The Dram Initiative #007 – Kavalan With Andrew Ferguson
Event Date: December 5th, 2013
It’s not very often you get to be part of a tasting where a considerable percentage of the great unwashed members haven’t already grossly overindulged themselves and formed some biased opinion on the whisky they are about to try, but this evening was an exception. Kavalan, a new whisky to the Calgary market, has just started hitting the store shelves; first at the Kensington Wine Market and now at Willow Park.
The Kavalan distillery experiences the same quick maturation that Amrut does in India. The temperatures in the slumbering Kavalan warehouses can be as high as 42 degrees Celsius. The rate at which the greedy angels imbibe is between 12%-15% annually, as opposed to the Land of Scotch, where the rate is much lower, around 2% annually. This means drink it or lose it. This also applies if you sit next to one of our Dram members at a club event, nicknamed “Long Arm Stuart”, but for a different reason.
On the frightfully cold night of December 4, 2013, approximately eight years after this expansive, highly automated Kavalan distillery was built by the King Car Group in the hot humid climate of Taiwan, the Dram Initiative sat down at the Marda Loop Community Whisky Hall to partake in one of the largest organized tasting of Kavalan single malt in the known world (well, at least we believe). The entrance fee, besides the event fee itself, included one item for the Calgary Food Bank, one of my personal, and the club’s favorite charities.
The single malts were tasted in this order:
1 Kavalan Single Malt Whisky 40% ABV. This is Kavalan’s first whisky produced and their bestselling expression. Matured in New oak, refill bourbon and Sherry casks. Approximately 3 years old and has Caramel coloring
2 King Car Whisky – Conductor 46% ABV. Single malt whisky. Blend of different Casks. The first to carry the name of the King Car Group instead of ‘Kavalan’ as their single malt whiskies have all be known as to date. Created as a well-rounded malt to represent the well-rounded Group, who operate in many industries.
3 Podium – Single Malt Whisky 46% ABV. Single malt whisky. Unlike other Kavalan expressions in that absolutely no bourbon or sherry casks were used here. Only new American oak casks and a few refill casks.
4 Kavalan Bourbon 46% ABV. Single malt whisky. Vatting of ex-Bourbon casks and reduced in strength. Provide by KWM.
5 Kavalan Sherry 46% ABV. Single malt whisky. Vatting of ex-Sherry casks and reduced in strength. Provided by KWM.
6 Concertmaster – Port Cask Finish, single malt whisky 40% ABV. First expression of the Concertmaster series. Matured in American oak casks and then finished in Portuguese (Ruby, Tawny and vintage Port) Port Cask.
The members enjoyed the first six malts, with number 5, the blended Sherry, the favorite; followed by number 3, the Podium, matured in new American oak casks.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of information provided by the distillery for these first six malts. We know they are all single malts but are unsure of caramel coloring and/or chill-filtration.
The next four single malts are from the Solist range. They are comprised of individual casks, bottled by hand at cask strength, without any coloring or chill-filtration. The name is derived from the word Soloist, as in part of an Orchestra. The word was changed to Solist as the Taiwanese had trouble pronouncing it.
1 Solist Bourbon 57.1% ABV Bottle 1 of 228 Cask# B080519070, Matured in American ex-Bourbon cask.
2 Solist Vinho 59.2% ABV Bottle 20 of 193 Cask# W080225006, Matured in used American oak wine barrel that has been recharred.
3 Solist Fino 57%ABV Bottle 479 of 505 Cask# S061127001, Matured Spanish Fino Sherry butt.
4 Solist Sherry 58.6% ABV Bottle 286 of 547 Cask# S060710022, Matured in Spanish Oloroso Sherry cask.
The Solist range is what I consider Kavalan’s premier whiskies, and it shows. It should be noted that the quality of these whiskies can change with the cask. This evening the Solist Bourbon won the show, but all four of these single cask whiskies were well received and thoroughly enjoyed.
What the famous Taiwanese-born, Academy award winning film director, Ang Lee, said about recognition within the movie industry, “In Hollywood you chart your life by Oscars”, I believe to be true in the whisky industry as well … you can chart your success by the awards and accolades you receive and Kavalan has been racking them up as of late.
Many thanks to Andrew Ferguson, our guest speaker for the evening, who gave an award winning presentation of these single malts equal to that of any performance given by the actors in the Academy award winning movie, Broke Back Mountain, directed by Mr. Lee and filmed just outside of Calgary here in Alberta.
Thank you to the Kensington Wine Market for kindly adding two new releases of Kavalan to round out the tasting to an even ten single malts. Normally we taste between 6-8 malts for the evening, but life is short, so if you have it … drink it. Also thanks to the committee and all who helped set up & tear down.
Gan bei! — Mandarin for ……… Bottoms up!
