Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kavalan Solist

I covered Kavalan before. In 2013 I visited Taiwan and tasted a range of their products

This time I am covering to newer Solist expressions. And I do it with a guest post from another danish whisky blog, followed by my own short notes for a couple of the Solists


Hi, my name is Carsten followed by a surname that’s completely unpronounceable in English, so I won’t even bother writing it. I’m a Dane in my mid-thirties (let’s keep it at that) and I live in a town called Odense. I have been drinking whisky for the better part of a decade and I’m also a whisky blogger. I have a blog at, but alas, that’s completely unusable to most of you since my blog is also in Danish. Feel free to drop by though or contact me through my Facebook page.
A couple of weeks ago Steffen, the fine gentleman that usually roams these pages, asked me if I would like to write a guest review here on the Danish Whisky Blog and, since he also said that he would supply the whisky, I had no problem accepting his offer. It’s nice to write in English once in a while and perhaps make some new acquaintances. Enough small-talk… Let’s get to the whisky!
Kavalan, which is actually called Yuan Shan Distillery, is a Taiwanese distillery, that’s located in Yilan County just a little south of the capital, Taipei. The distillery is named after the indigenous people who originally inhabited the area where the distillery is located. Kavalan is owned by King Car Group, which is a big Taiwanese food and drink producer. The founder of King Car Group, Tien-Tsai Lee, had a dream of producing a world class whisky in Taiwan and the planning started in 2002. The actual construction of the distillery did not start until 2005 and it was completed on December 31, 2015.
To help them in the process Kavalan hired Dr. Jim Swan as a consultant. Dr. Jim Swan has served as a consultant for many new distillery projects in the last decades including Penderyn, Annandale and Kilchoman. On March 13, 2006 the first new make flowed from the stills and on December 4, 2008 the first bottling, the Kavalan Classic, was released to the public. Since then the distillery has released many different bottlings, but the most iconic of them are probably the Solist series, which consists of a range of single cask releases, matured in various types of casks. Kavalan has received many awards for its whisky, including taking the top honors in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2014.
When the distillery was built it had two sets of stills consisting of two wash stills with a capacity of 12,000 liters each and 2 spirit stills with a capacity of 7,000 liters each. That gave Kavalan a yearly output of about 1.5 million liters of alcohol. However, with the huge success that Kavalan has experienced the need for more capacity quickly became evident. In 2015 a further six stills were installed and the capacity was increased to 4.5 million liters per year and, here in 2016, a further 10 stills will be installed and the capacity will be doubled to 9 million liters of alcohol. There are two huge, five stories high, warehouses on site and most of the casks mature standing up on pallets. Due to the warm climate the amount of evaporation is quite high and the greedy angels grab up to 15% per year.
Today, we will taste three different Kavalan Solist bottlings. The first is from a bourbon cask, the second is from a port cask and the third is from a sherry cask. Let’s go!

Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask, 57.1%, Cask B100723021A, 4 Years Old
The distillery character of Kavalan is said to be quite tropical and that definitely shines through on the nose. It’s very fresh with pineapple, mango, bananas and some coconut water. There are lots of vanilla and some nuttiness, which almost translates into marzipan. Some lime in the background together with some pepper. With a couple of dashes of water, the nuttiness becomes more apparent and so does the vanilla. Fortunately it never loses its fruitiness and it’s actually quite nice with water.
The taste is sweet to begin with. Lots of banana and mango paired with some chocolate, but the sweetness does not last long. The wood is really asserting itself mid-palate and the whole thing gets rather hot and peppery. Once again it’s much better with water. The sweetness continues for much longer and it’s fruitier and creamier. The oak is still present, but the hotness and the pepper are almost gone.
The finish is quite long with more tropical fruits, some chocolate and more pepper.
This is quite a nice bottling from Kavalan. It’s not the most complex of whiskies and it certainly is very oak-driven, but not so much that the distillery character is gone. The nose is wonderfully fresh and you can almost imagine yourself sitting on a tropical beach. I do find it a bit too hot on the palate without water, but luckily it takes water really well. It actually reminds a little of a 25 YO Glenrothes I had earlier this year! I have no problem recommending this bottling, as long as you’re willing to experiment a little with the water.

