By Richard Thomas
Anyone familiar with my body of work knows that I am a booster of the spread of whisky-making around the world, and in tandem I have developed a strong interest in the issue of non-traditional climate and maturation. When Sweden and Australia get laurels, I’m thrilled. When lesser known places in Argentina and Israel get attention, I’m pleased.
Yet if there is one case where I think there is too much hype, it’s Taiwan’s Kavalan. Owned by King Car Group, Kavalan has from the beginning been a very well-financed machine, both at the stillhouse and in the marketing department. As much as I have been intrigued at the idea of maturing malt whisky in sub-tropical Taiwan, and admired the work of the recently deceased Dr. Jim Swan and others there, I have sometimes thought Kavalan’s reputation was overblown. They make a good product, but the hype says its better than the best of Scotland (to say nothing of Irish and Japanese malts).
Now Kavalan has a single cask series based on Port and Sherry. I love a good Sherry bomb, and love a good (and rarer) Port bomb more. As indicated above, Kavalan admittedly makes a good whisky, so I knew from the start I would like this round of offerings. The real question is would I find them matching my best experiences with similar Scotch single cask, cask strength malts? I was skeptical, but open-minded about the Kavalan PX Sherry Cask (ranging from 50 to 60% ABV).
The lusciously dark coloring of this whisky, amber with a touch of lavender, shows off its very strong Sherry cask influence. Looking at it, I thought it had a couple of toes over in Tawny Port territory! The swish revealed just a few legs, but those were strong and thick.
PX Sherry is the sweet one of the group, and the nose on this whisky confirmed that quality. It was richly endowed with sweet wine and floral citrus notes, with a note of rosemary and a trace of old wood. What was lacking was a good showing from the character of the malt that is, after all, the foundation.
On the palate, the whisky starts out woody and honeyed, now showing some middle of the road malt personality. Then on comes a wave of dark, dried fruits that, oddly, turns tart as it recedes, as if someone put a pinch of dried cranberries in the fruit mix that came up only after you started chewing on it. The finish rolls over into a wet, sweet tobacco note and fades into moderate warmth.
I was pleased and a little impressed with this Kavalan. It was bold and solid, as a cask strength whisky ought to be, and certainly qualifies as a PX Sherry bomb. Yet at the same time, that boldness doesn’t crowd out room for some complexity, as the turns made during the experience show.
The main thing here is that this whisky ain’t cheap, weighing in at $699. Bottles like that are clearly not meant for people operating on my budget, but let’s say for the sake of argument that I could afford to buy a bottle of something in the several hundred dollar to just over a thousand range once per year. Sorry to say, there are things out there I would want more than this, and plenty of them.