Taiwanese Whisky

Review: Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Kavalan Solist 1.jpg
ABV
59.1%
Aging
~6 years; Oloroso Sherry Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

One of the most highly regarded bottlings of whisky, Kavalan Solist Sherry. Here we go!


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask S081225011; Bottle 287/535
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2014

The nose has 2% North American milk (yes! and North American milk doesn't taste like milk elsewhere - it isn't stated without reason), lots of anise, licorice, star anise, fennel seed (very much - Kavalan is quite licorice-y, and this is no exception), milk chocolate, sherry, celery, oak, tobacco, currants, vanilla. The nose at cask strength is incredible - dilution changes it, but doesn't improve it - the components battle one another with more power at cask strength - the oak, the sherry, the licorice, the spice. It is pretty dense stuff.

The palate has lots of currants, milk chocolate, anise, fresh fennel fronds, clove, cinnamon, and a bit of a malty core. It's quite nice, really. At cask strength the malt and raisins feel so pure, fading to spice and prunes eventually. The finish is spicy with tobacco, clove, green tea, dried fruit, celery seed, and apple chips.

I generally don't love anise-y whiskies but this is growing on me quite a bit. It is marvelous...very complex, a bit weird, very good...a single cask, so these vary from cask to cask. Some, I hear are marvelous, but given all the licorice in Kavalan - I might not due them justice.

Score: 88/100

Value: 1/100 (based on $216)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: S090123071 (bottle 434 of 514, 58.6%) 2015.08.17 13:34
  • Bottling Date: 2015

The nose is rich and woody, with light licorice, and lots of spices – from wintergreen to a rich, slightly edgy woody spice perhaps like licorice root. But lots more: roasted almonds and cashews, orchard fruit, peach and nectarine, walnut, and toffee. Slightly sweet on the nose; it’s balanced well. It holds itself together on the nose better than most cask strength single malts, with a rich oaky centre surrounded by all the spice, herbal notes, and fruit. Also, oddly, the earthiness is more prominent at cask strength compared to when it is watered down.

The palate has chocolate and lots of almond, sherry, and rich oak. It has lots of typical Italian mixed dried herbs, fresh fig, strawberry. A very rich mouthfeel, and great movement, with a rising set of flavours and feels toward the finish. Quite a bit softer than my cask.

The finish has date bars, wood char, dried spices, green tea, and dried apricot – and some dried thyme. The whisky has a bit of astingency akin to over-steeped black teas – not necessarily bad, but different - the whisky is built around this and it gives it a very interesting structure.

This cask is quite a bit different than my sharper, licorice-laden, and slightly astringent bottling above. This is less „winey”, more oaky, and has less spice and astringency. The cask above had some of the most licorice I’ve ever seen in a whisky.... (my tasting of concertmaster might have had more).

Score: 89/100

Value: 12/100 (based on $216)


The Value Score: 2.0 by Jason Hambrey

Of all the features of my website, the most feedback I get is about my value score - it's a mathematical formulation of value based on the average cost for a given rating and a deviation from it - i.e., if, based on standard "market" values, a whisky rated 85 is worth, on average, $53, then if the whisky is cheaper than $53 dollars, it is of high value, and if it is more expensive - it is of low value. The statistical formulation is shown in a previous blog post here, if you want the details. Because of the interest (and importance) of a value score, I have added a page to the website describing the best value whiskies. Check it out!

The story of how it came about is simple - I decided to graph all my whiskies which I had rated according to price and value. What I found, surprisingly, is that there is a rough trend - higher scores, on average, came from whiskies that cost more. After carefully selecting 300 standard whiskies which I had rated, I came up with an "average" line. You can see what I mean in the graph below:

The value score has served well, and I enjoy the result: I only rate the whisky, I input the cost, and mathematics does the rest. However, it relies heavily upon assumptions (of which there are many) - how the average line is defined, what whiskies I consider "standard" to set the market value, and what standard deviation to use (I am an aerospace engineer, so please forgive the jargon if you are lost). The implications of each assumption is actually staggering- so it has taken me some time to digest the score methodology itself. However, given my data of 500 or so whisky reviews, I don't have enough data to let stats do all the work - so these assumptions are necessary.