Kavalan Solist Port Cask, 58.6%, Cask O090617023A, 6 Years Old
This is quite spitiry on the nose in the beginning, but it quickly settles down. There are a slew of berries, including strawberries, raspberries and cherries together with some sweet oranges.  There’s also a lot of underlying spiciness like cinnamon, vanilla and it’s quite nutty.  A little bit of brown sugar and some toffee. It you add some water the sweetness really stands out and it becomes a little buttery.
In the beginning of the palate there’s a lot of sweet fruitiness. Again it’s the berries that dominate. Then there’s some dark chocolate and a lot of cinnamon. It becomes really spice, with lots of oak influence and your mouth starts to dry out. Water takes the punch out of it a bit, but all the flavours are still there. The development does become a little longer and the chocolate stands out more together with some orange peel.
It has a long after aftertaste with chocolate, cherries and cinnamon. Very nice!
This is a really nice and very balanced whisky. The nose and the palate are well connected and you taste pretty much what you expect after nosing it. It’s spicy in a very nice way and the cinnamon and the chocolate will stay with you for quite some time after swallowing it. The water takes away some of the punch, but it does add a bit more character, so once more I recommend experimenting with the water.  Good work Kavalan!

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask, 58.6%, Cask S060821017, 6 Years Old
This first thing I notice is a lot of rich dried fruits. This is definitely a sherried whisky! Raisins, cranberries and cherries. It’s also very spicy with cinnamon and vanilla. There’s a dark sugary and chocolaty sweetness to the nose together with a lot of nuttiness. Water emphasizes the chocolate and the cranberries in a big way. It’s much better with water.
There’s a very spicy arrival on the palate and I’m not getting a lot of the dried fruits. It’s quite sharp and peppery with lots of oak. A little bit of chocolate shines through, but it’s just too hot. After adding some water everything improves a lot. Now I get the dried fruits and it’s much less sharp and peppery. Chocolate, cinnamon, toffee and a little bit of orange.
Nice long aftertaste with coffee, raisins and dark chocolate.
The sherry is all over this one and I do feel that that it’s just a bit over the top. Sherry matured whisky needs time to settle down and interact with the cask over time. I know that the climate is different in Taiwan, but quick maturation, however good it is, is still not a substitute for long maturation and I really feel that it shows in this bottling. The nose has all the right characteristics, but it not very deep and mysterious.  The palate is simply too hot and even though the water helps a lot it’s still my least favourite of the three. But I also know that this kind of whisky has a big audience and Kavalan will sell every bottle they produce.
Time to sum up… Kavalan is really on to something here and I would love to taste some of their standard bottlings, to see how they stack up against these single cask bottling. As I’ve mentioned already they are all very oak-driven, but that not necessarily a bad thing. The bourbon matured bottling is a tropical explosion and I could drink this all day while just relaxing in the garden. The port matured one is my absolute favourite of the three, but I’m a sucker for port matured whisky, so that’s no big surprise. The sherry matured bottling did however disappoint me a little bit. It lacked depth, was not very complex and somehow it just felt rushed. One thing that these Kavalans have in common though is that they all take water very nicely and they all need in my opinion.

I look forward to following Kavalan in the future and there will plenty of opportunity for that given their recent expansions. Thanks to Steffen for letting me take over his blog for a while. It was fun tasting Kavalan for the first time and the whisky certainly didn’t disappoint. Now I just need to find myself a bottle of Kavalan Solist Port Cask.

Thanks to Carsten for his reviews and comments about Kavalan. Here is my own take on two of the Solists

Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask, 57.1%, Cask B100723021A, 4 Years Old

Nose: A very fruity and floral nose. Sweet apples and pears on a bed on vanilla. A hint of marcipan

Palate. The attack is sligtly hot, but the finish is smooth. This is a sweet whisky, with an abundance of vanilla. The whisky is thick and oily. The finish has some bitterness and citrus notes emerges

Rating 86/100

Kavalan Solist Port Cask, 58.6%, Cask O090617023A, 6 Years Old

Nose: A tiny hint of sulphur, followed by a typical port nose. The ex-bourbon is rather sweet, and this is also sweet, but not as sweet as you would expect a port casked whisky to be

Palate: Sweet, faint rubber, and very dominant port influence, but not very sweet, which makes this a little different to other port whiskies. The dominant note is dried fruits, notable raisins, so the grape influence is big

Rating 83/100

I am usually not a big fan of port whiskies, but this offering is not too bad for me. I guess it's because it lacks the usual abundance of sweetness which is not my thing. Being very sulphur sensitive I pick of little hints of rubber, but I am sure this will go unnoticed by the vast majority.