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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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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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?

2016-11-12-kavalan-classic

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

2016-11-12-kavalan-ex-bourbon-oak-46

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

2016-11-12-kavalan-sherry-oak

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

2016-11-12-kavalan-solist-sherry

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

2016-11-12-kavalan-solist-fino

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

2016-11-12-kavalan-solist-vinho

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

2016-11-13-kavalan

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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