Kavalan Whisky review part two: Solist Bourbon & Sherry

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Let’s return to part two of last Thursday’s SAQ tasting session. We move on to the big guns, the muscle if you will.

I will spare you a regurgitation of the Kavalan history or their press kit materials, I would rather give you food for thought.

Two points are of particular interest to me, the fact that Kavalan has been bombarding spirit competitions with their single cask releases and the massive expansion they’ve underdone. The former while not a concern for most malt geeks (maniacs, anoraks…no term is great) since they tend to put little weight in those type of awards is mostly about the kind of misleading marketing it can cause with the average consumer.

I’ll explain, all whisky is subject to variances, even with the best quality control lab and intentions. The Solist series are all single cask releases, therefore it allows Kavalan to cherry pick their best casks when sending them to competitions. Again, no one would be against the producer choosing their best product in order to enter a competition. The problem is unless the consumer is able to get the exact same barrel as the prize winning malt or the one you read that awesome review about, what you will end up buying is a veritable Russian roulette, a small matter but nonetheless a concern.

The latter is interesting because King Car Group (makers of Kavalan) is a family owned business, generally a good thing in this era of conglomerates, ostensibly it means a company with the right spirit (no pun intended) can focus on quality and not only the bottom line. They have just undergone a massive expansion bringing their output to somewhere in the vicinity of 9 million liters. That’s massive, Diageo huge, putting them in the big leagues, I don’t mean to say big is bad. What I’m concerned about is how are they going to get their hands on the volume of first fill ex-whatever casks required to cope with that without resorting to some sort of tomfoolery (see MAO’s Glendronach single casks issues for example). I wonder with that gigantic volume how much longer will they be able to resort to their scarcity/luxury pricing scheme, I know, they will do whatever the market will support and the whisky sphere certainly has a hard-on for Kavalan right now.

Nuff’ talk

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Kavalan Solist Bourbon: 58.6% abv. Cask#B111209009A

Nose: the nose is hot and pointy right from the gate. Apples, I get that weird copper note like on Glenfiddich. Pears, honey, sponge cake, creamy vanilla, a touch of bubblegum and gummy candies.

With water the sharpness of the nose becomes rounder, more honey and pastries.

Palate: Hot, creamy and sweet at once, the attack is pleasant. Coconut, beeswax, there are herbal touches floating in the middle, like fresh cut grass or plants then it extends into jujubes & grape gummies.

With water, sweet, kind of flat, honey, vanilla and more caramel, loads of waxyness

Grade: B+ This is pretty solid, I liked the Palate more than the nose

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Kavalan Solist Sherry cask: 59.4% abv. Cask# S081224022

Nose: Coffee, dates, burnt chicory, Alpine bitters. Grape reduction, slight balsamic edge, all things umami and it’s sharp. This isn’t a Christmas spice type sherry, it’s a dirty big bodied sherry. After a while there is dry cured ham and pepper.

Water brings sulfur forward on the nose, more coffee, wet wool. Lots of meatyness, the nose is big and really pleasant.

Palate: Oh! Sweetened coffee left out on counter overnight, date purée, ginger, gunpowder, an almost metallic, plastic note. It’s very much on tannic, oversteeped tea, stewed prunes. There is more traditional spices in the mouth, nutmeg and allspice. Very dark and extractive.

Palate with water is very thin, dates, plasticine, light roast coffees. Really all on chewy dates, spices and cake batter, you get more or that oxydized sherry nuttyness

The sherry lingers a long time. It’s big stuff, maybe even a little tiring in a way.

Grade: A The cask strength along with the extractive nature of high temperature maturing certainly creates a potent delivery

The Blab: Clearly the Solist editions are the ones to look out for. While that sherry cask haunted me for a couple of days, I’m not sure what I think about these whiskies, it seems that the casks (or the previous contents) are perhaps doing most of the heavy lifting. Oh and yes the price…just saying.

Franck

Kavalan Whisky reviews, SAQ tastings return Part 1: Podium & bourbon oak

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SAQ Tasting session are back! I missed these Thursday rendez-vous. They were on summer hiatus and I’m not sure when they resumed. Our monopoly received a lot of interesting whiskys lately among them some good single cask shit, Kilchoman, Benromach, Edradour and then it appeared Kavalan…the first mention of it (that I’m aware of) in our stores. The line-up is somewhat limited considering the range of cask types the distillery offers. The options are Podium, Ex-Bourbon oak and two Solist CS releases, a bourbon and sherry cask respectively.

I have no experience trying any kavalan and I was mentally preparing to cajole a store clerk in order to get a small taste of whatever bottle they must have open in the back when low and behold this week’s in store tasting was all of them!

I’ll break up the reviews over two posts to avoid dragging it out. We’ll cover the standard line-up fist.

podium coffin
He was a good friend, may he rest in peace.

 

Kavalan Podium: NAS 46% abv.  virgin American oak and in-house refill casks

Nose: Sweet, bubble-gummy, definitely wine cask influences, you feel the dark berries, tree buds and the oak. The alcohol is a bit sharp at first, it opens up after time, floral, slight sulfur, a bit of ripe creamy tropical fruits, apple skins, milk chocolate and nuts, plum wine.

Palate: It is indeed sweet, ginger, the oak is present and there is a touch of worn leather, the texture is nice & viscous. Vanilla, cocoa powder a kind of sweet oak and green fruits, none of the jujube/tropical fruits from the nose.

The finish is mid length very drying with a fair amount of pepper, ginger and bitterness

Grade: B

It’s good but not earth shattering, the nose is beautiful just not very malt whisky like. In hindsight the cask play is an interesting way to provide some of what makes the Solist series so intriguing. At a fair price I would be tempted to have some of this around the house at 200$ no way.

love the glare, very pro

Kavalan Ex-Bourbon Oak: NAS 46% abv. The name says it all.

Nose: It is kind of mute at first, coconut, a fair amount of varnish. jujubes, carnuba wax. I have to stick my nose in it to get something, creamy, rising pastries…not much else.

Palate: Bitter sweet, all on oaky vanilla, coconut & toffee. Sharp on the attack, it has a bit of charred wood, it’s that pleasant bourbon barrel thing, sweet and woody, liquid toffee.

The finish is light, more jujubes, wine gums a bit of creamy butter and coconut oils.

Grade B-

The nose was practically non existant and rather uninspiring, the palate had a sharpness that was off-putting and then it was all like T&A with not much content.

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The boring opinions bit

In a quick browse of reviews of the lower strength offerings of Kavalan, they generally get pretty lukewarm reviews, the bourbon vatting is extremely disappointing. I would be tempted to say it shows the limitations of the hot climate/young whisky scheme but I am really smitten with the basic Amrut single malt which functions on similar principals but is in every way superior to this.

Franck