There has been one outstanding issue with the score as is - I have found that higher rated whiskies are not quite highly rated enough. For instance, a Longmorn 18 year old, at a price of $140,. which I rated a 92, was a bottle I bought two of even though it would have a value score of 64. That being said, it's not a bad value score and $140 is a decent amount to spend.

This lead me to look at options to tweak value scores at the higher end of the scale - by increasing the "average" line of what a whisky is worth for higher scores, or by changing the standard deviation for higher scores - meaning that a greater difference in price from the average cost of such a whisky matters less. But, as I said before - is this valid? Really, it implies that for higher rated whiskies value doesn't quite matter as much dollar for dollar. And then, you think, is it value? After tweaking around with the analysis, doing some more number crunching, I realized that, on a global scale, interesting tweaks help a little, but not a lot. So, the options for me: continue to refine and adjust my assumptions to try to come up with something "perfect" or just use the value score as a rough indicator, rather than the law. Coming up with more assumptions to adjust the score just means that it is more fine tuned to myself, specifically. Option 2 is way easier, and way more appropriate - it is a relatively simpler formulation of how I regard value which actually fits a broader population than just me. All this to say - despite its flaws, I have decided not to change the value score. A few considerations:

  • Beyond the assumptions, which I deem to be reasonable, the only subjective part of the value score is my taste rating of a whisky (which, indeed, is subjective - palates are incredibly diverse).
  • All prices are set to the Canadian Market. Thus, whiskies may be more valuable in different regions of the world as certain whiskies are cheaper than others depending on the market. I always say what the price is based on, but all scores are adjusted for inflation/increase in value so that the value score remains consistent with how the market value is increasing.
  • For different areas of the world - take a look at the average line in the graph above, representing the average cost for a given rating. This line corresponds to a value score of 72. If your whisky is the equivalent of $38 (the standard deviation) more expensive than this line, its value is 40/100. If it costs $38*2 = $76 less, its value is 15, etc. If it is $38 cheaper than the blue line for a given rating, its value is 91. If it is $76 dollars less, its value is 99. Etc...if you are in to this send me an e-mail.

Review: Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
56.3%
Aging
First Fill Bourbon Barrels
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

This whisky, similar to the Fino cask I just reviewed, is Kavalan matured in an ex-bourbon barrel, bottled straight from the barrel.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask R061113041
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2012

The nose, indeed, has rich bourbon aromas - and is immediately complex, one of those noses that you know you can find much in if you take time to look. Brilliant oily corn, bourbon nuttiness, sour raisin, buttery vanilla pudding, earthy oak, nutmeg, dried mango….

 The palate has coconut, pear, peach crumble, corn, dried apricot, dried mango, banana cream pie, icing sugar dusted pastries (though this is not overly sweet) – and it’s not even very hot at 56.3%, and brilliantly syrupy.

Big and sweet finish. Some spice – and deep caramel toffee. Drying in the way that makes your mouth water a bit, which always makes you want to keep sipping.

Once again, not that great watered down, like the Fino cask - but I like it quite a bit more.

Score: 90/100

Value: 3/100 (based on $225)


Review: Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
57.8%
Aging
6 years; Fino Sherry Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

The Kavalan Solist series is one of the best known in whisky - winning prestigious awards including some of the best Malt Maniac awards in the last few years. They are single barrels bottled straight from the barrel, at cask strength, each with a cask number labelled which includes the date of distillation. (E.g. this is cask S060814013, with "S" meaning sherry and "06" being the year of distillation). They use a number of different casks in the Solist series, including Bourbon, Sherry, and Wine Casks. All of them have won significant awards in the whisky community, showing the robustness of the Kavalan spirit.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask S060814013
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2012

The nose is quite earthy, with a fair bit of black licorice, raisins, pistachios, walnuts, pralines, roasted macadamia nuts, caramel, toffee, apple seeds, apple, and dried noodles. The palate is absolutely loaded with toffee – so much so that I’m quite surprised.  Caramel, vanilla bean, almond paste, maple syrup, maple butter, tobacco, walnut – and quite a complex and long finish – maple, toffee, mixed nuts, buttery brittle, apple seed, and light tannin.

