Kavalan Solist, Fino, Cask S061127001

Kavalan Solist, FinoThis is the last of my three reviews of casks of Kavalan Solist. I liked both of the others I reviewed a lot–the sherry cask slightly more than the bourbon–but found both to be way overpriced for what they are. I don’t know what this Fino cask is like but it will have to be very good indeed to justify its price, which is twice that of the other two. It is, of course, a fact that these Solist releases are single casks; and so in the unlikely eventuality that you are looking to these reviews for guidance on whether the US releases will be worth it or not, you should keep cask variation in mind. This, it should be said, is another way in which single cask releases are a bit of a boon for distilleries. If all the Kavalan fino casks were vatted and released as one batch the entire release would be susceptible to lack-luster reviews. But with single cask releases even if you don’t like one cask that much (or very much) there’s always the promise/allure of others that might be so much better. Still, I would expect there to be be strong family resemblances between the casks in each Solist range.

Well, let’s see what this one is like.

Kavalan Solist, Fino (57%; Cask S061127001; from a purchased sample)

Nose: Wow: a huge wave of fruit: apricot jam, orange peel, lemon–and a hint of mango as it gets more acidic. Some honey and maple syrup too. As it settles earthier notes come in (leather, some milk chocolate) but this is all about intoxicating dark fruit syrup (it gets sweeter as it sits). Can the palate match this? With more time it gets woodier and the sweetness gets stickier. With a few drops of water there’s some toffee and some vanilla and a menthol coolness.

Palate: Comes in hot and with more acidic fruit: lemon, orange peel. Lots of lemon zest too and a peppery, woody bite. Not much change with time/air, so let’s see if water opens it up. Water eases the burn and makes it more approachable but I can’t say it brings out very much that’s new: some plum syrup, a touch of apricot jam, maybe. It also brings the wood out faster and while it starts out as nice polished wood it gets astringent pretty fast.

Finish: Long. The fruit gets even brighter and sharper as it goes, and then there’s a pepperiness and finally the tannic, woody bite gets more insistent. With water the wood is more muted on the finish and it’s the acidic fruit that slowly fades out.

Comments: The nose (much better neat) is rather intoxicatingly fruity but the pleasures are immediate: there’s not much interesting development over a period of time. And the palate and finish (the latter more improved with water) are where the lack of complexity really reveal themselves, and where the nature of the woody bite seems to reveal its youth. This I am tempted to say is the difference between a young whisky matured for not very long in a tropical climate and a much older Scottish single malt of similar fruity profile–however, I have no idea if that is really the case or if I’d even think that if tasting this blind. I do know that, noted limitations aside, this is very good indeed. It also noses and tastes more like a hybrid ex-bourbon/refill sherry cask than the sherry bomb you might expect.

Now, the question of price: in the EU this release is available ex. vat for $300 (adjusted to 750 ml) or so plus shipping; so let’s say $325. Even if I were in the habit of paying $300 for whiskies, would I pay that much for this? The answer is no–there are better older Scottish malts to be had for less. Below $200 it would be intriguing, and at $150 it would be excellent value. But I have a feeling the US release is going to go for more than $300 here. And, of course, to repeat myself, there’s doubtless cask variation and what gets released in the US may be much better (though it may also be worse).

Rating: 89 points. (If I were scoring the nose alone I’d give it 91 or 92 points.)

23 thoughts on “Kavalan Solist, Fino, Cask S061127001

  1. I wonder why the fino release is priced so much higher than the other Solists. Are fino butts currently so expensive to purchase? Springbank’s fino casks in their various ex-sherry single cask releases have not been priced any higher than the others (oloroso, amontillado, cream sherry, manzanilla) but given the difference in maturation times those would have been purchased long before these Kavalan casks probably were.

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    • At that level price is completely disconnected from cost of materials. I seriously doubt that the cask prices have anything to do with it. But it costs a lot to fly Jim Swan to Taiwan first class and have him pick/design the whisky – that’s what you’re paying for. It’s an exclusive designer product, like a $2,000 pair of shoes.

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      • Did he work only on the fino cask? Because if not, why should only the fino cask be so expensive? I’m not aware of fino matured whiskies being particularly prized. Now, you may well be right that there’s no rational basis for it, but I guess I’m interested to know if one is advanced at any rate.

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          • Nice to know that you’re keeping up with the Etsy blogs. So, have I missed some reason why whisky drinkers should be more likely to be induced to pay high prices for single fino casks? It’s not like King Car/Kavalan are operating in a vacuum.

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          • Well, I don’t believe they are exactly trying to sell to you or me. How many bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue have you bought lately? Yet a lot of people buy it despite the fact that it’s a NAS blend. (Your threshold for this category is what, $18?) They buy it because it’s aspirational, expensive, and, um, exclusive (or so the story goes).

            As far as whisky maniacs go they do operate in a vacuum, since Kavalan are aligned with the consumer at large instead. That’s that guy who buys a bottle from the in-flight magazine and who doesn’t read your blog.

            Let me put it differently: as long as they are the single distillery in a whisky-crazed, relatively rich country, and they make fewer bottles of Fino in a year than they get visitors, they can charge literally whatever they want. Until the second Taiwanese distillery comes around they have a money printing operation.

