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

Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 4

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Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch # 4

58.8% ABV.

78/100

My colleague Charles had the pleasure of visiting Scotland last summer. The nature of his trip did not allow him the leisure to do much whisky related tourism but while in Glasgow the opportunity arose and he headed to Glengoyne to soak in as much as he could (pun sadly intended). From his pictures it seemed to be quite the experience as he booked a warehouse tasting.

I imbibed as vicariously as I could from his re-telling of this visit. He also generously offered a taste of some samples he brought back and his newly opened bottle of the cask strength release.

Glengoyne is a distillery that doesn’t get much love although it seems the older expressions are well reviewed. I know at one time they exclusively used golden promise barley (much like Macallan) but there seems to be little emphasis on that lately and leads me to believe they might have abandoned that practice. They do natter on endlessly about being peanut free…wait oh they meant peat free… Ok well they also run their stills super slow I’m guessing it looks something like this maybe?

The cask strength is unchillfiltered and uncoloured, it is purported to be a combination of 30% first fill and 70% refill sherry casks (a mix of American and Spanish oak).

I have tried a few Glengoyne expressions before and it sometimes reminds me a little bit of Arran malt but with less of those nice funky and coastal notes.  Nothing has bowled me over so far but I did enjoy the 15yr old which seemed to take really well to the proportion of sherried malt contained within.

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Nose: milk chocolate, dusty cumin, cooked barley and oats, quite a nip of alcohol, damp oak and a caramel made of Demerara sugar. It’s not very expressive at first.

Palate: Glossettes, pepper, lots of oak and a slight touch of banana. Dried fruits and sherry sweetness give way to sulfur and a slight astringency and bite.

The finish  is long and drying, more raisins, the sweetness and black pepper lingers, there is less burn on the mouth than the nose but that bitterness starts to build up after a while.

There isn’t a lot of variety to this dram it finds it’s s  groove and sticks to it. It’s not a contender for the usual big muscled sherry bombs, it doesn’t have the fruits and oaky punch of A’bunadh for example.

Franck

Redbreast 12

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Redbreast 12 yrs old

40% ABV

79/100

The Irish whisky market is drastically different than that of Scotland, beyond the differences in production style (triple distillation, grains, pure pot, single pot) The situation was born out of consolidation that created a monopoly of just a few large distillers to remain in action.

With all the consolidation the emphasis is on brands rather than on the distilleries themselves, especially considering at one point in the 80’s and early 90’s there we’re only two actual functioning distilleries.

Some of the brands we’re born out of partnerships with wine merchants, who at the time (late 1800’s) had access to better casks in their trade, would sometimes keep bonded warehouses of maturing whisky for both the distillers and for their store trade. I believe Redbreast and Green spot to be the more prominent blends to be created of such a system.

Redbreast was an emblematic choice to represent Irish whisky for our March club meeting. There are few representative of the Single pot-still (formerly pure pot still) style of Irish whisky, it consistently receives praise across most of its expressions. With it’s proportion of Sherry matured whisky I thought it would be a style that would be familiar to our members, a good starting point. I didn’t count on the 12 year old being austere to the point that it would go unnoticed, it didn’t help that it was preceded by the stunning Teeling single malt (review to come).

Redbreast 12 is a vatting of both bourbon and sherry matured spirit, it’s a single pot still whisky meaning it is a blend of malted and unmalted barley, double or triple distilled in those huge Irish style pot stills.

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Nose: Freshly poured concrete, sherried oak, soaked fruitcake, plasticine, a hint of pears. Marzipan, tobacco, buttered toast, wet cardboard, it’s not very fruity.

Palate: Despite it being 40% it’s got a nip, almost like a cognac, soaked raisins, honey nut cheerios, ginger, a carpenters shop floor, wood shavings, mineral oil. It then turns dry, a smidgen herbal, dried lemon zest, a bit of toffee with nutmeg and cloves.

Finish: astringent, green peppercorns and oak shavings a bit of the plum pudding and almonds but it’s gone so quickly and that’s perhaps where the low ABV hurts it.

There are elements of this whisky I love, the interplay of the robust grain and plasticine notes with that of the sherried oak. Airing out the bottle helped bring some definition to the palate but ultimately I’m still unsure how I feel about this whisky. It’s certainly well crafted and while I’m curious about the cask strength version, I’m not certain the higher proof would fix my qualms with it. Perhaps that short finish?

Franck

 

 

 

Aberlour 12

Aberlour 12

40% abv.

83/100

Other than the cask strength heavy hitter that is A’bunadh, the regular stable of releases from Aberlour tend to get shortchanged. It’s not a heavily marketed whisky but I know that it is a very lucrative operation for owners Pernod-Ricard

What is interesting about Aberlour is that along with Glenfarclas it is one of the distilleries that defines itself by it’s Sherry driven profile, some say this was done to appeal to the French Market. Nonetheless you would be hard pressed to find a fully bourbon matured Aberlour, they do exist, mostly from independent bottlers or as distillery exclusives. The house style if you will always includes a focus on sherry, whether that be in the form of a finish, fully matured whisky or as a flavour component in the vatting.

