By Richard Thomas
When it comes to Sherry casks and whisky, the overwhelming favorite choice is Oloroso, followed at some distance by PX. The use of Amontillado casks is much rarer, although this probably has more to do with Amontillado itself being a small part of overall Sherry production.
Without writing a whole Sherry 101 essay, Amontillado lies between the two major types of Sherry wines, Fino and Oloroso. The fortified wine starts out as an Oloroso, but then, either by accident or design, the yeast layer in the wine cask called flor dies. From there the production process shifts into a more Fino-like direction. Fino casks, incidentally, are not widely used in maturing whisky because they are thought to be far too dry. It’s useful to think of Amontillado as a medium Sherry.
If you are like Kavalan, a distillery located in a hot, humid sub-tropical region, then you can’t rely upon time alone to provide you with a good maturation. This is why Kavalan’s production process so strongly emphasizes the use of flavorful cask choices for its primary (and, often, secondary) maturation. In this way, they turn what is a disadvantage (a climate that causes out-sized evaporation) into something useful (a climate that maximizes absorption of cask-driven elements). Of course, when you do that you need to find new and interesting cask stock to work with, hence the choice of Amontillado Sherry.
This stuff is dark in the glass, as dark as fairly well-aged, cask strength Bourbon. It’s a rich amber, brown with darkened, tarnished red highlights. A swish prompts the whisky to drop some thick and heavy legs.
The nose is a rich one too, deep in Sherry bomb territory, with a thick coating of dried figs mixed with a generous helping of crushed nuts dominating, supported by bitter herbs and a trace of leathery oak. The palate, however, shifts to being equally Sherried (dried figs and nuts) and woody, but only for a short time. It soon becomes more woody and peppery, and this was the case even after the addition of a splash of water, so it wasn’t heat from the cask strength alcohol content (individual bottlings vary between 50 and 60%, and I have no idea how strong mine was past that).
It’s an interesting transformation, and it doesn’t stop there. The pepper fades on the finish, leaving just the woodiness, and this takes on a charred aspect. It’s strong whisky, so it leaves plenty of afterglow.
This is a fairly well-rounded pour, and a quite sophisticated one at that. Sherry bomb lovers who appreciate a little touch of smoke will love how the Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask plays out.
This sipping experience has been a joy so far, but here is where it gets painful. $599 a bottle. Ouch.