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          • Yes, well, if Kavalan are trying to sell to the non-aficionado they’re going to be in some trouble. Johnnie Walker Blue sells because of the established status of the Johnnie Walker brand and because it’s a blend. With the exception of Macallan, no single malt distillery attempts to sell expensive whisky on prestige alone (and even Macallan have a wide range of affordable malts). Kavalan’s calling card for now, like the more established Amrut’s, is novelty and it’ll be interesting to see if they can sell enough of their whisky at high prices in markets where they have no name recognition.

            But all of this is somewhat irrelevant anyway to my question, which is still, “why the fino cask?”. A fino cask doesn’t seem to me to be some obvious candidate for premiumization. The simple answer may be that it was an iteration of one of these casks that Jim Murray gave 101 points out of 100 or whatever.

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      • So Dalmore is more reasonable than Macallan in terms of outrageous prices based on prestige… if you don’t count the products with the most outrageous prestige-based pricing – but I do take your point about the more reasonably priced stuff.

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        • I’m certainly not trying to argue that Dalmore is reasonable with the pricing of their outrageous bottles—I’m just saying that that stuff is so ludicrous it’s almost pointless talking about it in relationship to the normal market (almost). Macallan, on the other hand, price most of their regular line on the basis of name/prestige as well: the 18 yo, the more expensive colour-coded ones, the 25 yo etc.. They expect us to pay for their name in almost all of their regular releases too. Diageo’s doing the same thing now with the new Mortlachs, except, of course, they’re trying to create the Mortlach brand by pricing it high.

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      • Sure, and I agree with your point that, for the “regular stuff”, Macallan does play the “but this comes from OUR distillery” prestige-surcharge card more often, and usually to a greater degree, than Dalmore. I also agree that the “never to be opened” crystal decanter/doorstop whiskies aren’t a part of the real market – although I think that they’re harmful in that, if whisky consumers become acclimatized to the IDEA that any bottle is worth these outrageous amounts (yet, again, reviewers almost never speak in terms of QPR in support of these whiskies or their pricing – usually preferring to avoid the topic of the price if at all possible), then the comparative “small” overcharging for regular bottles becomes easier to ignore – and get away with. The professional whisky “press” realizes this as well, which is why these “prestige” bottles aren’t denounced, as it would undercut long-term producer marketing goals.

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        • Yes, I’ve made the same point before (recently in my post on the Diageo Special Releases)—that the crazy prices serve also to normalize high prices at the lower end of a range. Hence the emphasis on “almost” in my comment when saying it’s pointless talking about those kinds of bottle in relation to the regular market.

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    • Fino and manzanilla casks will be more expensive than oloroso, because the sherry will not actually be fino or manzanilla sherry afterwards. But as Florin notes, it’s not about the production costs.

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      • “With the exception of Macallan, no single malt distillery attempts to sell expensive whisky on prestige alone (and even Macallan have a wide range of affordable malts).” I think that, if this is true of Macallan, it’s certainly true of Dalmore; the sky’s the limit on pricing and no matter how positive the noises from the professional whisky “press”, no one will ever SAY that the Paterson Collection was ever worth ANYTHING close to a million pounds because of its quality as drinkable whisky – yet a person can certainly get into a lot of trouble for pointing this out.

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  2. I like the Solist ex sherry and a little bit less the Solist ex bourbon. But i never tried the Fino. I didn’t buy a bottle of that at 200 dollars at the distillery. Kavalan should be at most 25pct of what they charge. Then it would be more affordable.

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    • 25% might be a little extreme, but I don’t think there’s any reason for them to be more expensive than Amrut, which seems the most comparable outfit (another young distillery in a hot climate, owned by an industrial conglomerate): the entry-level should be in the $40-50 range; the next level up should be $60-80 and the high-end should top out at $120. Certainly, Amrut’s cheaper stuff is much better than Kavalan’s base malt or the King Car, while the Intermediate Sherry et al can give the Solists a run for their money.

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  3. I live in Taipei and these are the prices for Kavalan whiskey 9-2015
    Solist Vinho Barrique 3000NT —$94.00
    Solist Sherry 3250 NT —$102.00
    Solist Burbon 2900 NT —$90.00
    Solist Fino 6,000 NT —$187.00
    Decanter A & M–Georgeous 10,000 NT —$312.00
    Kavalan Ex-Bourbon 2500NT —$78.00

    Wanna Talk ridiculous pricing in Taiwan Ardbeg/Macallan.
    Fino is $400 + in San Francisco (nada-No thanks)

    I’m drinking Lagavulan LE 1991,1994,1995,97, 98 for around 3500 NT — $109.00
    LE 12 year old is same.

    Cheers La’s

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  4. http://www.asiawhisky.com/world-whisky–1999030028/kavalan-distillery-reserve

    the distillery Reserve 300CL 1200 NT $37.00 gift box

    the 2014 World Whiskey Awards Asian category Kav Ex-Bourbon (non soloist) 2500NT $78.00

    While Kavalan’s bottles and tubes don’t mention ages or vintages directly, this information can be decoded from cask numbers and bottling codes. For instance #S060821045: S for Sherry, distilled 21st of August 2006, and the 45th barrel that day. The sticker at the back mentions the bottling date and hour, so you can deduct the age (just below 7 years in this case).

    The Faux Leather tubes in Red/Green/Blue are really luxurious marketing tools.
    The decanter packages are very fine wooden boxes with blown glasses –classy stuff

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