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Despite the lack of sex-appeal and glamour the standard range of Aberlour is one of the remaining good values in Scotch, their prices and quality have remained stable over the years. The 10 year old offers great value and has been steadily about 50-55$ I have consumed many bottles of that over the years. Yes they sadly chill-filter and keep the ABV lower than I would like but there is a nice old school charm to their profile that can be appreciated if one takes the time to.

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Nose: Apples fresh and cooked in a copper jam basin, slight sulfur but it is restrained. Brown sugar, dusty oak, soaked dried fruits, white flower blossoms. There is a spirit kick to the nose despite being only 40%.

Palate: Over steeped tea, sweet, rich, creamy sherry depth, sticky toffee pudding, malt biscuits and vanilla. There are also bitter oak tannins, cooked apples, baking spices, dried fruits and bay leaves.

The finish is medium in length and is mostly on the sweet and tannic notes. A bit of water or ice loosens it up but it gets very sweet and muted if you add too much.

It’s well put together, a good malt to remember that there is still quality affordable spirit around and that the grass isn’t always greener on the next, new, rare release. A good choice to ease someone into Scotch, it’s very much in the line of Armagnac/Cognac.

Franck

Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

 

Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

43% ABV

83/100

Yes more dreaded NASty whisky, I didn’t purchase this bottle with my hard earned rubles so don’t shoot the messenger. I am not into he habit of supporting non-age statement trends in whisky but I do so on occasion at my discretion.

I won’t repeat all the marketing propaganda, let’s stick to what we know, despite the lack of tangible information. This is spirit that is first aged in ex-bourbon casks (no idea if first or second fill…probably a mix) for 6 to 8 years (maybe) and then transferred to ex-Sherry casks for another 4-6 years (does this count as maturation or finish what’s the consensus?) it is most certainly chill-filtered and most likely colored since that’s usually the modus operandi with ‘fiddich .

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It’s 98$ here in Quebec as a point of reference the Solera 15 is 80$ and Rich Oak 14 68$ so it’s not exactly cheap if you believe the provided aging times of between 12-14yrs. I’m guessing they release it as an NAS to keep it in the “special release category”. Thus allowing them to keep it loose with the age of the malts used without having to re-jig the marketing and category. This also allows to charge a premium for what may be whiskys aged less others  in their portfolio, is it really that much more work to vatt and re-barrel some whisky considering that is something that happens a lot already in this era of wood as flavoring.

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Nose: the unmistakable Glenfiddich character, Cooked apples and pears in a copper jam basin, raisins and good quality hazelnut chocolate spread. Fresh wet tobacco a malty side like ovaltine or more MILO, dried figs. It doesn’t reek too much of oak on the nose but it does smell sweet.

Palate: Rich and round, that leathery sherry character, sweet and the spices speak up a bit (cloves, allspice), then it’s malty again with a bit of granola. Mackintosh caramel, toasted hazelnuts, Orange peel and a bit of black pepper, a good balance between the nutty sherry and the lighter notes from the spirit.

The oak is more apparent in the finish bringing  a bit of tannin and dryness there’s still that chewy rich sensation present from the beginning.

A surprising Glenfiddich, the sherry finish brings to the fore some dark notes that barely hinted at in most other young Glenfiddich releases. Those sherry notes integrate well with the freshness and that cooked pear/apple quality Glenfiddich has, I liked this better than Balvenie doublewood which is probably similar in it’s construction. Sadly it feels a little neutered, a couple of notches more ABV or even non-chill filtering and it would probably grab you by the throat a bit more. Not for the jaded seen it all whiskyfile as it’s not exactly new ground for a Scotch in general but one could argue what is? I really enjoyed this one, it’s very well constructed.

Franck

 

 

 

Bowmore Devil’s Cask III – Sweet & Earthy Sherry In Hades.

Critique en Français au bas de la page

Bowmore Devil’s Cask III

56.7% ABV  

88/100

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I’ll spare everyone a re-hash of the “legend” behind this malt. Here are the facts that we know, it’s peated Bowmore spirit, matured in first fill Oloroso sherry casks in the famed No. 1 vaults (how much can they actually fit in there?) and bottled at cask strength. The first two editions were 10 year old expressions, this final one loses the age but gains a double maturation in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

We received a very small allocation of this in Quebec & the few cases sold out within hours.

I’m surprised more people haven’t talked about the interesting contrast that Bowmore’s small batch series offered, they we’re running both the Tempest and Devil’s cask series in parallel. This provided a rare opportunity to taste the differences in cask maturation under relatively similar conditions, 10 yr old cask strength whisky in first fill barrels.

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I forgot to take a picture when there was still juice in the bottle

Nose: Earthy dark raisins, burned orange zest, parrafin/lamp oil, plum pudding, coffee (citric light roasts), cured meat, shoe polish, wet tobacco, cocoa.

