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Kavalan Solist Vinho

Kavalan: Finally Caught My Unicorn!

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@SquidgyAshReview by @SquidgyAsh

25th Mar 2013


Kavalan Solist Vinho
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Tonight I finally got a chance to crack open my last cask strength Kavalan. The Soloist Vinho Cask.

Kavalan has, for the last two years, been my unicorn.

You're probably shaking your head when I say Kavalan has been my unicorn, but I'll try and bring you up to speed.

Think Gone in 60 Second's, you know the movie about the car thieves stealing all the high end cars, you know the one featuring Nicholas Cage.

In the movie Nicholas Cage is chasing a car, specifically the 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500.

Every time he manages to steal one, something happens that ruins the entire attempt. The unicorn is this impossible object of your desires that no matter how hard you try, you're never able to attain.

Kavalan was my unicorn, a whisky that I've pursued for over two years to put my hands on and after dozens of phone calls all around the United Kingdom, Australia and Asia I finally managed it.

I'd heard about Kavalan a couple years ago, this mythical Taiwanese whisky that was blowing all the other whiskies out of the water, a whisky that was stupidly young, 3, 4, 5 years old, that was incredibly complex, full of tropical aromas and flavors.

I'd called liquor stores all over Australia, the United Kingdom and Asia, trying to put my hands on a bottle of this whisky.

Most liquor store owners just said "Kaval what?"

My wife and I called the distillery, emailed their showrooms, again just trying to put my hands on a bottle, any bottle of theirs.

No can do we heard back. The distillery wasn't exporting out of South East Asia at this time, but maybe in a few years they would.

Whenever a friend went over to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, you name the South Eastern Asian country, I'd send them there with several hundred in cash with strict instructions to put a bottle into my hands if at all possible.

They had no success.

It got to the point where I was debating planning a trip to Singapore or Vietnam just to pick up a bottle.

In fact I actually planned my wife's and my trip to Scotland partially around an attempt to pick up a bottle, setting up our layover in Singapore for quite a few hours in order to have time to wander around Singapore's bottle shops.

But Kavalan just fell into my lap, a couple of weeks ago, quite randomly.

A liquor store that I follow on Facebook posted about a Kavalan tasting that they'd be hosting.

7 drams for $30 plus a light dinner.

When we arrive at the liquor store we find out that the tasting will be held upstairs in the little Italian restaurant up there and what we'll be tasting is going to be awesome, delicious and yummy.

On the tasting menu is a nice selection of whiskies, including 3 cask strengths: King Car Conductor, Kavalan Concertmaster, Kavalan Single Malt, Kavalan Soloist ex Bourbon Cask Strength, Kavalan Soloist Sherry Cask Strength, and Kavalan Soloist Vinho Cask Strength

The gentleman who at first I thought was the rep of Kavalan talks a bit about Kavalan, but we quickly learn he's one of the owners of an liquor importers and they're the guys running Whisky Live in Australia.

Between paying attention to all the details of Whisky Live and the cooking food smells I decided immediately after tasting the cask strengths that I needed to own a bottle of each of them.

The bourbon cask was great, the sherry cask was nothing short of epic and tonight was the night for the Vinho cask!

I crack open the bottle and pour a dram into my glencairn.

Dark, quite dark. Not so dark as the sherry cask, but there's no way on looks alone that you'd think this was a four year old whisky.

Oh god the aromas hit my nose and immediately DEMAND my attention.

Incredibly tropical and stupidly complex. Lots of vanilla with some caramelized brown sugar and heaps of tropical fruits. Watermelon, rock melon (cantaloupe for you non aussies), mango, cinnamon, citusy tangerines, so much going on in this nose that I happily sat here for over an hour just nosing the whisky.

My wife noses the whisky and very hesitantly says that it's not what she suspects and that she thinks her palate must be off tonight because she is getting heaps and heaps of ripe tropical fruits.

I just look at her and grin and inform her that if her palate is off, then so is mine.

My wife takes the first taste of the dram and just looks at me and smiles, saying it's full of ripe sultanas and is absolutely delicious.

My turn though!

Vanilla, sultanas, slight citrus, cherries, coconut, cinnamon and some toasted oak, fill my mouth and just begs me to take another taste.

A stupidly long finish full of vanilla, coconut, oak and at the very end, not even a memory, but a hint of a memory, tropical fruits.

