Tag Archives: Single Malt

Bunnahabhain 14 Year Old 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish

This is a limited edition bottling from Bunnahabhain – a Scottish distillery, located on the north-east coast of Islay. Their standard 18 year old bottling is one of my favourites for the style – which, surprisingly for Islay, is unpeated. But the coastal environment helps brings in some unique features, which combine well with Bunnahabhain signature oily, flavourful character.

Bunnahabhain releases limited editions somewhat irregularly – the last was an Oloroso cask finish in 2016, I believe. This release is a 14 year old single malt, distilled in 2003. It was initially aged in second-fill Oloroso sherry casks until 2011, at which point it was transferred into first-fill Pedro Ximénez casks. It was bottled in late 2017 at cask-strength, 54.3% ABV in this case.

Only 6768 bottles were produced, released in most jurisdictions in early 2018. I was lucky to come across the release of a single case at World of Whiskies in Calgary, Alberta in late March of this year – and promptly picked up two bottles for $180 CAD each, on discount ($200 list price, tax in). As you can imagine, these sold out fast! I’ve recently opened bottle #2389.

Here is how this limited release compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other Bunnas:

Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.66 ± 0.26 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain 40yo: 9.14 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.79 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona: 8.31 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Darach Ur: 8.40 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine: 8.44 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Moine (all bottlings): 8.64 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair: 8.44 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.58 ± 0.37 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

In terms of average score, it compares pretty well to the standard age-stated line of Bunnahabhain. But that’s a noticeably higher-than-usual standard deviation, indicating some pretty variable opinions on this one. Let’s see how it compares to some similar cask-strength sherry bombs:

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 8.95 ± 0.15 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (all batches): 8.92 ± 0.15 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.72 ± 0.35 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.64 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Classic Cut: 8.78 ± 0.19 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)

This Bunnahabhain Limited Release scores comparably to the best cask-strength offerings of competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Rich, dark gold with some light mahogany hues.

Nose: PX sherry dominates on the nose – this is a super sweet one. Molasses, caramel. Red fruits, dark berries, raisins and red grapes. Lemon cake. Candy cane. Faint hint of anise. Nutty. Classic Bunna funk (like an extinguished campfire). Sea salt. Fabulous nose if you like them sweet. No off notes.

Palate: Dark brown sugar, demerara sugar. Thick and syrupy. Caramel and red berries again. Cherry compote pie filling – complete with the buttery pastry shell as well. Chocolate shavings. Cinnamon. Oaky wood. Tobacco and coffee grinds. Goes down smooth. Slight astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. Candy-like notes are the most prominent, with brown sugar and caramel that linger (very chocolate bar-like). Light cinnamon. Sticky residue on lips and gums. Lemon returns, as does the nuttiness at the end.

With water, brown sugar now becomes very apparent on the nose. Fruits are enhanced in the mouth, which I appreciate – so I definitely recommend a few drops. But further water brings up the cinnamon and oaky notes (with some bitterness), and lightens the mouthfeel, so be careful here.

To call this a dessert dram is an understatement – it is a heavy assault of liquefied brown sugar! Personally, I prefer it over some of the batched sherry bombs that contain a mix of Oloroso/PX cask-aged whiskies, like the recent Glendronach Cask Strength batches.

Among reviewers, my stable of Reddit reviewers were generally extremely positive, giving it top scores – starting with theslicknick6, followed by MajorHop, HawkI84, Unclimbability, Strasse007 and WildOscar66. A below average score was given by throwboats (and a few others on the site). There aren’t many other reviews out there, but it gets a slightly above average score from Ruben of Whisky Notes and Gavin of Whisky Advocate. It gets an extremely low score from My Annoying Opinions (which frankly seems a bit bizarre).

Clearly, this is a whisky with some variable perspectives. Personally, I’m more in-line with Strasse007 and WildOscar66 above – I think this is a very nice whisky for this class. I think the Meta-Critic average is fair, especially relative to the Bunnahabhain 18 yo. I’m glad to have a bottle (and a spare) of this limited release.

