Kavalan Ex-Bourbon Oak

Kavalan ex-bourbon

Score: ★★★★

Type: Single malt whisky

Origin: Taiwan

ABV: 46%

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Kavalan’s Ex-Bourbon Oak is the Solist Ex-Bourbon expression (which is 58.2% alcohol), reduced down to 46% alcohol by volume with spring water. This whisky, as the name suggests, has matured in oak barrels that have previously held bourbon which means that you can expect a lot of American oak flavours in this whisky. The addition of water, as the below tasting notes suggest, seems to accentuate and tease out Kavalan’s distillery character and this is a theme to definitely look out for when tasting this whisky.

Nose:

Imagine the whiff of melting vanilla ice cream over a freshly made warm banana fritter, and layered with caramel and honey. The smell of crushed nuts and sharp acidic pineapple cuts through the sweetness, as the oak tannins nip at the nostrils and then slowly fade with each consecutive sniff.

Palate:

On the entry the whisky is not as sweet as the nose suggests, and the flavour profile bursts with oak spice and semi-dry tropical fruit – pineapple, longan and snake fruit come to mind. The wood bites at first, with the taste of black tea leaves, but the oak then dissolves into gushy wood vanillas and coconut; flavours which attest to the big impact of the American oak in this whisky. The bourbon is there with a sugary glow, sitting beneath the malt and American oak initially but then dimming towards the finish.

Finish:

The finish is warming with spice pricking the palate, dark chocolate, chili, banana and star fruit.

Bottom line:

Buy it, if you want to try a Taiwanese whisky with lots of exotic tropical fruit, oak spice and all the lovely wood vanillas and coconut flavours commonly associated with American oak. The Kavalan malt and distillery character shines through the layers of American oak influence, with its tropical fruit theme lifting the whole flavour profile of this whisky and re-inventing the “done to death” ex-bourbon malt whisky. This whisky is a job very well done by Kavalan.

Kavalan Sherry Oak

Kavalan sherry oak

Malt Mileage rating: ★★★★★

ABV: 46%

Origin: Taiwan

Price: $160

User rating for Kavalan Sherry Oak (VOTE HERE): 

Kavalan Sherry Oak is the Kavalan Solist Sherry (57.8% alcohol volume) diluted to 46% alcohol volume with Kavalan spring water. Why, I hear you ask, should you not buy the Kavalan Solist Sherry and dilute it yourself? The simple answer is that the alcohol volume of 46% works wonders on the palate, neither overwhelming nor underwhelming the taste buds with alcohol while at the same time maximizing flavour. Diluting a whisky to an exact alcohol volume is no easy task, unless of course you can be bothered painstakingly measuring your dram with an alcometer. Aint no one got time for that! Kavalan have therefore done the work for you, and this beauty is ready to drink at a delightful 46% alcohol volume which makes it easier for the taste buds to savour its delights without numbing them with too much alcohol.

Being aged in the warm sub-tropical climate of Taiwan, this whisky has benefited from accelerated maturation because in warm climates the pores in oak tend to expand more than in colder climates and this means oak casks “treat” more whisky, more quickly, in places like Taiwan (as opposed to cold places, such as Scotland) because the whisky has more interaction with the oak. The difficulty is that sometimes, with excessive wood contact, a whisky can taste woody and not really “mature”. The magic of Kavalan’s sherry oak expression, at least in my view, stems from the unique way it radiates the aromas and flavours of sherry wood without a semblance of misplaced tannin or woodiness which means that it smells and tastes mature and not “woody”. With this expression, Kavalan have mastered balance because the wood flavours this whisky has acquired sweltering in the warmth of Taiwan are expressive of the sherry rather than just the wood, and while the sherry influence is quite potent the whisky still glistens with barley. This is an absolutely breathtaking example of a “new world” whisky that masterfully projects an “over the top” but astonishingly balanced and integrated dry sherry bomb style for which I have fallen head over heels.

The bouquet presents with mild shimmers of barley amidst powerful surges of dry sherry wood that shines with the classic nuttiness of Oloroso, cherries, chocolate, raspberries, ground coffee and hints of mint with sharp reduced balsamic. On the palate the whisky is much less dry than the nose suggests, but still delightfully medium-dry and true to classic Oloroso style.  On the entry a soft sweetness coats the palate with glazed cherries, vanilla and baklava. At mid-palate the dryness intensifies, with a resurgence of the dryness on the nose with more intense wood notes and dark chocolate that leads to a drying finish with flickers of nuts and reduced balsamic but this time with a herbal hue that offers sweet mint.

