KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 19

19 12 2016

To say that things are heating up in the last week of Advent would be a massive understatement.  Yesterday we hit upon my favourite calendar whisky distiller in GlenDronach, and today we meet up with the only other producer that has managed to reach similar Advent highs, Taiwan’s Kavalan, which took second AND third place in last year’s calendar for me and which seems to do nothing but produce show-stopping whiskies in what on its face seems like one of the least likely locations on Earth.  But here’s the secret:  Taiwan is much, much hotter year-round than Scotland is, and massively more humid.  So?  So when you’re freshly distilled whisky spirit, sitting in a barrel and waiting for maturation magic to happen, those climatic conditions make the aging dance between cask and liquid go into hyperdrive, accelerating evaporation (which speeds up oxidation) and allowing the wood grain to penetrate into and flavour the whisky much more quickly.  The result:  a distillery that’s barely 10 years old with products on the shelf that you would taste blind and swear they’ve been aging for well over 20.  In the whisky world, you can’t ask for a better and more distinct advantage than that.

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This is a particularly interesting bottling because it is ALMOST, but not quite, identical to the Kavalan from Day 5 of 2015.  Like this one, that was also an ex-Bourbon cask bottling, but it was a cask-strength offering (like most of Kavalan’s lineup), whereas this is the first Kavalan whisky I’ve had that isn’t, bottled at 46% to give Kavalan a sort of “entry-level” whisky in its lineup.  Those words are in scare quotes because the bottle still costs $140, but I am here to tell you that it’s worth it.  It was bottled in mid-2015 (at 11:16 a.m., according to the hyper-specific back label info) and likely only spent a few years in Bourbon barrels, but the Taiwan time warp effect made it deep and rich and gold in the glass, albeit more yellow than amber.  It smells like the most delicious confection you could ever come up with:  part toasted marshmallow and vanilla bean, part wafer cookie and whipped cream, with some Corn Pops and hickory on the edges for good measure.  It then beams out the most outrageously tropical set of fruit flavours I have seen in a whisky.  Cantaloupe?  OK.  But guava?  Papaya?  WATERMELON?  What is happening??  Coconut flakes and Rice Krispie squares round out an absurdly delicious six-days-till-Christmas whisky:  exotic and playful, complex but oh so hedonistic.  I sense another podium finish, Kavalan.

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Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 5

5 12 2015

I have to head out of town overnight so I’m posting early, which means that I may be one of the first to alert you that Day 5 of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is a showstopper.  When it was first announced that this year’s calendar would contain an offering from Taiwan, I knew that could (literally) only mean one thing:  Kavalan, the first and only distillery in this small Asian nation.  Kavalan has only been around for 10 years, since 2005, but in that short span of time it has basically set the whisky world on fire and danced on the smouldering ruins, culminating in this year’s announcement that its Vinho Barrique malt (which I own and is spectacular) had been named the world’s best single malt whisky by the World Whisky Awards.  How can a distillery that just hit the decade mark be churning out world elite scotches so quickly?  (Remember, single malt whiskies have to be distilled solely by their producer.)  Don’t top whiskies usually need a long time to mature and develop their complex flavours?  Not in Taiwan.  Like the roasting hot Bourbon aging warehouses in Kentucky on warp speed, Kavalan gets extreme flavour transference and development during maturation in record time due to the heat and humidity almost always prevalent in the country, which speeds up both water evaporation and the reaction between spirit and barrel wood, resulting in concentrated, deeply coloured, layered whiskies after only a few years.  That sounds too good to be true for the distillery, but it’s real.  You have to taste it to believe it.

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This is a cask-strength (54% abv) rendition of the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak Single Malt Whisky.  I have to start by noting that the (stunning) packaging tube for this whisky identifies its colour as “Cattle egret”.  Cow heron!  I would have said “deep golden”, but sure.  You almost have to add water to drink this dram pleasurably, lest it otherwise Novocaine your entire tongue and eradicate your stomach lining.  This is one of those whiskies you can smell all day, due less to incredible complexity than to an immediate and easy, almost languid appeal:  brown sugar, white flowers, honey, Amaretto, fresh peach, kettle corn.  You feel like you should be floating down the Mississippi on a raft in the summer sniffing it.  That emotion only elevates when you taste it, as the unabashed sweetness from the bourbon barrels lend instant pleasure to the downright delicious flavours of coconut, baked apple, Corn Pops, vanilla bean and what I’ll call “caramel macchiato”, part burnt sugar, part creamy steamed milk, part roasted coffee.  This is pure joy in a (cask-strength) bottle.  We’re treading into premium territory now in the $140 range, but damned if you don’t get premium results for the price tag.  This is just achingly good.








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