The Taiwanese distillery Kavalan has finally entered the American market. While the anticipation has been intense among American whisky geeks for a while, fears about the prices likely to be charged have come true. Kavalan makes Amrut seem cheap. Where Amrut’s entry-level whiskies, the regular Amrut and Amrut Peated, and even the excellent fusion are all sub-$65 in most markets (the former two usually in the $40-50 range) the entry-level Kavalans are going to be priced much, much higher. As I’ve noted recently, the utterly ordinary King Car Conductor is retailing for $109.99, about $75 higher than the contents of the bottle would merit.
This it should be emphasized is higher than or on par with the prices charged for almost all of Amrut’s special releases–for example, the Kadhambam, the Two Continents, the Portonova and even the excellent Intermediate Sherry. As for Kavalan’s own ballyhooed special releases, the so-called Solists the prices are apparently going to be even more stratospheric.
Well, it’s as good a time as any to dip into my samples of three of the Solists and see if the hype about these bottles is borne out by the whisky. First up, this bourbon cask.
Kavalan Solist, Bourbon (58.6%; from a purchased sample)
It should be noted that there have been a number of releases of the Solists. As per Whiskybase this was released in 2011 and is from cask B080908025.
Nose: Spirity and quite closed. There’s some indistinct fruit (some citrus maybe, maybe a touch of apricot) and also something dusty. Let’s give it some time to open up. Okay, a few minutes later it’s more expressive: there’s some orange, a bit of honey and some toasted oak. Quite nice. Gets richer as it sits, with some tinned pineapple showing up as well. With a couple of drops of water the fruit is much more pronounced and more tropical (but not very much so) and there’s something hard candy’ish about it. Gets quite syrupy with time.
Palate: The citrus hits first with some tartness (between lemon and tangerine) but then there’s a big turn to honeyed and then malty sweetness. A nice bite from the oak as well but it’s not tannic. Drinkable at full strength but it should open up nicely with water. With water the citrus is brighter and married quite well with the sweetness and the oak. It’s a little reminiscent of Grand Marnier, actually. Increased depth with time on the fruit front but the wood gets more astringent.
Finish: Medium. Honeyed sweetness, toasted wheat and toasted wood. Gets quite peppery as it goes (white pepper). Water keeps the fruit going longer at first but then the astringent wood that arrives late on the palate begins to dominate.
Comments: At first I thought this was going to be a big disappointment but then it came on quite strong; I think it definitely needs time and water. But my ceiling for this would probably be about $80 (and frankly, I’d rather buy the Nadurra and save some money). Of course, given the vagaries of cask variation this may or may not be representative of the bourbon cask Solists being released in the US (if any are). Next up, a sherry cask and then a fino cask Solist. Let’s see if those are any better.
Rating: 87 points. (Started out in the low 80s and moved up.)