Palate: strong, coffee & camphor, oily, sweet oak and bacon wrapped dates. The citrus is on Bergamots and blood oranges, puer-eh tea, pomegranate molasses,dark chocolate with sea salt and a slight meatiness (umami). It’s big whisky, despite the cask strength it’s beautiful drunk neat, water does help highlight the fruitiness and brings more spices out, it also increases the ashy smoke. Forget about balance, this isn’t what this whisky is about, it’s bombastic and in your face.

long sustained finish, the richness roiling around long after the last drop has vanished. This is not an easy dram, it launches a relentless assault on your taste buds, oily,salty, deep sherry richness, earthy and then the mysterious fruitiness (blood oranges?pineapple? musky fruits? other times dark dried fruits). The peat and smoke are there but somehow transformed by the cask finish, integrated into the other flavors. While I enjoyed the boldness of the freshly opened bottle, oxidation worked wonders on the last 1/3 of the bottle, it was rounder, less sweet and with more sustain, to borrow a musical term.

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I know the price, the price, the price..it’s another NASty whisky. Yes, yes all of that is true, at the prices asked for in the European market forget it, In Canada and US it hovers around 100-120$ still pricey but one heck of a ride a good one for a group/club purchase. I agree that young peated Islays in bourbon cask are usually the winning combo but you see here what the “dark side” can offer if handled properly.

Sadly these two series seem over for Bowmore, There is a travel retail “devil’s cask inspired” release that is a 10 yr old oloroso and red wine finished at 40% ABV , it gives the impression they are riding the reputation of a well received product to push something else.

Franck


 

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Bowmore Devil’s Cask III

56.7% Alc/Vol 

88/100

Je vais vous épargner la légende derrière ce whisky, cette histoire à été répétée de maintes fois. Voici les faits tel qu’on les connait, il s’agit du distillat moyennement tourbé de Bowmore, une maturation dans d’ex-fûts de xérès Oloroso. Le tout vieilli dans la “fameuse” voûte numéro 1 (je me demande sérieusement combien de barils y repose réellement) et embouteillé à la puissance brute. Les deux premiers tirages étaient des whiskys de 10 ans, la troisième et dernière édition à perdu sa mention d’âge mais à gagnée un séjour en barrique de xérès Pedro Ximénez.

Le peu de caisses que la SAQ à reçu ce sont envolées en quelques heures à peine. Je suis surpris qu’il n’y a pas eu plus de discussions sur cette série “small batch” de Bowmore (Tempest et Devil’s cask). Elle offrait la possibilité de goûter l’impact que les fûts de bourbon et xérès apportent aux même distillat sous des conditions similaires.

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Nez: un brin terreux, raisins sec Thompson, zeste d’orange brûlé, paraffine et plum pudding. Une impression de café légèrement torréfié, du jambon nitrité, cire à chaussures, tabac encore humide et cacao.

Bouche: Puissant! Café et camphre, chêne sucré, huileux, des dates enrobées de bacon grillées. Le côté agrumes tire plus sur la bergamote et l’orange sanguine. Thé puer-eh, pomme grenade, mélasse, chocolat noir à la fleur de sel. Il y un côté musclé, umami même et malgré le taux d’alcool il se déguste bien neutre.

L’ajout d’eau fait ressortir les fruits mais augmente le côté astringent de la fumée. N’essayez pas de trouver l’équilibre c’est futile, profitez plutôt du voyage gustatif que ce whisky vous offre.

La saveur persiste longtemps après que la dernière goutte soit terminée. Ce n’est pas une dégustation facile, l’assaut sur vos papilles est constant, tantôt sont côté huileux, son brin salin et les fruits mystérieux (oranges sanguines ananas? Fruits musqué? Tantôt des fruits séchés.) la tourbe et la fumée sont présente mais sont transformée par l’influence des fûts de xérès. J’ai apprécié la claque que donne ce whisky lorsque la bouteille est fraîchement ouverte mais j’ai préféré le dernier tiers qui était bien oxydé, plus rond, moins sucré et une meilleur longueur en bouche.

Oui je sais, je sais le prix! Et encore un autre whisky dont l’âge est masqué. Tout ça est vrai, je sais que le prix sur le marché Européen est ridicule. Entre 100$-120$ Canadien c’est encore cher mais plus raisonnable surtout lors d’un achat de groupe pour votre club. Beaucoup diront que les jeunes whisky tourbé sont à leur meilleur en fût de bourbon, mais il est intéressant de voir ce que peut offrir le côté obscur s’il est bien assemblé.

Tristement, cette série est terminée pour Bowmore, il y a une version hors-taxes qui se dit inspirée du “devil’s cask” un whisky de 10 ans fini en barrique se vin rouge et oloroso à 40%alc. Ça donne plus l’impression de quelqu’un qui tente de tordre le dernières gouttes de jus qui reste dans un linge…

 

Franck