I prefer to drink at cask strength – it isn’t nearly as great watered down. Nice whisky…. though it’s a lot to pay in most places.

Score: 87/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $250)


Review: Kavalan Sherry Oak Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
Oloroso Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

This whisky is Kavalan matured in sherry casks, in a process similar to their distinguished Solist series, only bottled at 46% and in batches rather than single barrels.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2015

A lot of almost bitter rancio on the nose, but it slows down a bit and opens up to rich fruitcake, currants, marmalade, and apple seeds with some vanilla in the background. The palate shows a lot of caramel truffles, rich milk chocolate, prunes, raisins, rancio, brown sugar – but still earthy and savoury like some sherry sauce that has been used to deglaze frying caramelized mushrooms. Lots of rancio…and this is in some ways a bit more like a rancio-heavy brandy than a whisky. The finish is full of brown sugar and sherry, and some raisin-y tannins.

There’s a lot of sherry in there! The whisky does get a little lost…again, no complaints here – it is all very nice. This might be a point less if I didn’t like rancio so much…

Score: 85/100

Value: 7/100 (based on $153)


Review: Kavalan Concertmaster Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
American Oak and then finished in Port Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

This whisky is finished in port casks - three kinds in fact (ruby, tawny, and vintage) after a maturation in American oak.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N.A
  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Very sweet on the nose – stewed plums and stewed peaches – but with a very intriguing earthy edge to it as well and quite significant black licorice. The barley comes through as well – earthy – but the wine is definitely there as well, and to me they don’t quite fit together perfectly – they aren’t integrated but rather quite separate without a good bridge. On the palate –a bit underpowered, with a lot of that licorice coming through and red wine tannins. It reminds me of a dried fruit chutney that I made once – with dried papaya, pineapples, mangos, and raisins cooked with sherry and star anise. Actually, that sums up the palate quite nicely. It finishes with a continued good grip of tannin and licorice, with a bit of clove, nutmeg, and a touch of rancio. Not really my style at all, particularly with the licorice dominating as it does.

Score: 73/100

Value: 5/100 (based on $130)


Review: Kavalan Podium Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
Virgin Oak and Re-fill Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

I haven't been able to find this one in Canada, but it is available readily in other markets, coming in at a bit of a higher price (though not significantly) than the base expresssions. If you want a Kavalan - it's a good place to start.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Candied nuts galore – marzipan and praline – a brilliant and rich nose. Also dried mango, apricot, caramel, vanilla, oak, custard and dried banana. The palate comes through with a good dose of vanilla, very light oak, banana cream pie, plums, coconut, and, about ¾ of the way through the palate, I find brilliant light and fresh sweet creaminess – like vanilla pudding - which I love. The finish has oak, that dried fruit, and still that vanilla pudding. It reminds me of a better, and more refined, version of the standard Kavalan.

Score: 86/100

Value: 3/100 (based on $185)


Review: Kavalan Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Kavalan (Yuanshan, Taiwan)

This is the base single malt for the terrific distillery in Taiwan, Kavalan. Taiwan, in fact, is one of the big whisky markets in the world with many single malts (and Canadian whiskies) being exclusively sold there.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2015

A nice nose – with a few good wafts of bourbon! Light hay, caramel, prunes, very light dates, toffee, dried apricot, and a bit creamy…The palate has a nice body with a solid vanilla backbone and a touch of oak on the finish. Brown sugar, black cherry, fresh baking bread, with light creamy toffee on the finish with some clove, dried apricot, and very light oak and tannins.

Yes, “smooth”…and very nice…easy to drink, but not exceedingly interesting. However, this is exactly what I would want as the flagship malt for my distillery…so hat’s off to Kavalan. There isn’t anything wrong with it, it’s just not that interesting. Easy and enjoyable.

Score: 84/100

Value: 9/100 (based on $140)