Kavalan has cemented itself as one of my favourite distilleries. When I was interviewed by Rhapsody magazine about Kavalan and the emergence of “new world” whisky, the distillery had mainly relied on the Taiwanese climate as a point of difference from other whiskies in the world because its expressions were matured in ex-sherry, ex-bourbon or ex-wine (vinho barrique) barrels and this was not something completely unheard of in the whisky world. Then the Kavalan Podium was released.
Kavalan Podium is a marriage of whisky aged in both new American oak casks and Kavalan’s re-fill casks. This is an unusual mix. New (or virgin) oak is used to produce some Scotch whiskies, but this is rare and most are aged in re-fill casks that have held sherry, bourbon etc. Bourbon, on the other hand, must be aged in new American oak casks by law. Kavalan Podium is therefore an exciting whisky on paper that aims to combine flavours from re-fill casks and new American oak casks, the latter of which should offer flavours in the vanilla spectrum with honey, caramel and coconut to name a few.
From the first whiff, it is clear that Kavalan Podium is a game changing whisky with a unique and somewhat outlandish character. On the nose the bouquet hums with dense herbal and tar notes, almost reminiscent of eating a basil and mint Thai salad with chilies and snow pea sprouts by a freshly laid tar road, as sweeter grape flavoured bubblegum, papaya, chap sticks, banana lollies and gentle vanillas soften sharp bursts of spice and firm flecks of barley. On the palate the whisky assertively showcases its abundant flavours – green under-ripe tropical fruit lead on the entry with an astringent yet pleasant acidity that begins to dry at mid-palate and morph into tangy passion fruit, citrus peel, cocoa and star anise. The finish lingers, with faint hints of vanilla and an almost buttery film, that accentuates dried coconut, oak and a fiery spice that warms the palate and later offers lashes of peppercorn.
What a ride! Kavalan Podium is certainly a unique expression that showcases the benefits of using new oak in conjunction with re-fill casks. This is a superbly crafted dram with a lot to offer, though be warned it is a creative whisky that pushes the boundaries in my opinion so it may not be to everyone’s taste. Savoured with an open mind, and maybe some brie, Kavalan Podium is the kind of whisky you just might fall in love with after a few tastings. I did.