Tasting an Asian whisky lineup from Kavalan and Nikka provides an interesting opportunity to compare tasting notes from one time to another. Just as no two palates are the same, neither are the experiences!
I’ve been told time and again that everyone’s palate is different, and that your experience won’t necessarily be the same as mine.
I’ve also been told that what I taste can be different from one time to another, and I’ve found that to be true as well.
And I’ve found that now I’m better able to describe what I’m tasting (or at least come up with more of a variety of adjectives) than I did when I first started tasting whisky and writing up my notes.
Rather than just kick back and enjoy the expressions, I thought comparing tasting notes to what I had written before might be fun (no rest for the weary!). Sure, there were some similarities, but there were enough differences to be interesting.
The most striking example was between the Kavalan tasting notes from then and now, I had just started to take tasting seriously and my notes then reflect the newness of it all. My descriptors were shorter, more pointed, and less varied.
Having tasted the Nikka more recently, the differences between the notes were more style than substance. Noticing different elements rather than not having the vocabulary.
I also think that the setting of the tasting effected my notes. Gordon's DTX Whisky Wednesdays are also about being social, so seeing friends and meeting new people are a large part of why I go each week. I get distracted as I socialize, and while I try to concentrate on what I’m experiencing with each dram, I don’t want to be rude.
It’s a fine (and fun) balance.
So without further ado (yes, you do have a lot of ado here!), let’s get to the tasting. My notes from the previous tastings are in the Notes below each review.
Kavalan and Nikka Asian Whisky Tasting
At Gordons DTX, February, 21, 2018
- Nose: malted barley, light honey, herbal
- Taste: sharp start, cinnamon spice quickly rises, medium body,
- Finish: sweet caramel candy ends with a warm tongue and green grass
- Comments: nice to sip
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak
- Nose: oak, vanilla, hay
- Taste: starts sharp & creamy, light body, lemon or cardamom
- Finish: herbal, cloves
- Comments: clean flavor, crisp bourbon, unadorned, mellow
- Nose: fruit
- Taste: immediate spice, vanilla, aggressive, thinner in the mouth
- Finish: smooths out, thins out
- Comments: Hard to taste after having sherry aged...nothing to hide the alcohol
- Nose: caramel and oak, cooked fruit, raisins
- Taste: soft entry, sweet plums, vanilla
- Finish: fades quickly with warm spice & toffee
- Comments: sweet red fruits give a rich flavor; I like this one
Kavalan Sherry Oak
- Nose: baked pears, high alcohol fumes, caramel underneath, malted barley
- Taste: alcohol & burnt oak, coffee beans, oily
- Finish: finishes to prunes & dark chocolate, tamarind
- Comments: lots to taste here, most interesting of the lot
- Nose: feeling of lightness, vanilla, apricots
- Taste: smoky sulfur, like striking a match striking, forceful
- Finish: tapers quickly
Nikka Pure Malt
- Nose: honey, oat
- Taste: butter, warm compote, slightly astringent
- Finish: toasted oats, vanilla, oak
- Comments: so easy to drink
Nose: red fruit, clover honey, hay, peaches, white chocolate
Taste: light body, slightly oily, caramel and floral, slightly beachy and smoky
Finish: the white pepper lays on the sides of the tongue, the slight medicinal note lingers
Comments: lots of flavor layers because it’s a malted blend. The Yoichi side of the blend brings the beachy flavor (it sits on the water), while the Miyagikyo brings that Highland-like delicate flavor (as it’s up in the foothills of Japan). I like this one the best of the 3 Nikkas presented
Nikka Coffey Malt
- Nose: barley, oats, hay
- Taste: toast, sweet corn, cooked barley
- Finish: some ashy flavor at the end, fades to mint
- Comments: more of a toasted grain character
Nose: more pronounced caramel & grain aroma, tropical fruit (mango, banana)
Taste: fudgy and sweet, med-light body, a bit of pine
Finish: the evergreen notes fade slowly
Comments: a more intense version of the Pure Malt, good layered complexity
Re-tasting these Kavalan and Nikka expressions was illuminating. Being able to tease out aroma and flavor descriptors is an ability I envy and am striving to develop. It’s nice to see how far I’ve come, and it’s curious to see how trying something more than once can produce different impressions.
But just as important is accepting that none of those impressions are wrong, and that those differences in time and ability make the sip more interesting, more surprising.
Let’s drink to that!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!