Amrut Port Pipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2016)

This single cask Amrut was first matured in charred American virgin oak casks, followed by further maturation in a Port Pipe cask (which are very large casks, holding 650 litres). I have a bottle from the third batch of this whisky matured in Port Pipe cask #2712, exclusively bottled for Western Canada (where I picked this up).

To clarify a point of confusion – Amrut sometimes re-uses finishing casks (like these Port Pipes). The front label of my bottle indicates that the barrel was first filled in January of 2011, and the whisky was bottled in February of 2016. There’s a Batch No 3 imprint on the back label, indicating that this is the third time Port Pipe 2712 has been used.

I don’t know how long this batch was finished in this Port Pipe, but there are reviews out there for an earlier August 2013 release from this same #2712 finishing cask (so, this release has to be finished for less than 2.5 years, by definition). I have one of 660 bottles of this third batch. It is bottled at cask-strength of 59.0% ABV.

I am currently tracking four Amrut Port Pipe casks in database (#2713, 2714, 3881, and 4668). To date, it is only #2712 and 2713 where I can find multiple bottlings reported.

Let’s see how the various Amrut offerings compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut 100 Peated: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.91 ± 0.46 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.70 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.08 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.97 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2013): 8.95 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2016): 8.76 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask #2713 (2013): 8.68 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.75 ± 0.38 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.82 ± 0.48 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (all batches): 9.13 ± 0.18 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

Interesting, the Amrut single cask expressions (on average) don’t seem to fare quite as well as some of the standard bottlings – although they still get above-average overall scores for the single malt class. Let’s see what I find in the glass for my bottle:

Nose: A pleasantly peated nose, with a strong salted-meat aroma – smoked bacon and salted pork in particular. Smoked BBQ ribs. This is a very “meaty” nose, unlike the medicinal or rubbery noses of most heavily-peated Islay malts (i.e. its more like some Highland Park or Ledaig expressions, or even Springbank). Anise and dark chocolate, very earthy. Blueberries and raisins. It’s a great combination of peat and sweetness – it works. Surprisingly little alcohol burn for 59% ABV. No real off notes.

Palate: Strong attack of peat and sea salt to begin, followed by classic bourbon notes – honey and brown sugar.  Honey glazed ham. Not as smokey in the mouth. Anise and dark chocolate again, plus caramel. Cinnamon and black pepper. Fruits lean more toward the tropical now (mango, papaya), not really finding the port so much. Bacon notes come back at the end. Thick mouthfeel, slightly oily. Surprisingly easy to drink for 59% ABV.

Finish: Long. Leaves a noticeable tingle on the lips and tongue that is oddly pleasurable – this is actually quite anesthetizing (as you would expect from the strength). Sea salt and BBQ-glazed ribs. Some dried fruit notes appear over time.  Smoke lingers to the end.

With a little water, the sweet fruity notes on the nose are accentuated. Mouthfeel is unaffected. Lingering sweetness is increased on the finish as well, which becomes more sticky on the lips and gums.

If you keep adding water, to bring it down to more typical whisky strength, you will find the wood spices pick up a lot in the mouth (especially the cinnamon and pepper) – so it still leaves a sting.  Finish becomes more astringent at this diluted level. This is one that can handle of wide range of water, with differing effects. I suggest you experiment to find your personal sweet spot.

A pleasant dram, but not overly complex. I find the average Meta-Critic scores for the peated Port Pipe singe casks to be a little on the low side. I would rate this particular bottling slightly higher than what it gets above (i.e., ~8.9).

A number of Reddit reviewers have sampled from this particular single cask #2712 (2016), such as xile_, Devoz, Ethanized, Saba007 and Pork_Bastard. Thomas of Whisky Saga was a big fan of another batch, as was Serge of Whisky Fun (for this batch) and Michael of Diving for Pearls. My Annoying Opions, Ralfy and Jim Murray all give their batches good scores. Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Serge of Whisky Fun (for this batch) were not impressed.

Scapa Skiren

Being a big fan of the other Orkney island distillery (Highland Park), I’ve been curious to try a Scapa release. Literally right down the road from HP, this second-most-Northerly distillery in Scotland produces a relatively gentle and honeyed based spirit, considered to be lightly-peated.

