory of “I’m not sure I still like this anymore…”
  • A good dollop –  Yes it did dampen the forceful quality brought out by only a few drops, however nothing new was revealed. It simply mellowed into the hot rum toddy style with just a tinge less kick
  • Ice cube“Holy mother of… !?” Transforms. Normally we find ice ‘shocks’ the whisky – not in a good way. Here? Released a beautiful sweet perfume on the nose. The first hint of something more delicate beneath all the sherry strength. And the palate? Morphs into a smooth, gorgeous sipping whisky that perfectly cuts the sweet. With ice you could settle down, sip, savour and continue to enjoy this unique whisky… perhaps even greedily coming back for more.

Here is what the folks over at Kavalan have to say:

Matured in Spanish top quality oloroso sherry casks in special editions, Kavalan Solist Sherry is bottled by hand at the distillery, without any colouring, 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.

  • 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
2016-04-25 Kavalan Solist Tasting Notes
Related notes from our Whisky Ladies April session:
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Kavalan Concertmaster 40%

Our whisky ladies evening from the far east enabled us to contrast and compare two very different Kavalan whiskies.

For those not familiar, Kavalan is Taiwan’s answer to the whisky world. While founded only in 2005, it is winning award after award – in 2014 alone over 100 awards! Master blender Ian Chang and the team take full advantage of Taiwan’s warmer climate to produce no age statement experiments, maturing in different casks and playing around with finishes.

Back in 2008, just three years after the distillery was constructed, Kavalan launched its first ‘Classic’ whisky. A year later in 2009, Concertmaster was released.

The bottle I shared with our Whisky Ladies was acquired in Taipei a few years ago. It was honestly a disappointment when first tried and was brought as a ‘base line’ before sampling the Solist.

Concertmaster (Whisky Lady)

Concertmaster (Whisky Lady)

Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish 40%

  • Colour – Light gold
  • Nose – Initially a bit peculiar, like it was pretending to have peat but isn’t, then honey, sour, a bit citrusy, formaldehyde, some vanilla, followed by caramel and orange peel
  • Palate – Smooth. Not horrible but sorta a whole lot of nothing, neutral, non-descript, innocuous, inoffensive
  • Finish – Warm with some bitter orange peel
  • Water? No need, already quite light and thin
  • Comments – “Dare I say… insipid?” “Definitely NOT a concert or symphony of aromas or flavours!”

While overall not bad, it was not particularly memorable either. Clearly we struggled to discern specific elements on the palate. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad whisky at all. Just not one to make the heart sing… let alone a full blown concerto!

Here’s what the folks over at Kavalan have to say:

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

  • Colour – Pleasant brownish red
  • Nose – Tropical fruitiness with honey, vanilla, coconut and candy floss
  • Palate – Rich bodied with natural sweetness and complexity

If you look today on the Kavalan website, you will no longer see Concertmaster prominently featured though it is still very much present. However there are rumours of its production being phased out. We have to say its absence would not be a great loss to the world of whisky. And if it means more attention on Solist and other experiments? Please! Please!

For the story on my initially acquiring and sampling this bottle from Taipei… read here.

Related notes from our Whisky Ladies April session:

From time to time, you can also find other whisky related updates and activities on:

Whisky Ladies visit the Far East – Kavalan + Nikka

Our whisky ladies tend to travel – both for business and pleasure.

This is a huge bonus when you are a whisky fan based in Mumbai as our local offerings are relatively limited.

When one member was stopping at Singapore airport on her return from a conference, she asked for suggestions and ably rose to the assignment to acquire a whisky from Taiwan.

Another runs her own travel adventure company plus her spouse shares her passion for exploring whiskies. Compliments of their procurement prowess, we already sampled the yin yang contradictory character of Nikka Blended Whisky. So when a theme of ‘anything but Scottish whisky’ morphed into the ‘Far East’…. naturally she had a whisky from Japan to share!

We began our evening with an experiment… our host infused grapefruit and rosemary with a local gin to create a highly refreshing aperitif – delightful!

Kavalana Concertmaster, Solist + Nikka Coffey Grain

Kavalan Concertmaster, Solist + Nikka Coffey Grain

We then moved on to our main focus where we contrasted and compared:

From the shores of Taiwan and Japan, we hit mainland China to try a country liquor that was much more fun to puzzle out how to open than taste! It was, in short, undrinkable.

Finally closed our evening with a thimble of JD Tennessee Honey liqueur to go with our chocolate pizza – yum!

It was a delightful change to explore whiskies beyond Scotland for an evening and a reminder that there is a very good reason Kavalan attracts attention for its Solist range.

From time to time, you can also find whisky related updates and activities on:

Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish 40%

It is no secret that I quite like some Japanese whiskies.

But what about Taiwan? For years there were rumblings about Taiwan also doing something special.

So you can imagine that when I had a work trip to Taipei years ago, I was terribly excited about the opportunity to snag something interesting.

It proved slightly tricky. Why?

  • Limited time
  • Limited communication
  • Limited options

I did find a couple of stores with a decent selection of whiskies from everywhere BUT Taiwan. I could only find Concertmaster plus small samples of other Kavalan expressions – naturally at a wallet-pinching ‘full-retail’ price! I grabbed the samples and risked catching Kavalan’s Soloist or other expressions at the duty-free.

As luck would have it, after a few re-directions, I did find ONE little Taiwan whisky section with a rather bare range of Kavalan at the airport! Nope – no Soloist only Concertmaster that day.

For those not aware, the Soloist range is the one garnering the special attention – including the Soloist expression Vinho Barrique recently receiving the 2015 World Whiskies ‘Best Single Malt’ Award! However Concertmaster also has a goodly number of awards to its credit too.

Concertmaster (Whisky Lady)

Concertmaster (Whisky Lady)

So what about the Kavalan Concertmaster?

It is one of Kavalan’s entry-level single malt which is aged in American oak then finished in three port casks (Portuguese ruby, tawny and vintage) – hence the ‘concert’ of finishes.

And what did I find?

Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish 40%

  • Colour – Burnished gold with a ruby glow
  • Nose – Tropical fruits, coconut, honey sweet, tincture or a slightly medicinal quality when freshly opened that wafted away after time…
  • Taste – Sweet almost overly fruity sweet, berry sweet, some dry coconut, then an undertone of bitterness, a little kopra
  • Finish – Short and dry is the initial impression… pause and then noted a subtle remnant of coconut and port for a bit… just a bit

Now… here is where I must admit… when I first tried it, it was a disappointment. Especially after the excitement and effort… and certainly not for its price range.

I’ve tried it a few times since and my overall conclusion is that while it is enjoyable and certainly worth trying at least once, it doesn’t seem quite balanced to my palate.

Rather than a symphony of tastes, it is like the sweet violin strings are a little too discordantly brash without enough other instruments to bring depth and richness. This is like an unbalanced quartet masquerading as a symphony.

Concertmaster (Whisky Lady)

Concertmaster Port Cask Finish (Whisky Lady)

I honestly would have wondered what all the fuss was about with Kavalan had I not sampled from the Soloist range – much more interesting!

So while I do not regret buying a bottle, it isn’t one that I will run out to acquire again! For the money, there are other many more options to explore.

Here’s what others are saying:

From time to time, you can also find other whisky related updates and activities on: