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.