September was a busy old month for us here at TWL, Liverpool Whisky Festival in the 5th followed by York on the 12th and dotted around these enormous events was 9 tastings. It’s all in a days work!
The theme for this series was Kavalan Vs Scotland.
Kavalan first appeared in the UK back in 2013 making their triumphant debut at our Manchester Whisky Festival and what a stir they made! Kavalan have really made a huge impact on the world whisky scene with no less than 100 gold medals from various spirit competitions being awarded to this distillery in the last few years. That’s some trophy cabinet, and these medals have been awarded with good reason.
With some very impressive kit and some immense talent helping them since day one its not surprising that whisky drinkers have started to sit up and take note of what Kavalan are up to, if you’ve not tried it I would urge you to find some and give it a go. In fact we have some tasting packs left which you can order by clicking here. Anyway, here’s how things shaped up…
1 month (September), 8 cities, c400 tasters and 6 whiskies.
3 whiskies from Scotland, 3 whiskies from Kavalan distillery in Taiwan.
ALL tasted blind to remove any preconceptions with no branding, tastings notes or pricing in sight. ALL tasted in pairs and ALL tasted in the same order from venue to venue. By doing this the playing field was well and truly levelled, so the liquid does the talking, not the marketeers.
1. Glenmorangie 10yo , 40%, Around £30
One of the best selling whiskies in the UK from one of Scotland’s most iconic distilleries. The Original 10yo Glenmorangie forms the backbone of an expansive range and is aged in 1st and 2nd fill American oak ex-Bourbon casks. There are very few distilleries that take maturation and wood policy as seriously as Glenmorangie, spending several million pounds each year on wood – there is absolutely no doubt that they have some of the best casks in the industry. This expression displays many of the signature characteristics of American oak maturation, including vanilla, citrus and toffee. These flavours combined with the light and delicate spirit style of Glenmorangie create an incredibly easy-drinking and accessible whisky.
2. Kavalan Classic, 40%, Around £50-£60
Making whisky in a climate such as Taiwan presented many challenges for the whisky-making team at Kavalan. The extreme heat meant custom made yeast strains were needed for fermentation, whilst protective jackets had to be wrapped round their washbacks to help regulate temperature during the process. The maturing whisky is also subject to the extreme heat which drives an enormous angel’s share, which in some parts of the warehousing can reach up to 15% a year. The Classic is the starting point in the Kavalan range and represents the distillery house style. A fruit driven whisky with an incredibly soft character and tropical fruit notes throughout.
3. King Car Conductor, 46%, Around £70 – 80
This release carries the name of the distillery’s parent company, King Car, a large food and beverage company who also work with Biotechnology. Having the backing of such a company has many benefits, as making world-class malt whisky is an expensive business. This release is matured in no less than 8 different casks types and won a double gold in the San Francisco Spirits Competition this year. Clean and fresh with the signature tropical fruit, but floral and faint notes of dark chocolate can also be found.
4. Craigellachie 17 year old, 46%, Around £80-90
Last year saw the first official range of whiskies released from Craigellachie as part of a wider release from all the Dewar’s-owned distilleries called the ‘Last Great Malts’. Prior to these new releases only a handful of expressions have been made available, so these new releases have been welcomed with open arms. The distillery has played a key role in blending for Dewar’s and it’s previous owners, since its conception in 1891. This 17yo is sandwiched between a 13yo and a 23yo and carries some savoury notes along with sweet stewed fruit and a faint smokiness.
5.Ben Riach 1998, 48.9%, £99.95
The BenRiach distillery is found in Speyside and belongs to a group of 3 distilleries, alongside Glendronach and Glenglassaugh, and is owned by an independent outfit called Benriach Distillery Co,. Since the distillery came under independent ownership in 2004 we’ve seen a plethora of releases both peated and unpeated from a variety of different cask types. This expression is exclusive to The Whisky Exchange and has been triple distilled. After a primary maturation in American oak the whisky has been finished in Pedro Ximenez casks. The resulting whisky is light and honeyed but with a big slap of rich dark fruit in the mix.
6. Kavalan Solist, Sherry Cask, 57.8%, Around £120
The Solist range from Kavalan encompasses various single cask releases from a variety of cask types. These casks are selected by master blender Ian Chang and are always bottled without chill filtration and at natural cask strength. In this case a single sherry cask with the yield of 519 bottles has made the cut and, as you might expect from the colour, is a big whisky. Bags of dark rich spicy fruit can be found here alongside an enormous juicy mouth feel. No wonder it scooped a gold medal at this years IWSC (International Wine and Spirits Competition)
Of all the blind series we’ve done this has to be the to be the closest, coming right down to the final pair on the final night.
From the start it was looking good for Kavalan as they took Sheffield with a 2-1 win. But Scotland didn’t take this lying down taking Liverpool 2-1, Leeds 3-0 and both sittings in London 2-1 and 3-0. At this point we thought it could be curtains for Kavalan but suddenly Brighton came in 2-1 to Kavalan followed by Manchester 3-0 and Newcastle 2-1. Kavalan were back in the game, putting it all on the final tasting in York. As we counted up the votes towards the end of the tasting it was still unbelievably close. Round 1… Kavalan. Round 2… Scotland. As the final show of hands went up for the final pair the tension was clear and hung heavy in the air, not dissimilar to the tension of the recent Rugby World Cup final. Both sides had their supporters and their favourites, but their could be only one winner. The final count was in…. 3rd pair… Kavalan.
They had done it! Kavalan took the series! Defeating the mighty Scotland and our beloved distillers in the North. I think they wanted it more! Well played Kavalan, well played.
But seriously it really couldn’t have been any closer. The whiskies on both sides were outstanding, as I’m sure those who have tasted would testify and none of the rounds were landslides, so it really could have gone either way.
That said we’ll have to get a trophy made up for Kavalan’s ever growing trophy cabinet.
Around 400 whisky tasters made it out to these tastings, you can check out what some on them thought on twitter using… #KavalanVsScotland