Originally founded in 1885, it was acquired in the 1950s by classic Canadian whisky producer Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. Now part of the Pernod Ricard spirits empire, Scapa was shuttered between 1994 and 2004. While a number of age-statement releases were released upon re-opening, for the last several years the no-age-statement Scapa Skiren  has been the distillery’s standard bottling.

Scapa’s website says they consider Skiren to be “the honeyed tropical one because of its smooth, creamy sweetness with a hint of tropical fruit, citrus and coastal heather.” It is exclusively matured in first-fill American oak (so, ex-bourbon barrels).

Bottled at 40% ABV. It currently retails for $80 CAD at the LCBO.

Let’s see how it compares to others in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database.

Arran Malt Machrie Moor Peated: 7.92 ± 0.55 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.61 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.65 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.29 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park Magnus: 8.64 ± 0.17 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.49 ± 0.37 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa 16yo: 8.29 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa Skiren: 7.96 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

I sampled this single malt from my brother’s bottle.

Nose: Sweet peat, with light smoke. Sickly-sweet honeysuckle (honeyed indeed!). Standard pear and apple. Maybe a touch of pineapple. Very basic, not a lot going on here. I’m detecting some youthful organic notes, but the light peat helps to obscure these somewhat.

Palate: Incredibly sweet arrival, with very simple sugar and light honey. Pear. Lemon peels. Buttered toast. Very light mouthfeel. Not getting a lot of wood spices, beyond standard nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon. Very little evidence of the peat now. Seems pretty tame (and dull, to be honest).

scapa-skirenFinish: Not much of one. Apple juice and some Juicy Fruit gum linger, with some very light oak spice. A touch of smoke returns at the end, but is subtle. Unfortunately some oak bitterness creeps in over time, detracting on the way out.

Sad to say, but I find this to be a very forgettable whisky – there is nothing that really stands out for me. There is just too little character. That said, it is not particularly offensive, and I don’t get a lot of off-notes. I suppose it could be a decent palate opener, before trying more sophisticated whiskies in an evening.

Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer, followed by Jim Murray. Generally positive (though with lower scores) are Serge of Whisky Fun and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. But I’m personally in the camp of Thomas of Whisky Saga, Oliver of Dramming, Gavin of Whisky Advocate and the boys at Quebec Whisky. Just not enough character for me to recommend, especially for the price. You are best sticking with an entry-level HP.

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Cragganmore is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts series. This is where they select one distillery from each geographical region of Scotland (from among their stable of distilleries) to showcase the “classic” malt style of that region. Cragganmore specifically represents the Speyside region in this case – which is traditionally thought of as relatively gentle malts.

As I explain on my Single Malt vs. Blends page, this historical classification based on geography simply isn’t very relevant any more (if it ever was). The traditional production methods used in different regions can (and often are) adjusted today to suit a range of modern styles. This allows each distillery to offer a wide range of diverse products, to appeal to different tastes.

At any rate, at least it helps save some of the output of these distilleries from being poured (literally) into Diageo’s behemoth blending operation. Cragganmore is believed to be one of the principal malts in Johnnie Walker Black Label, as well as Old Parr.

The distillery was opened by a former manager of both Macallan and Glenlivet, John Smith, in 1869. It draws water from Craggan Burn, off the River Spey. Their main claim to fame is the distinctive flat-topped design of their spirit stills (as opposed to the more common elongated necks of their competitors). This is supposed to produce a particularly “sweet and complex” base spirit, according to Diageo.

This official bottling of the distillery’s 12 year old malt is reported to come exclusively from refill bourbon casks. I’ve also seen some reports online that some portion of it comes from sherried casks, but I find that hard to believe after sampling (see tasting notes below).

Bottled at the industry minimum standard of 40% ABV. I picked up a 200 mL bottle for ~$25 CAD when passing through Norway last year. Currently $67 CAD for a 750 mL bottle at the LCBO.

