Review: Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique

Kavalan – Solist: Vinho Barrique

Award winning whisky 101: First, distill some malt whisky. Next, find some expensive, freshly used wine casks from Spain or Portugal and fill ‘em up. Then let the whisky mature in a country where it ripens in only a couple of years, rather than the dozen or so it takes in Scotland. Lastly, fill up some bottles, hike up the price and hit the competitions!

Cynicism aside, I’ve been extremely impressed with the rest of the Solist range so far, and Kavalan in general. And so is everyone else – the lineup is absolutely smothered in awards, and it’s great to see the praise going to naturally presented bottlings that give Scotland a run for its money.

The last of my Kavalan miniatures, the Solist Vinho Barrique is matured in a single red/white Portuguese wine cask, recharred and then (like the rest of the range) presented non-chill filtered, natural colour and cask strength. This one has been on the bucket list for a while… here goes:

  • Colour:

Slightly lighter than the Sherry Cask, which still leaves it a dark, rusty red.

  • Nose:

Rich, sweet caramel. Fruity – bananas, apples – with less of an overpowering red-wine character you might expect. Cinnamon. Oranges in the back. Fantastic.

  • Taste:

Straight up, the alcohol packs a helluva punch, stripping a good layer or two of tastebuds off the tongue. Yikes. This one needs some dilution, but I found myself having the first few sips neat anyway – this is monstrously heavy, potent stuff that deserves a little masochism to experience in its natural state.

  • Water:

Bringing it down to around ~50% is the sweet spot – once the alcohol has been beaten into submission you get to really unpack a highly complex and rewarding whisky. Oaky and slightly floral. Bursting with fruit, citrus and spice, much like its Solist brothers (sisters?) You’ve got a middle-of-the-road sweetness that keeps the bitterness at bay without being cloying. Not as sweet as the Sherry Cask Solist – dryer, crisper and more tropical than Christmasy. No real suggestion of the white wine influence, but the sherry-esque character is impossible to miss. Not quite as eyebrow raising as the Sherry Cask, but truly great nevertheless.

  • Finish:

Oily as hell, with a wine-and-caramel taste that stays along for the ride. Niiice. One of the best finishes of possibly any whisky I’ve tried to date.


Kavalan Vinho Barrique is well deserving of all the love letters it receives – she’s a beaut. A challenging, broody dram when neat and pleasantly drinkable with a little water. Despite the exotic, drippy casks you can still really appreciate the malty flavours and the quality of the spirit. Watch out, Scotland!

The price is still a huge barrier though. When it comes to that quality/price knife edge I have a sneaking suspicion that Vinho Barrique is erring on the side of being unreasonably expensive given the contents – smack 25% off the price and you’d have a serious winner. Another one to try if you’re able, or purchase for a special occasions, but there are more reasonable bottles out there to populate the whisky cabinet.

Kavalan – Solist: Vinho Barrique
Quality: Excellent
Price: Expensive
See my rating guide here

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