Your Humble Drudge,
– Words: Maltmonster
– Photos: Curt
I’d have more faith in the idea that accolades/awards equals quality if the whisky industry, much like the film industry, weren’t so awash in awards and competitions that any emerging distillery with a strong promotional budget couldn’t be virtually assured of winning SOMETHING its first time out. I’m also skeptical about how awards are becoming the positive shorthand for, and indeed the convenient replacement of, in depth critical assessment, particularly where the qualifications for adjectives/phrases such as “Best” and “of the Year” aren’t really spelled out; there are a lot of awards being handed out, but it’s not always clear on what basis.
Kavalan 5 Years Old, Soloist Fino won Best New World Single Malt Whisky at Whisky Magazine’s World Whiskies Awards of 2012. Go to reviews of the same whisky in the same magazine, however, and you read marks of 70/100 from Martine Nouet (“Bitter all the way. No balance. One dimensional. To try only if you are a ‘woodfreak’. Surprisingly, water tones the bitterness down”) and 75/100 from Rob Allanson (“One for the sherry heads, but pleasant enough”). This isn’t to pick on Kavalan, or even Whisky Magazine, necessarily (although the situation is what it is, so I feel citing it is far from unfair), just an illustration that, while awards always sound impressive, winning them might not be as difficult in terms of actual quality achievement as one might always think. Although I think the Malt Maniacs are as tough as any group of reviewers out there, for example, their annual MMAs award a Bronze Medal for whiskies scoring over 80 and a Silver for scoring over 85. In 2010, The International Whisky Competition (IWC, as opposed to the IWSC) awarded 48 medals to a total of 47 competing whiskies. It all makes for great press (and it really should be considered whether or not that’s actually the point of the exercise), but awards don’t always mean what people think they mean.
100% agreed. Well…95% agreed. Citing Martine and Rob…well…I usually don’t agree with either their assessments or tasting notes. Not a right and wrong thing, just not where I’d hang my hat.
Having said that…I almost never agreed with Michael Jackson either.
I don’t always agree with any particular reviewer either, but what I was getting at was some whiskies winning awards (and, strangely, that always being what’s remembered and quoted in marketing materials) in one context when, in another context, it’s the position of the awarding magazine or body that said whiskies aren’t really anything to write home about (and Allanson was a reviewer, chairman of the judges and the magazine’s editor). Similarly, Dave Broom gave Macallan Ruby Whisky Advocate’s Speyside Single Malt of the Year. While Ruby did score a respectable 90/100, the phrase “of the Year” gets around obvious questions like “so, was this the year’s best Speyside single malt?”, particularly when one reads Macallan Ruby deserves the award “for quality and also for chutzpah”(?) – just what is being awarded here and, if one somehow made a “scrappier” whisky, could it have beat Ruby for the award despite, perhaps, not being as good? And, more than a month later, Broom has yet to return to the magazine’s thread to answer questions about his championing of the 1824 Series in general in his comments about Ruby.
Or, taking all these awards just at face value, perhaps these whiskies ARE the best the industry can currently do, and that’s as close to a critical assessment of the industry as some of these writers will ever make, or ever be allowed to.
Jeff, I think there are too many whiskies out there to objectively rate and rank them. Scores whether on this site, Whisky Advocate, Whisky Mag, Whisky Fun or in the Whisky Bible are a guide, but nothing more. I prefer a simplified approach to identifying whether something is good, bad or worth the price tag. Though this is partly because as a retailer I am sensitive to offending a supplier (my own declared bias). At the end of the day, all these scores and reviews are just one, albeit very experienced, person’s opinion. People also have natural biases and preferences whether they recognize and declare them or not. Jim Murray is a classic example of this and perhaps one of the worst possible whisky pundits. My suggestion, use the various resources as a guide, seek out the whiskies you are curious about and decide for yourself. In the end your own opinion is the most important.
Oh, I do judge these things for myself – including pronouncements made by the whisky media, but these awards (rather than just the reviews that may or may not actually support them) ARE offered as being as authoritative. They’re presented as being a big deal, rendered by experts, and to be coveted on that basis. It’s a little disingenuous to read Ardbeg Galileo, for example, declared “Worlds Best Single Malt Whisky” and then find, when rather more modest reviews of only 80 and 90 appear in the same magazine, that the award and reviews are only offered “as a guide”. Nobody bothers to undercut their own expertise or credibility up front (Murray, for example, claims to be writing the whisky gospel). None of this stuff is offered as humble opinion (and it can’t be to be effective marketing), as it’s meant to directly influence sales by hyping these whiskies with quotable stamps of quality.
Should be noted that many of the online commentators do preface with the caveat that this is just their own humble opinion.
Should be noted that the professionals don’t – and they’re the ones giving these awards.