Here is how it compares to other relatively gentle malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, of similar price:

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo: 8.56 ± 0.16 on 12 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.43 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.47 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Cragganmore 12yo: 8.35 ± 0.29 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Cragganmore 25yo: 9.03 ± 0.06 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Cragganmore NAS (Special Release 2016): 8.79 ± 0.62 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.41 ± 0.56 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.65 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Grant 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.46 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant 12yo: 8.33 ± 0.52 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray 12yo: 8.05 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$)
Glencadam 10yo: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.43 on 25 reviews ($$$)
Kilkerran 12yo: 8.88 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Tamdhu 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.58 on 18 reviews ($$$$)

Where is what I find in the glass:

Nose: I get a strong apple juice note to start, then light honey, vanilla and some caramel. Also some canned pear. Vaguely floral, I get heather and hay most noticeably. A bit malty, with a touch of Graham cracker. Light smoke, with a bit of vegetal funk (that last one is surprising for a classic Speyside). A nice combo overall.  Reminds me a bit of Oban 14 year old.

Palate: Cream and honey to start, then caramel and vanilla notes. Apple and pear again. Malty, with Graham cracker notes. Not as much smoke as the nose suggested, but there is a little something here tingling the taste buds. A vague nuttiness. Some oak spice. Would be nice at higher strength, but ‎actually quite drinkable as is. Some bitterness builds at end of the palate (bitter almonds).

Finish: Medium length (and longer than most gentle whiskies). Smoke residue lingers, along with some bitter almonds. Peppery too now, wasn’t getting that before. A bit of fruit returns at the end. Nice, easy finish.

This is quite sippable. I’m not really getting any sherry notes here, but it is a well executed malt for the style. Personally, I would put this at least on par with An Cnoc 12. It is not at the level of Oban 14 or Dalwhinnie 15, but the touch of smoke here really helps add character (and bring up its score).

In my view, Cragganmore 12 Year Old is a good one to try soon after starting out with single malts, once you have sampled the ubiquitous Glenlivet/Glenfiddich 12. Like with the Oban and Dalwhinnie, this is a whisky where I think you will appreciate the extra character it brings over the common entry-level expressions.

The highest scores I’ve seen for this malt comes from Nathan the Scotch Noob and Andre of Quebec Whisky. Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate are also generally positive. More typical (and more in keeping with my own assessment) are Ralfy and Serge of Whisky Fun. Relatively low scores come from Jason of In Search of Elegance, Jim Murray, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, and Thomas of Whisky Saga.

 

Kavalan King Car Conductor

Although my first experiences with Taiwanese producer Kavalan were the entry-level Single Malt and Concertmaster editions, King Car Conductor has similarly been around for some time. Indeed, this was the first expression launched under the King Car name (which is the parent conglomerate group that owns Kavalan).

This single malt was apparently designed to showcase a wide range of flavours, consistent with the spirit of the parent company’s diverse range of interests.  It is rumoured to contain a wide mix of cask types, but I don’t have any specific information on the age or composition.

Bottled at a higher ABV of 46% (like Podium), it could be considered a step up from the 40% ABV Single Malt and Concertmaster offerings. And like Podium, I managed to pick up a 50 mL sample bottle on a recent trip through Tokyo.  Bottling code date was 2016.04.21 07:06 on my sample.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.48 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.09 ± 0.60 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very fruity nose, with various tropical fruits – papaya, guava, pineapple, coconut and banana. I could smell the fruit before bringing the glass to my nose! Lemon. Lots of caramel. Some vanilla. But that’s it really – not much character beyond the fruity and woody sweetness. No real off notes, except for being a bit spirity.

Palate: More honeyed in the mouth, although still with caramel and vanilla. There is something that reminds me of that classic bourbon barrel char sweetness here. Fruits are less distinct, and seem watered down (e.g., add water-logged melon and cantaloupe). Lemon pledge. Getting the wood spices now, cinnamon in particular, and black pepper. A bit of ethanol heat as well, more than expected from the ABV. Also seems a bit watery in mouthfeel given the ABV, but a touch oily (which I like). Classic Kavalan astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium. The fruit returns on the finish, but more dried now. A touch nutty. Soft wood spice rounding it out, this is actually a nice fade out (if a bit simple). It is actually less astringent than most entry-level Kavalans.