Overall, Kavalan sherry oak is a balanced, smooth, integrated, powerful, rich and flavoursome dry sherry bomb that projects hues of barley that glisten through the intricately woven oak notes. As you can probably tell, this is one of my favourite whiskies and in my opinion just as enjoyable (but in a different way) as the delectable – but much more expensive – Kavalan Sherry Fino.

Kavalan Podium

Kavalan podium

Rating: ★★★★★

ABV: 46%

Origin: Taiwan

Price: $150

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.

Kavalan King Car Whisky

 
Score: 95/100 
ABV: 46%
Origin: Taiwan 
Price: $140

King Car whisky is produced by the Kavalan distillery in Taiwan and it takes its name from the owners of Kavalan, the Taiwanese King Car Company. The King Car whisky is intended to be complex, rounded and multi-faceted to pay homage to the diverse work of the King Car Group.
 
The whisky itself is evidence that Taiwan can produce world class whisky that is complex, elegant, interesting and mature. That maturity is a big part of what makes Kavalan so intriguing. In warmer subtropical climates such as Taiwan the pores in oak expand from the heat and soak up more whisky than in colder climates. This means that whisky can mature more quickly in Taiwan. It also means that a whisky can get too “woody” before being mature because it soaks up the flavours of the wood without breaking them down properly or undergoing sufficient oxidization. Whatever oak casks have been used by Kavalan to mature King Car whisky, they are a masterstroke and testament to the fact that in the right conditions whisky can mature quickly without getting “woody” first. Despite having been matured in such a warm climate as Taiwan the King Car whisky has an almost perfect balance that offers a multidimensional display of fruit, vanillas and wood spice with only a semblance of “woodiness” emerging in the finish. This is a mature world whisky. Not woody, mature. In my opinion King Car is one of the most fascinating world whiskies on the market. So fascinating in fact, it has taken me a while to fully appreciate it.
 
Nose: Banana, vanilla, sweet custard buns, cherry ripe, toasted coconut, chocolate, papaya, ground pepper, nutmeg and mild saffron.
 
Taste:  On the entry the whisky is smooth, rounded, complex and energetic with sparks of spice bursting within its layered creamy texture. Vanilla and reduced banana with bitter dark chocolate soften sparks of peppery wood spices and cracked cinnamon as hints of wood begin to emerge.
Finish: Hints of salt with a distinctly umami twist drift over the drying wood notes, bitter dark chocolate and a resurgence of the papaya and toasted coconut on the nose.     

Kavalan Concertmaster

Spirit Name:
Spirit Type:
Kavalan Concertmaster
Single malt
Score:
83/100 
3, bronze, cool, medal icon

ABV:
40%
Region:
Taiwan
Body:
Medium-full
Intensity:
Medium
Texture:
Medium
Balance:
Good
Best served:
Cask:
Neat
Port cask (finished)
Theme(s):
Glazed cherries, vanilla, lemon gelati, white chocolate, mint, wafer, alcohol preserved cherries, prune
Summary:
Mild and slightly bitter with a cherry and prune theme alongside chocolate and a dash of anise seed based alcohol
Tasting notes:
Nose: The aroma of glazed cherries layered over vanilla ice cream takes hold, as the aroma develops into lemon gelati with a slight citrus twang. There is a luscious chocolate that underlies the other character, best described as white chocolate that is partially melted and oozing with sugary caramel-like sweetness. Mild notes of herbs develop too, especially mint, with crisp wafer biscuits.
Taste: The entry is light, mild and slightly bitter. The bitterness is then balanced by sugars from the cask and the lingering chocolate and alcohol preserved cherries remain. The port cask influence is clear, and the cask seemed to be a little over excited because this whisky has port written all over it. The thick fog of port allows only slight flickers of character to shine through, but that is enough! The port is not too sweet, and very enjoyable. 
Finish: The finish is a combination of chocolate and cherry, developing into prune in syrup with a dash of anise seed alcohol and… yes, port!
Likes:
Complex flavours shine on the palate
Dislikes:
The complex flavours are sometimes lost in the port and cask influence
Price:
£53

Kavalan Single Malt

Spirit Name:
Spirit Type:

Kavalan Single Malt
Single malt whisky
Score:
81/100 

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ABV:
40% 
Region:
Taiwan 
Body:
Medium-light  
Intensity:
Medium-light  
Texture:
Medium  
Balance:
Good  
Best served:

Neat
Theme(s):
Cocoa, diluted chocolate powder, tinned pineapple and apricot, cantaloupe (rock melon), vapor of rubbing alcohol 
Summary:

Diluted cocoa made with water merges with fruit in syrup notes and a bitter-dry finish dominated by rubbing alcohol and burnt toffee/orange. 