An excellent whisky, one worth every cent I paid for it and one that was me very excited to see how it opens up after a couple of months time in the bottle and that's a good thing considering that sadly like the rest of the Kavalan whiskies, you're currently going to pay a pretty penny for it. Roughly $75 AUS for a 200mlish bottle. Is it worth it?

Hell yah! This distillery has completely lived up to my dreams and made my pursuit of it completely worthwhile.

Like any and all the Kavalan's I've tried this is a stellar whisky. If you get a chance to try it, DO SO!

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alteredstate commented

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your epic journey as well as your happy ending of finally finding not one, but several unicorns! Congrats!

11 years ago 0

SquidgyAsh commented

Thanks @Alteredstate! Glad you enjoyed it. Kavalan is so very good and has been completely worth every bit of the effort put into acquiring it. If you ever get the chance to try a wee nip, do so! Their entry levels are quite nice, reminiscent of a nice Speyside/Highland (think Glenmorangie) malt, but the cask strengths are where they are just brilliant!

11 years ago 0

Frost commented

What a mission!

I picked up a bottle from the distillery. Am yet to open it...

10 years ago 0

SquidgyAsh commented

Jealous! I so can't wait until I visit the distillery! I'll be coming back with so much whisky!!

10 years ago 0

Frost commented

I certainly brought back my duty free limit in Kavalan. And sampled enough while in Taiwan before leaving too.

10 years ago 0

sengjc commented

Nice write up mate, mine's the Solist Sherry cask.

No longer a unicorn as they are readily available in AUS now - in VIC and NSW at least.

10 years ago 0

sengjc commented

BTW, managed to attend a small "whisky exposition" with a mate hosted by David Vitale owner and distiller of Starward here in Melbourne. He let us sample some yet-to-be released "side-projects", a cask strength fresh Shiraz cask matured Aussie malt - and I do mean fresh, straight from the winery overnight in a refrigerated truck then filled with new-make, un-recharred and un-preserved.

Wonderfully unique stuff. If you like your wine barrel matured malts, this is something to look out for.

He indicated it would be released in the not too distant future as a special bottling of sorts.

10 years ago 0

SquidgyAsh commented

I think there's only one or two bottleshops over here carrying any of the Kavalan range. The Sherry Cask is a very close contender for me and honestly depending on my mood edges out the vinho every so often.

That is AWESOME!!! Regarding the David Vitale tasting! I plan on hitting up Melbourne this year and visiting the distillery! Very excited to see the bottling your talking about though!!

10 years ago 0

Virgini commented

Hi Squidyash, I am so so glad to read your review as out of my tasting journey of single malts, blended malts and bourbons, this Kavalan Vinho Solist and the first and only Pappy Van Winkle 10 that I have tried of the Pappy family is a tie. I don't know much enough to really describe the taste, aroma, finish and complexity of the malts that I tasted. But I love love love this Kavalan Vinho Solist. I have tried about five types of Kavalan, with some more expensive than this Vinho Solist, but this one is still my most favorite. The I tasted the Pappy 10 (only managed to get it after three full days and nights of lining up in front of the Liquor Store to wait for the release. Then I love love love the Pappy also. The difference was the Kavalan Vinho Solist is already lovable when I opened the bottle. But I had mixed feelings about the Pappy 10 when I tried for the first time as it seemed very strong on both the nose and taste. But I re-tried it after 7 months and it was indescribably complex. I don't like wines that are sweet except sauternes and Tokaji, but strange enough I kind of like malts vanillaly sweet in some ways. But on the other hand I found the McCallan kind of sweet in it's way. I also like the Four Roses Single Barrel (which I cannot get in Vancouver anymore) and Octomore (very peaty). I think I have a lot to learn and experience in the Malts World. I found the extremely blooming market of Japanese Malts very smooth and feminine (although I am a woman) - but don't get me wrong, feminine in a nice way but I prefer a small 'kick' though. I just joined this site and will be checking from time to time to see what I should try when there's a chance. Too bad that the Kavalan Solist Vinho is now extremely hard to get and Pappy's are 'impossible'. I have the 12 and 15 which I will open on very very very special occasion. In Vancouver the Kavalan malts are still 'foreign' to 95% of the malt drinkers. Keep drinking and share with us your valuable experience. Thanks, Virginia

7 years ago 0