Certainly a step up from the base Kavalan Single Malt expression – this one has more fruit on the nose (and less astringency on the finish). I strongly recommend trying it with a few drops of water, to help tame the heat on the palate.

Overall, an easy sipper with a fair bit of fruity character – but not too challenging. I still find it to be a fairly basic expression, lacking the vibrant character of their various “finished” offerings (especially the Solist series). But still happy to finish a glass.

Among reviewers, the most positive review I’ve seen is Dominic of Whisky Advocate, followed by Jim Murray and Oliver of Dramming – and most of the Reddit reviewers. I’m very much in the same camp.  Less positive are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, and Ralfy.

 

Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask

The Kavalan Manzanilla sherry single cask is one of the limited Solist releases, like the Amontillado and Moscatel single cask expressions. Unlike the more common Solist ex-Bourbon and Sherry single casks from this Taiwanese producer, these specialty limited-release versions come at a high retail cost (typically >$500 USD, if you can find them).

Manzanilla is a type of fino sherry – a pale, dry sherry from the Andalusia region of Spain. “Manzanilla” apparently means chamomile in Spanish, and the flavour of this wine is said to be reminiscent of chamomile tea. Bottled at cask-strength, 57.8% ABV in this case.

Typically, these Kavalan specialty casks get high scores from reviewers – but they are not typically widely reviewed, given their relative scarcity. Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask: 8.76 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.48 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Amontillado Cask: 9.13 ± 0.21 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask: 9.10 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Moscatel Cask: 9.18 ± 0.19 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.09 ± 0.60 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Being a big fan of the ex-Bourbon and Sherry Solists, I’ve been curious to experience the influence of these more rarefied specialty sherry casks. My sample came from theslicknick6 of Reddit.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Brown sugar. Drier sherry notes, consistent with fino sherry. Grape juice. Lemon. Very earthy, with moist and dry notes. Over-roasted coffee beans. Fisherman’s friend throat lozenges. Dry cardboard. A pronounced sourness, which is a bit off putting. Surprising amount of organic off notes, definitely seems young. With water, the sweetness is raised – which helps compensate against the sourness.

Palate: Very sweet arrival, with brown sugar and caramel. Also creamed sugar. Raisins, sultanas, cherries and dark red grapes. Cocoa powder. Nuts. Leather. Vanilla. Cinnamon. Very thick mouthfeel – syrupy – like other solists. As usual, very nice in the mouth. Can actually drink this neat, which is impressive for a sherry bomb. With water, even sweeter (as expected), and mouthfeel becomes more oily.

Finish: Long, with slowly fading raisin and brown sugar notes. The winey aspects of the sherry build up with time, which are nice. Good mix of sweet and sour. Cocoa persists to the end.

It is only the disjointed nose that holds me back from giving this a top score. On the palate and finish, this comes across as a more refined version of the classic Solist Sherry expression. A little water helps, but it honestly doesn’t need much. A very pleasant sipper.

Personally, I would score this at the low end of the range of reviews out there, as I prefer most other Solist expressions I’ve tried. theslicknick6 gave this particular bottle the highest score I’ve seen from him yet. Strasse007 was also very positive of this bottling. For other bottles of Solist Manzanilla, Serge of Whisky Fun and Jim Murray are similarly very positive, followed by Josh the Whiskey Jug and Jonny of Whisky Advocate. I’d definitely come in at the lower end of reviews here, but it is still a good pour to be sure.

Penderyn Legend

This is my first review of a whisky from the Welsh producer Penderyn. There is a long tradition of whisky making in Wales – but it apparently took the 20th century off (i.e., the last maker shut down in 1894).  Founded in 2000, the Welsh Whisky Company restarted production in the village of Penderyn (from where they take their name).

Penderyn whisky has been on the market since 2004, and they are currently the only Welsh whisky maker that I am aware of. Note that they also produce a number of non-whisky liqueurs and spirits. Not exactly a house-hold name, Penderyn is known to focus on select international markets – including Taiwan, Australia and France.

