Taiwanese distillery Kavalan was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year, when their 'Vinho barrique' wine cask-matured version of their 'Solist' range won best single malt at the World Whisky Awards. I've reviewed that one previously, and found it to be decent, but it would not have been my choice for best single malt in the world.
This (Oloroso) sherry cask version of the single cask Kavalan 'Solist' has won a few awards as well, but doesn't quite enjoy the massive prestige (and price tag) of the Vinho. These being single cask bottling's though, chances are what you're tasting isn't from the cask which was awarded anyway. I also touched on the effects of these awards in that previous review, so I won't go into that again.
None of Kavalan's whiskies carry an age statement, and are doubtlessly young by Scotch standards, but thanks to the hot & humid Taiwanese climate, their whisky generally matures much faster than it's Scottish counterpart. The entire Solist series is bottled at cask strength, without chill filtration or added colouring, and is quite nicely presented. They're also quite expensive, which is why I'm reviewing from a sample! But unfortunately this is also why I don't have a cask number to refer to.
The nice (very) dark red colour of this whisky is quite remarkable, and seeing as it's not artificial, is impressive, but also a little foreboding. There's obviously been a massive sherry influence here, and it may have overwhelmed the whisky. But Kavalan shave, toast and heavily char their casks before filling, which may have helped in that regard. I have heard rumours that these casks have been rinsed with sherry before use, just to coax some more colour out of the cask (and residual contents), but I can't say if this is true or not. While that wouldn't technically make it natural colour, they still haven't added any E150a colouring.
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask, NAS, 57.8% cask strength, Taiwan.
Single Oloroso sherry cask, of unknown type/size. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring.
Colour: Very, very dark reddy-brown.
Nose: Big hit of sherry. I would've guessed a mix of PX and Oloroso though. Rich and syrupy. Raisins, treacle, marmite, berries & cherries soaking in booze. A little spice, and a little nip of heat. Not particularly sweet either, reasonably well balanced in that regard, even leaning towards dry.
Texture: Big & punchy. Drying, and a little heat.
Taste: Medium-dry sherry mostly. Raisins again, some alcohol-soaked boiled pudding, with skin. A little rubbing alcohol, spiced cola, and cherry-flavoured cough syrup.
Finish: Chilli heat, then rich & dry sherry. A hint of malt at the end behind the sherry. Doesn't hang around too long, and get's soft and fruity quite quickly. I'd call it a medium finish.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: A decent showing, and as I expected, I prefer this one to the Vinho Barrique (wine cask) bottling. Although I did give it the same score! The sherry cask version doesn't have that bitter note that I didn't particularly like in the Vinho, and it's definitely a sherry monster. This was certainly one very active cask, perhaps even a little too active, even over the short maturation period. While that could have been a good thing, it doesn't leave a lot of room for the malt itself to shine through.
But if you're after a slightly different sherried malt, from a slightly different part of the world, I'd be going for Amrut's Intermediate Sherry, previously reviewed here. While I do prefer it to the Kavalan, and did score it higher, my main reasoning here is that it's around $50 AUD cheaper, and is considerably easier to find. It's also bottled at a similar strength, and also without chill filtration or added colouring. So it's a bit of a no-brainer, really...