Tasting notes:
Disappointing by Kavalan standards because the Solist range by Kavalan has been such a hit, setting of fireworks on the palate at every turn. The Kavalan single malt is the boring cousin of the Kavalan family. 

Nose: The nose presents with mild chocolate, Nesquick or Milo, in water. Chocolate powder mixed with water can work, but mix it with too much water and it is almost mineral in character with a diluted cocoa smell. Together with that diluted mineral cocoa is caramel and very ripe fruit mixed with cantaloupe (or rock melon) and tinned pineapple in syrup as the grain lifts up to say hello. 

Taste: Mouth-filling, that diluted cocoa glides against the tongue with a syrupy surge of tinned apricots as the pineapple lessens in sweetness. The fruit is moderated by the oak, and the character flickers on the palate.  

Finish: Alcohol and burnt toffee with burnt orange and the vapour of hand sanitiser. 

This is not what I have come to love in Kavalan, but still enjoyable and impressive. It must be hard for the Kavalan Single Malt to complete with its higher ABV cousins in the Kavalan Solist range, but against the general market this whisky stands its ground and offers lovely diverse flavours. 

Likes:
Diverse flavours 
Dislikes:
Light, slightly boring, alcohol notes
Price:
£55 (UK)

Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask

Spirit Name:
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask
Score:
97/100
3, medal, silver icon


ABV:
58.7%
Region:
Taiwan  
Body:
Medium
Intensity:
Medium-high
Texture:
Medium-oily
Balance:
Heavenly
Best served:
Cask no:
Neat
S060814037 (Drawn: 14/08/2013)

Theme(s):



The taste buds are electrified and awaken to an onslaught of sweet tropical fruit notes interlaced with dry white wine and wood notes, as the palate tingling with energy then swells with the Fino Sherry Cask influence leaving it bone dry and desperately crying out for more Kavalan magic. 


Tasting notes:
Kavalan is undoubtedly one of the finest distilleries outside Scotland, with an enviable track record of whiskies that have left the world gobsmacked with their sheer quality and maturity. Whisky from Kavalan is distinct and part of the magic is the sub-tropical climate of Taiwan which acts to accelerate whisky maturation. Allowing whisky to mature in excellent quality casks of Fino sherry that swelter in the Taiwanese climate can result in a whisky that is as unique as it is spectacular. 
Kavalan Solist Fino is the most expensive expression from Kavalan to date. Fino is a pale and very dry sherry commonly made from the “free press” of white grapes that is fortified to just over 15% and matured in barrels about 4/5 full where a layer of “flor” (an oxygen inhibiting yeast) forms over the wine because the alcohol level of 15% allows the “flor” to develop. In contrast, olorosso sherry is fortified to 18% so the yeast will not grow and this allows the sherry to oxidize (unlike the Fino, which is protected from oxidisation from the yeast). The Fino tends to be lighter and fresher than the olorosso, which is darker and fresher due to exposure to oxygen). 

Falling in love is a reaction. There may be a thousand reasons resulting from a thousand mental processes and sensory reactions, but one this is clear: it is love. It is difficult to describe why I love the Kavalan Solist Fino. It may be its bone dry finish and crisp freshness, or its elegant complexity that radiates with the finesse I expect of only the very best cognacs, but this whisky has an “x-factor” and distinctiveness that is shared by some of my other favourites in my “best spirits” list. 

Nose: A crisp lively freshness bubbles in the glass releasing the lovely Fino sherry with layers of almond (fresh, peeled right from the tree), cream soda and buttery caramel drizzled with chocolate and dusted with dried coconut. The beauty of this whisky is not all about the Fino, though. It is about the way the distinctive Kavalan style interacts with the Fino cask influence, as that bone dry light bodied sherry intermingles with the exotic tropical sweetness of the whisky that is interlaced with some beautiful wood notes.  

