This 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.)