As an interesting note, they started production with a unique copper-pot still design that allows them to produce a very high-proof distillate (92% alcohol) with a single distillation step. While they have added some additional traditional still support since then, I believe the bulk of their whisky remains from in this single-distilled format.

This Legend expression is part of their latest series of no-age-statement (NAS) single malt whiskies, along with Myth and Celt. All are bottled at 41% ABV.

Legend has been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks before being finished in oak barriques that previously held Madeira wine. Bottled at a slightly lower strength (and younger age) than the standard Penderyn Madeira Wood, you could consider this the latest expression of their classic “house style”.

As an aside, I find the presentation attractive – a minimalist-style bottle with bold red packaging featuring the illustration of a red dragon (the symbol of the Welsh national flag). This Legend release is not chill filtered, and doesn’t appear to have any artificial colouring – both significant pluses, in my view. It typically retails for $63 CAD at the LCBO, but I recently found it on close-out for $44 at a local store.

Here is how Penderyn whiskies fare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to some other new European producers:

Box Dalvve: 8.48 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.16 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.93 ± 0.05 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt: 8.14 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.67 ± 0.33 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra The Swedish Whisky (Brukswhisky): 8.44 ± 0.57 on 10 reviews ($$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.74 ± 0.63 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.97 ± 0.62 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Aur Cymru: 7.73 ± 0.59 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Legend: 7.62 ± 0.78 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Madeira: 7.91 ± 0.99 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Myth: 8.40 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Peated: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Sherrywood: 7.73 ± 0.57 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.84 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.89 ± 0.13 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.76 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Note that I didn’t have enough reviews of Penderyn Celt to add to the database. Typically, Penderyn whiskies are not as well received as the new Swedish producers (i.e., BOX, Smogen, etc).

Let’s see what I find in the glass for Legend:

Nose: Sweet nose, with light maple syrup and icing sugar. Tart apples, peaches and blackberries – reminds me of a peach cobbler. Something tropical – although perhaps that is just green fruit notes. Malty. Sour milk note (some might call this “baby vomit”). Definite organic off-notes, tending to the more funky side (e.g. old sweatsocks). Hairspray. Seems like a young whisky, could definitely have benefited from more time in the barrel.

Palate: Sweet arrival, with the icing sugar moving more towards molasses now – plus a candy apple sugar coating. Peach and pear, plus those tart apples (think early-season Macintosh). Dark grapes. Lemon citrus, including pith. You can really taste the madeira finishing here, complementing the malt nicely. Classic wood spices show up, but mild – mainly nutmeg. Has a tangy metallic taste on the swallow, with some bitterness immediately afterwards. No real burn, in keeping with the 41% ABV.

Finish: Surprisingly long. Initial light brown sugar/molasses notes, along with peach and raisin. This is followed by a lingering sourness that builds over time. It’s actually not such a bad pairing, and I’m surprised to see such a light young whisky linger for so long.

I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I picked up this bottle – and it does have a lot of rough edges (especially on the nose). But it has a longer finish than I expected, and is an interesting balance of sweet and sour. It could make a decent summer evening whisky.

To be clear, this doesn’t compare to the young whiskies coming out of the new start-ups in Sweden (i.e., BOX and Smogen). But it is still better than I expected from the (reduced) price and average reviewer score. I could imagine a lightly peated version of this doing pretty well (e.g. Celt), as that could help balance out the sour and off-notes. But realistically, an extra distilling step and extended aging would likely really help here.

This whisky generally doesn’t do well among reviewers, with the exception of Jim Murray (who ranks it above average overall). My own assessment would be more in line with blaw84 of Reddit and Martin of Quebec Whisky. I certainly rate it higher than Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, or Jonny of Whisky Advocate, who are very negative.

Kavalan Rum Cask – Distillery Exclusive

I have reviewed a good number of expressions from Taiwanese whisky producer Kavalan. While not commonly available, most of these can be found in various specialty shops around the world.  Today I am looking at one of the two Distillery Reserve bottlings, available only at the distillery – the Kavalan Rum Cask.