Taste: This really needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated, as there are times when words cannot articulate with complete accuracy the complex fireworks! I will do my best. Served neat, there is a sudden explosion of astringent tropical fruit as dry wood washes away the fructose to leave the palate to become progressively drier in waves. The herbaceous tang of dried herbs interacts with the sting of spice from the oak, while the almond theme most common to Fino Sherry remains with dashes of chocolate. This is one of the few whiskies that has left my palate bone dry, my mouth sucked in and my tongue crying out for more! With a splash of water, the initial aggression subsides a little but that mouth drying magic remains. 

Finish: Bone dry white wine finish with almond skin and sweet shimmers of the creamy distillate. 

Likes:
Distinct, superb quality, unique and beautiful interaction between the Fino Cask and the Kavalan distillate! 
Price:
£220 (UK)

Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique

Spirit Name:
Spirit Type:
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique
Single malt

Score:
95/100


ABV:
58.4%
Region:
Taiwan
Body:
Full
Intensity:
High
Texture:
Medium
Balance:
Good
Best served:
Neat
Casks:
Summary:
First fill re-toasted wine casks
Highly complex nose is followed by a powerful burst of dry wine character, as a buttery sweetness emerges but is swept away by the tannic dryness of the wine
Tasting notes:
Nose: Big chocolate and wine notes fill the glass with whipped butter and salted caramel shining through the sweet tannic fog that emerges. There is something herbaceous and earthy about this whisky, almost like basil and kaffir lime leaves. The whipped butter becomes salted, as the burst of red grapes and fortified wine take over with complex candy shop sweetness.
Taste: Powerful and elegant, though lacking in depth and therefore keeping my interest at bay somewhat. The dry burst of alcohol brings a winey sweetness that leaves the palate dry, and the cask influence dominates. There is some licorice with hundreds and thousands on a buttered piece of white bread, but then the wine, yet again, takes over.
Finish: This finish resembles a dry red wine, almost like a shiraz, with a finish that lingers but without much complexity.  
This whisky is very enjoyable and powerful. It offers a big wine theme that is not surprising given that it is matured in ex-wine casks.   
Likes:
Big and powerful, with lots of energy and a complex nose
Dislikes:
The tannic dryness and wine influence overtakes some of the other character
Price:
£85 (UK)

Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask

Score: 95/100 

ABV: 58.2%
Region: Taiwan  
Body: Full 
 
Intensity:
High
Texture:
Medium-oily 
Balance:
 Superb
Best served: Neat
Theme(s): Creme brulee, pepper, papaya, licorice/raisin
Likes: Dense and complex with spiciness 

Dislikes: Sometimes the sweetness dominates
Price: 
£90


A burst of sweetness cuts the tongue as it tingles with diverse flavours like sherbet; sugary raisins morph into a complex passion fruit creme brulee as the snap of peppercorns sting, bringing some naughtiness to an otherwise silky smooth experience that graces the palate with notes of dried fruit, fresh berries, vanilla and the buzz of lemon and thyme. The pepper is encased in fructose, reminding me in particular of papaya and papaya seeds. This peppery character is reflective, I think, of the maturation of this whiskey in the Taiwanese climate; a spicy character that is common with whiskies that have matured in climates warmer than Scotland and Tasmania.

This is superb, another masterstroke by this Taiwanese distillery. Though, when compared with the Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask it is a tad more sweeter on the nose with a bitter temper on the palate and more brittle texture than the Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask.
Kavalan is owned by the King Car Group, which is a large company that produces exceptional quality whisky. You may read more about the King Car Group and how the Taiwanese climate influences the maturation of whisky in my review of the Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask. Having already explained all that previously, lets turn our attention to the fun stuff – tasting notes!
Tasting Notes – Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask 

This whisky is bottled at 58.2% alcohol volume, and I believe that it benefits from a splash of water to  bring down its alcohol content to the taste buds do not curl up in agony and cry “STOP! NO MORE!”.
Nose 
The nose on this whisky is very unique. It has a note that took me a while to identify, but over an evening of going back and forth to the glass this whisky appears to have sarsaparilla underlying it. This is the Australian sarsaparilla, which means that what I am smelling is a fusion of sarsaparilla root, licorice root, molasses and vanilla. That creamy creme brulee also delivers a creaminess moderated with bitter caramelisation. The peppery papaya merges spiciness with the sweetness of fructose sugars, beautiful! 

