Monthly Archives: February 2018

Tasting Notes: Kavalan – Concertmaster

Kavalan – Concertmaster

Whenever a new business is set up, it’s founders will have big aspirations. When Kavalan was set up in 2005, it was no exception. Their distillery even reportedly has a sign outside stating that it (and by extension, Taiwan) is “The New Homeland Of Whisky”. A pretty bold statement. It may not have come as much of a shock to them 10 years later then that their Solist Vinho Barrique was awarded World Whiskey Of The Year in 2015, but it did to a lot of other people. Proving that you don’t have to rely on an age statement, Kavalan have been focussing strongly on flavour, and this is no more evident than in their Concertmaster release. Branded as a port cask finished whisky, this young whisky (it has to be right?) has been part of the mainstay Kavalan expressions, and is also matured in wine casks ensuring that it pours in a rich, mahogany colour at 40% ABV.

 

Nose

Wow. There are some strong and deep flavours in battle for your attention here. Redcurrants and other red berries are the first to poke through and there’s a strong oak body to this. It has quite a firey boozy nose too, particularly down at 40%, but it is complemented by the sweetness of toffee/caramel and dark sugars.

 

Taste

Once it’s in the mouth, it is surprisingly soft textured and a lot less boozy than the vapours were letting on. It’s a lighter, softer melee of flavours too with summery red fruits (strawberries and raspberries) at play, offsetting the oak flavour (which is still quite present) and a hint of spice towards the end. After reading about the whisky in 101 Whiskies… I also can’t seem to avoid that liquorice note afterwards.

 

Finish

…and the fire is back! The alcohol returns to the flavour profile and warms you up pretty quickly. That oak spice is there again but the lasting flavour is that of raisins. Lots of raisins in fact. The final lingering flavour is a really satisfying juicy note.

 

Verdict

Well, the notes that I have read talk a lot about the whisky’s balance, but in my experience, this was more about a tussle between robust flavours that each then break free from the complex combination as you enjoy the drink. It’s a battle between the extreme influences too, as the sweetness of the port and wine casks are offset by a savoury, spicy backbone from the oak. Considering its youth, (maybe 5-6 years old) the complexity of the whisky belies its years, and maybe it’s that younger, fresher alcohol that’s stirring the ingredient flavours so thoroughly. Overall, a very fruity whisky which could easily venture into liqueur territory if it wasn’t for the oak body and boozy burn reminding you that it is a single malt. That Art Deco packaging is pretty cool too, albeit this was courtesy of a Drinks By The Dram sample only. Definitely a great experience and certainly one to try if you can (and before you die, of course, finding itself at #59 in one such list)!

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Tasting Notes: Balcones – Baby Blue

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Balcones Baby Blue

Hailing from Waco, Texas, Balcones are a relatively new distillery, having only opened in 2008, but have made quite a name for themselves from the get go. As a corn whiskey, this features at least 80% corn in the original mash, and also features hopi blue corn (which is actually blue, hence the name) and was the first whiskey to be LEGALLY distilled in Texas since the end of the Prohibition. Presumably the “baby” part of the name comes from this whiskey’s young age and,  the fact that the distillers got this unique first product out on the market as soon as they could. Bottled at 46% ABV, did that rush to start generating revenues compromise on quality?

 

Nose

Woah! Is this a whiskey or a liqueur? The first smells are very, very sweet, honeyed and so concentrated. There is a really fruity side to this too, with figs, damsons and sloes really dominating the smell along with a rich vanilla, rum-like sweetness before you are battered with corn, corn and more corn. It is potentially the sweetest smelling whisk(e)y I’ve ever experienced.

 

Taste

More sweet fruits follow, but more of a summer feel to the flavours: peach, pineapple, banana. There’s loads of vanilla and, of course, sweet corn fill this thick, syrupy, mouth-coating dram.

 

Finish

It has bit of a firey finish, but it is the fruit sensations that linger.

 

Verdict

This is some crazy stuff. With all that fruit flavour, sweetness and intensity, this is more like a whiskey smoothie than something that I could cook up in the kitchen – a marketing plan that I hereby claim ownership to. There is so much going on and is so different that I can see why Balcones have been able to make such a name for themselves. At £70+ however (presumably due to rarity within the UK and import charges etc) this is quite a stretch but I would recommend anyone who could try this to do so, as it really is something completely different for the discerning dram dabbler to experiment with. I will also note that this is an entirely different beast to Mellow Corn (my only other foray with corn whiskies) that the spectrum for these whiskies must be so vast that I am really intrigued to delve further into what is out there. In answer to the question at the end of the preamble above then: “Absolutely not.” This appears as whisk(e)y #9 in my edition of 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die, and I would put it in my 101 too. Maybe even Top 10 To Try. Maybe.

M

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Tasting Notes: Heaven Hill – Mellow Corn

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Mellow Corn

Currently owned and made by Kentucky’s dominant distillers Heaven Hill, Mellow Corn has an interesting history behind it. As the name suggests this is a corn whiskey meaning that it has to be made from a mash of at least 80% corn. In fact, this whiskey is made from a mash bill of 90% corn, with remaining 10% comprised of rye & malted barley. The distinctive bottle is labelled as being “bottled in bond” meaning that it has to be aged for at least 4 years in a federally bonded warehouse and made from the distillate of a single distillery from a single distilling season – left to then mature under the careful scrutiny of the US federal powers that be. Rumour has it that the labels haven’t changed since the 1940s because the original distillery was so confident that it would sell so well that they ordered 100s and 1000s of labels and then couldn’t shift them, so it has remained the same since to maintain that history (and probably to save face). Being bottled in bond, this whiskey is presented at 50% ABV.

Nose

It’s a very clean nose. It cuts through the nostrils and hits you at the back of your head but not without leaving a trail of faint vanilla sweetness along the way.

Taste

Perhaps unimaginatively for me, I’m getting a distinct corn syrup flavour to this, but without the treacle-like body. There’s a bit of oak in there too at the back and some light, white sugar left behind in the mixing bowl.

Finish

This stuff is quick and to the point. It has an oily texture that just slips off the tongue and gets to work on warming you up from the inside. As it does so it does leave behind some softer, more floral notes – though this is far from being a gin!

Verdict

I tried this sample under the guidance of my copy of 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die (not that I want that process to hurry along). It’s entry as #69 (dude) in my edition of the book referred to this as “something unusual and uniquely American” and is, in fact, my first dalliance with corn whiskey – maybe unwisely so. For this reason, when trying it, I was unable to think of anything else than this whiskey having been made from (predominantly) corn. That maybe why the notes above are a little sparse, but then again, Ian Buxton’s further description of this whiskey is that it is “the nearest thing you’ll get to moonshine that’s legal” and that I can believe! This whiskey is quick, light, sweet and very easy to drink, without leaving much of a trace, and at 50% ABV, that is very dangerous territory to tread because the effects of the alcohol will catch up with you quickly without you noticing. Maybe that’s why they called it “mellow” in the first place. It’s stealthy stuff; and with a flavour more akin to sweet popcorn, this is going to sneak up on you quickly!

M

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