These Distillery Reserves are generally bottled in batches of ~400-450, in small bottles of 300 mL. My sample came courtesy of redditor theslicknick6. This sample was from bottle 363 of 428, from cask M111104040A, and was bottled at 57.8% ABV.  They apparently retail for ~$50 USD at the distillery.

As I explained on my Solist Sherry single cask review, you can trace the history of the bottling from the cask number. M apparently stands for Rum cask (go figure), the first 11 is distilling year (2011), the second 11 is November, the 04 is the 4th of the month, and the 040 is the 41st barrel of that day (so, the cask was filled early in the day on November 4th, 2011).  On the Solist expressions, you also get a sticker with the specific bottling date and hour, allowing you get a  precise age (I don’t know if these are present on the Distillery Reserve bottles).

Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Angel’s Envy Rye (Rum-finished): 8.67 ± 0.52 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 14yo Carribean Cask: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask: 8.76 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.53 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Subdued compared to other cask-strength Kavalan’s I’ve tried. Honey, followed by some light caramel and a touch of vanilla. Standard apple and pear (more stewed than fresh), and tropical papaya and mango. Pina colada (of course). Lemon curd. Graham crackers.  Malted milk chocolate bars. No real off notes, except perhaps for a faint whiff of dry cardboard. And surprisingly, no nose hair singe for the high alcohol strength. Water brings up that cardboard note – it doesn’t seem to need it.

Palate: Super sweet on the palate – overflowing honey and nectar, molasses. This tastes more like a rum than a whisky! Still getting the papaya coming through fairly strongly, with pineapple, mango and banana. Some light peppery notes build with time. Some mild wood oak spice (nutmeg). A bit of cardamon. Very easy to drink neat, despite the high ABV. Water enhances the molasses, and leaves the rest unaffected. Again, it’s not really required.

Finish: Medium length. Not a lot of character here, the notes fade our fairly quickly (again, more like a rum). Light caramel and golden raisins. Not particularly spicy, beyond the mild wood spice. Leaves a sticky residue on the gums and tongue at cask strength – which dissipates quickly if water is added.

This is very easy to drink, but it strikes me as something of a novelty rum-whisky hybrid in many ways. The typical ethanol burn of the high ABV has been greatly attenuated – suggesting the strong sugar presence from the rum.  It seems well put together, but not something I could see myself going for very often.

Personally, I would score this lower than the Meta-Critic, and give it only a slightly above-average score (i.e., 8.6).  theslicknick6 of Reddit has reviewed this specific bottling, and gives it a very high score (by his rating system). Jim Murray has reviewed several other bottlings, and given them all a well above age score. Would giving a shot if you are taking the distillery tour, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend seeking this one out.

Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Cask

A staple of the Solist series from Taiwanese producer Kavalan, I’ve been looking forward to trying this single cask malt whisky for a while now.

Late last year, I reviewed Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak – the vatted version of this whisky, reduced to 46% ABV. Like its Sherry Oak sibling, this is a good way to try a variant of the relatively expensive (and hard to find) Solist bottlings.  Although I’ve seen the Solist ex-Bourbon in my travels, it remains relatively steep here in Canada (if you can find it). I still regret not picking up a bottle when I had the chance passing through Taiwan a couple of years ago (for ~$100 CAD at that time, sigh).

Unlike the vatted ex-Bourbon Oak bottling, this is a true single cask whisky, bottled at cask strength. It was one of the first Solist bottlings to make a big splash on the international scene, garnering a Gold Medal at both the ISC 2010 and the IWSC 2011 competitions. As the name suggests, it is aged exclusively in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

My sample came courtesy of redditor Throzen. Cask number was B101126003A, bottle number was 069 out of 182. Bottled at 57.8% ABV.

Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming vanilla and caramel to start. Fruits are definitely tropical, with papaya, banana and pineapple. Tons of coconut – makes me think of a pina colada. Orange citrus (juice and peels). Boston cream pie. Black pepper. Has a vague musty smell, along with some acetone, which are the only off-notes for me. Significant nose hair singe from the high alcohol content – this does better with some water to tame to raw ethanol. With water, some candied fruit notes appear, and butterscotch adds to the caramel.