Taste  


On the palate I am met with a surprising burst of bitterness that was not easily noticeable in the nose. The purest cocoa strikes the tongue with the dry surge of oak and rich licorice. The sweet fresh fruit almost disappears, and is replaced with the dominance of peppery spiciness, the zing of lime and luscious vanilla. This whisky is very well balanced, and to top it off that bitter-sweet creme brulee is one aspect on the nose that moves onto the palate almost without disruption together with the papaya seeds. 

Finish

The finish on this whisky is excellent, with bursts of bitterness balancing out the shimmers of sugary sweetness.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask 58.7%


Score: 96/100
ABV: 58.7%
Region: Taiwan
Body: Heavy
Intensity: High
Texture: Medium-oily
Balance: Heavenly
Best served:
Neat, with water
Likes: Dense sherry bomb with dryness
Dislikes:
Over the top at times, has its place
Price: £106 (UK)

The Kavalan Sherry Cask is exceptional and epitomizes the brilliant work of this Taiwanese distillery. I have tasted and rated hundreds of whiskies and spirits, and this whisky is the second to receive full marks (six stars). As you can see from my blog, only a handful of whiskies are given five stars or more (and I usually only review in detail whiskies I thoroughly enjoy). What I particularly love about this whisky is its richness that permeates high quality sherry and a maturity that only the Taiwanese climate can produce!

The Kavalan whisky distillery clearly adopts the orchestra theme for its products. In line with this theme, this whisky is like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee. It offers piercing sweetness that is balanced with the deep bellow of bitterness, as its diverse flavours zig zag harmoniously and in almost perfect synchronization to deliver a beautifully balanced symphony of flavours. Delightful! Much like the world class solist reaching heavenly heights and solid lows, the Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask offers a powerful performance with diversity and versatility. While sipping it I was tempted to give the bottle a standing ovation!

The Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask is bottled at cask strength (58.7% alcohol volume) after being distilled and matured in Taiwan. Built in 2005 the Kavalan distillery is quite young, but despite its youth it has made a grand splash in the whisky world and is now (according to many) a world leader in whisky making.

Blind tasting: Kavalan Sherry Cask & OveReem Sherry Cask

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask whisky was awarded a “double gold” medal at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, so it is good to know that my appreciation for this whisky is shared! I blind tasted the Kavalan Sherry Cask alongside the OveReem Sherry Cask as a benchmark. This was indeed a blind tasting, done with blindfold and each whisky delivered! Such a lucky bloke I am! There was a big difference between the two, but I was at pains deciding which I preferred. In the end, after almost 30 minutes, I decided on the Kavalan because it was denser with more silky smoothness and it carried itself with a lot of “age”.

The success of the Kavalan distillery can be attributed to many things, but a few very important factors that shine through in its products are exceptionally skilled distilling, the use of superb quality casks and the maturity of the whisky which is owed to the warm and humid climate in Taiwan that accelerates the maturation of whisky. Although warm climates make whisky evaporate at a high rate meaning more of it is lost than in cooler climates like Scotland, the warmth also dilates the pores in the oak casks which results in increased interaction with the spirit in the cask. This in turn lets the spirit suck out more flavour and character from the oak.

Tasting Notes – Kavalan Sherry Cask

 Nose 

As I open the bottle the waft of exceptionally high quality sherry perfumes the air with the fragrance of sweet moscato grapes and ripe red plum weaving around bitter cherries and a rich chocolate fudge. The sweetness is encased in a dense fog of bitter oak and dark chocolate as the whiff of prune and licorice add further depth with green banana and dry red wine adding dryness. This is like a dense dark chocolate cake layered with vanilla, shavings of coconut and soaked with a lovely old rum. Sparks of tang also delight, with cherry tomatoes and a fizz that presents all this character with a certain charm. 

The texture on this whisky is luscious and oily.

Taste 

This whisky is highly distinctive, with an impeccable balance that allows an abundance of different flavours to harmoniously delight the palate without any particular flavour dominating. The bitterness of the oak moderates the sherry that follows it, only to return in the form of dark chocolate and cocoa while a dense sharpness such as old balsamic tingles. All the while the whisky explodes on the palate as its flavours burst like fireworks. This whisky has such a delightful abundance of flavours, but like an world leading orchestra all its components can be heard as they all contribute to a brilliant performance.

Finish 

The finish on this whisky is long and very enjoyable. It lingers on the tongue for a very long time, and I am glad it does!