As the name sort-of implies, Kavalan’s Solist range is all about single cask whiskies. Each expression lets the properties of different cask type take centre stage and steal the show… while the cask-strength delivery (aww yeah!) brings you to (hopefully) joyful tears.
To be fair, Kavalan needed to do something like this. Selling non-age-statement, young whisky to the rest of the world isn’t exactly the best way to earn street-cred, and you can’t go around screaming “it matures faster in Taiwan!” So, following the formula established by Scotland, they embraced the marketing oomph that comes from terms like “cask strength” and “single cask” to shift expensive bottles to the snobs, thus scoring them heaps of gold, double gold and double-double-gold (or whatever) awards from all the high profile competitions… Which in turn gave them the legit status needed to sell even their basic single malts in any market they like. Not that I’m complaining! The more single cask whisky around the better.
On to the first Kavalan Solist expression in my little miniature collection: the Ex-Bourbon Cask. Let’s do it!
Sweet, oaky. There’s some honey, toffee, coconut (more so than any malt I’ve stuck my nose into) and little bit of black pepper. Lovely! Some toasted nuts right at the back, gently floral. And, surprisingly – not nearly as fiery as the bottling strength would suggest. Your nose hairs will survive the experience (unlike after my Glenfarclas 105 experience. Yoh.)
Aah, there’s the alcohol! The first couple of sips are sacrifices to the whisky gods but by the third sip you’re in it. Tightly integrated, you get lots of sweetness and vanilla, burnt caramel and almonds. There’s a smooth-as-hell creamy, dairy quality that makes this ludicrously easy to drink. Overall I’m reminded a lot of Bruichladdie Classic with its high strength and Speysidey flavours. In fact, it’s this comparison that highlights perhaps the only real criticism I have – there really is a slighty immature, young fire that would have no doubt been tempered with a few extra years in the barrel.
That light bitterness (as with most bourbon matured whiskies) is there, but gentle. Mainly you get this extended, caramel mouthfeel, and a world-class oiliness like you just swallowed a chunk of butter. And chewy – makes you want to bite your cheeks.
I allowed myself to test varying amounts of water, going slowly to find the sweet-spot. As expected there’s an initial improvement, making the experience crisper, fruiter, reducing a little of that fire and rendering it even more chuggable. However, it can’t handle as much water as you might expect – a few too many drops and I pushed it over the edge without warning. One of few whiskies I’d immediately water down – a couple of teaspoons per dram works for me!
It’s rare that I get excited about a bourbon matured, no peat, no sherry, “clean and fruity” whisky like this. Johnnie Black, The Spice Tree and Highland Park do it for me for a reason. But this is ridiculously good stuff. While finishing the little bottle I was filled with genuine regret, wondering when I’ll get an opportunity to try this absolute beauty of a single malt again.
It also hits like a ton of bricks – as I write this I’m having to concentrate particularly hard on the keyboard, backspacing more than usual, manipulating my fingers through an invisible veil of jelly. The fact that it’s almost 60% (batch depending) means you get a lot of whisky for the admittedly very high price.
And it’s expensive, to be sure. You’re paying a high entry fee in the form of its sexy packaging and countless accolades, but in this case they really do act as gatekeepers to some truly excellent whisky. If lighter whiskies are your style, buy a bottle to keep for a special occasion (or a gift if you’re a high roller) otherwise – get your hands on a glass of this stuff for the experience. Another point for team NAS!