I am about to tell you a fascinating story about baggage. Try to contain your excitement. It has a pedagogic purpose though: so that you may be protected against the error I almost made.
We flew through Hong Kong on our most recent trip to India and I was intrigued on the way in to see what the duty free selection at the airport there might be like. It is pretty dire pretty much everywhere else in the world at this point: mostly overpriced, marginal whiskies in fancy packaging for travelers whose inhibitions and judgment have been dulled by the exhaustion of international travel. I was hoping there might be some interesting Japanese whisky available. As it happens, the Japanese whisky selection was slim and there was nothing of interest available on the Scotch front. But they did have pretty good prices on Kavalan Solists. The bourbon Solists were probably about $80 US and this sherry Solist was about $105. As the US prices make these seem reasonable I decided to get a couple of bottles. And to make my life easy I decided to get them before boarding our flight back to LAX on the way out. Which would have been a terrible mistake! Why? Read on!
Luckily, I learned before leaving Delhi for Hong Kong that you are not allowed to board flights to the US from Hong Kong with duty free liquor as hand baggage (though you are allowed to purchase said liquor on the plane). Fortunately, we were spending a few days in Hong Kong on the way back and so I purchased them on arrival and put them in our checked baggage for the last leg.
Kavalan Solist, Sherry Cask S090610018B (57.8%; from my own bottle)
Nose: There is something rotting in some wet undergrowth and it is probably a large rat. Man, this has a powerful, organic reek: major notes of rotting meat, mixed in with gamey, minerally notes of fresh pork liver and blood! Regular sherried notes below it all (leather, cola, raisins) but they have a hard time making it past the decomposing flesh and the offal. With more time the rotting meat begins to recede just a bit and stickier notes begin to come to the top along with some pencil lead. With a lot more time it goes further in this direction though the reek never quite goes away. Water pushes the funk away further but doesn’t bring out anything new.
Palate: None of that funky stuff is here; instead it’s regulation heavy sherry: pencil lead, leather, dried orange peel, soy sauce. Gets fruitier as it sits, with plum and a bit of apricot and more of the orange peel. And indeed it gets brighter with more time (orange peel, apricot); more obvious oak too but it’s not tannic. Water knocks the oak out and draws out more of the apricot and maybe some honey.
Finish: Long. More drying as it goes but not much new development. The citrus hangs out longer on the finish too with time. Longer and stickier and fruiter (apricot) with water; saltier too now.
Comments: I can’t remember the last time I had a whisky that smelled so strongly of rotting organic matter. Usually I associate this note with peated Bunnahabhain and Jura and Ledaig but I can’t remember one of those that had so much rotting meat on the nose, and it takes a long time to calm down and never goes away. The palate is a much more conventional, heavily sherried affair from the get-go and really quite nice with water. I’ll be interested to see if the other sherry Solist I purchased has something similar going on the nose but I’m also curious if anyone else has encountered this rotting meat thing quite so strongly in other Kavalans or other heavily sherried whiskies.
Rating: 85 points.
Don’t recall much in the way of rotting meat when I first opened the Kavalan Solist Sherry (or any of the Kavalan’s. I have the Vinho Barrique and ex-Bourbon cask as well) but it has been a while.
I am curious why one could not hand carry duty free liquor from Hong Kong to the US. I have certainly brought plenty of duty free liquor on the plane with me from other places as recently as last fall. Do you know if this is a new change in general or just a Hong Kong thing? if so then these meaningless and annoying restrictions seem to get more and more burdensome every day.
As the Solists are single casks there’s probably a fair bit of variation among them. I’ve not found this note in the (few) other Solist sherry casks I’ve had either.
As for duty free liquor and flights to the US it seems to depend on which airports are on the TSA’s whitelist. All EU airports are, I think (or at least I’ve not had trouble getting bottles purchased in EU airports onto non-stop flights to the US); most others probably are not. Safest to ask at the Duty Free before you buy.