Palate: Wow, that’s a hot one at cask-strength! More honeyed in the mouth, but still with lots of caramel. Milk chocolate. Fruits are subdued, more green bananas and pineapple juice now. Pepper and classic oak spices pick up, with some woody bitterness. Sticky, oily residue on the lips and gums after swallowing, which is nice. Again, you need some water to really open this up. Water brings in a lovely silky quality, like a melted caramilk bar, and turns it even sweeter in the mouth.

Finish: Long. The coconut returns on the finish, with some lingering tropical fruits. Not particularly sweet on the way out, as these are nicely balanced by the woody notes. Vaguely nutty. A grassy element also picks up now. This is a well-integrated finish, with that classic Kavalan astringency coming up at the very end.

My advice is to not be shy with the water here – it can handle a good amount. And it nicely tames the heat while keeping all the core elements intact (although it does make it even sweeter).

Fans of ex-bourbon oak maturation (and pina coladas!) will find a lot to like here. For me, this is a definite dessert whisky. It is so evocative of a tropical vacation, it almost doesn’t seem like whisky. I would score it higher than the ex-Bourbon Oak – largely because of the higher strength, which gives you more flexibility to customize the experience. I would also score it slightly higher than the Meta-Critic average, closer to ~9.0 in my view.

Among reviewers, the most positive (like me) are of Dominic and John of Whisky Advocate, Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer. Moderately positive reviews come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The lowest scores I’ve seen come from Andre of Quebec Whisky, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Sinjun86 of Reddit – but these are still around the overall score for all whiskies reviewed. Clearly, this is one that is hard to go wrong with.

 

Kavalan Podium

Podium is another single malt expression from Taiwanese producer Kavalan. It is matured in a combination of new American oak (virgin oak) and the distillery’s refill casks, making it an interesting blend of new and old.

I don’t see this expression around very often, so I was happy to come across a 50ml mini bottle at a BIC Camera in Tokyo last month. I was not as happy about the $19 CAD list price. It seems virtually all Japanese and Taiwanese whisky in Japan has reached unbelievable price levels. That’s supply and demand for you.

Bottled at 46% ABV. My mini bottle had a bottling code of 2015.12.19 08:06.

Let’s see how it compares to other Kavalan expressions in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt Whisky: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon: 8.85 ± 0.21 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

That’s a very good score for a non-Solist expression.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and tropical fruits – mango, papaya, banana and pineapple. Vanilla and caramel. Something reminiscent of a brandy or rum cask finish, unusually sweet.  Coconut and toasted oak. Cereal. A bit of earthy funk. All in all quite an interesting nose, with a good amount of character. No real off notes.

Palate: Sweet notes dominate initially – caramel and honey – followed by the same tropical fruit notes. There is also something floral now, but artificial (i.e. perfumy). Oak spices, cinnamon and all spice, plus pepper and anise. Also ginger. Somewhat woody – this definitely seems like a combination of refill and virgin oak. Warming as you swallow, with some raw ethanol lingering (even after multiple sips). This is unfortunately a little too raw and hot on the palate, compared to the lovely nose and initial taste.

Finish: Medium length. The artificial note persists, alongside the honey. Cinnamon and oaky spices. Dried apple shows up now. Leather. A bit of bitterness comes in at very end – and that trademark Kavalan astringency.

With water, caramel really picks up in mouth. Astringency on the finish is unaffected. I definitely recommend you try it with a little water.

Based on the nose, I had high hopes for this whisky. But it just seems a bit too hot and young on the palate, which detracts from the otherwise nice balance of refill casks and virgin wood. While it has some distinctive elements, at the end of the day I would only give this a slightly above average score. Although I’m in the minority here, I would probably even recommend Concertmaster over this one.

Among reviewers, it gets very high scores from Dominic of Whisky Advocate, Jim Murray, and washeewashee of Reddit. It gets more moderately positive (though average scores) from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Ruben of Whisky Notes. It gets a lower score from of Krishna of Malt Maniacs.  Personally, I would tend toward the mid-range of this panel.

1 2 3 10