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:

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: