Kavalan Sherry Oak

Originally published 20/06/2018

Mark Twain reportedly wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I know some people who have spent most of their lives within a ten-mile radius of their hometown. The thought of crossing a county boundary and taking a trip to Belfast is enough to bring them out in a cold sweat. And perish the thought of actually crossing the imaginary border to visit Dublin or beyond. 'Sure I have everything I need here, why would I need to go somewhere else?' seems to be the overriding thought.

Then there are those who maybe will bravely venture to one of the Spanish Costa's only to spend their time inhabiting Irish Bars and McDonald's. A home away from home just with more sunshine.

For travel to broaden your mind then takes a little effort. You need to be open-minded to something different, be curious, ask questions, actually try the local food and drink and be respectful of a different culture.

To a certain extent, the same is true of whisky.

I have friends who swear that the only whisky worth touching is Irish. American whisky is all fire water and Scotch all tastes like fresh turf.

The thing is that when I come across this response it also usually transpires that they haven't actually explored far beyond our green shores. Sure if your only experience of bourbon is Jim Beam White Label and of Scotch, Johnnie Walker Red Label, then you haven't had the best start to your whisky adventure.

What I really hate though, is the dismissing of a whisky be it Irish, American, Scottish or from the rest of the four corners of the world, when you have never tried it or apply the 'if that's what Jim Beam tastes like then all other bourbons must taste the same' argument.

As Mister Twain laments, its all very well sticking to what you know but it can promote a very blinkered view.

I may well sound like I've signed up for Adams online 'Learn How to Rant' course, but whisky exploration shouldn't be feared, it should be embraced. Sure not all your experiences will be great or too your taste, but conversely, you may well be missing out on something exceptional.

Hence in an effort to broaden the palettes and horizons of our whisky club, I went for world whiskies in the last buying round. A Millstone Rye (Holland), a Paul John (India) and for today's review a Kavalan (Taiwan).

Since releasing their first whisky in 2008, Kavalan has garnered quite the reputation on the world stage, especially the Solist releases which seemingly everyone raves about except Noortje. But it's the sherry matured releases that get the Instagram communities juices flowing the most. I've lost count of the number of posts that I've seen that just effusively gush praise on the sherry cask Solist's.

While browsing lots of online whisky retailers on behalf of the whisky club I came across the Kavalan ex-Sherry Oak on offer for €60 reduced from €90 on www.whiskysite.nl so I thought I make my move. You can buy it at the Whisky Exchange for £85.

Launched in 2016 as a permanent fixture in the Kavalan range, the ex-Sherry Oak takes the same Oloroso sherry casks used to mature the Solist Sherry expressions but waters them down to 46%. There is no mention of chill filtration or of colouring anywhere on box or bottle or on the website. All they mention is the use of Kavalan spring water for the dilution so it's probably safe to assume they eschew the use of the chill filtration or colouring.

Kavalan Sherry Oak - review

Colour: root beer

On the nose: intensely sherried – raisins, prunes, figs, plums, red licorice and sweet red apples. Then comes a vegetal and savoury umami note of marmite, soy and finally balsamic reduction. Water promotes more dark, dried fruit and the balsamic.

In the mouth: nice mouthfeel, fairly oily with a medium mouthfeel. The meaty, yeasty note of the nose carries through on the arrival. Its quite rich, sherry soaked dark fruit, black cherries, damson jam, a hint of pepper heat, dark chocolate and oak. The finish is quite dry turning bitter and tannic. Water highlights it's youthfulness as it just falls apart, losing both body and flavour definition.


Sadly not the exceptional experience I hoped for. It's interesting, engaging to a degree but certainly not a world beater. As I haven't tried the Solist expression I can't do a direct comparison but standing on its own merit it is lacking. The nose is great. It is intriguing and interesting but on the palate, it is let down and I think even at 46% the cask has overpowered the spirit. Certainly at the price there are many other sherried alternatives that offer better experiences. Although not a mind blowing experience I won't be put off and my world whisky travelling meanderings will continue. As Bilbo Baggins famously quoted, 'It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to'.

Score: 6/10

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Comments from original post

  1. Welsh Toro

    I’m afraid I came to the same conclusion with this whisky. Perfectly acceptable and worth a dram at a bar but I feel no urge to buy a bottle. A sherry expression among many.

    1. Phil


      Thanks for commenting again here on Malt….always valued!

      I agree with your take….very much a sherry expression among many that can offer much more and with better value for money too.


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