Finally available here in the U.S. is the outstanding jewel of the Kavalan collection: the Fino Sherry Cask expression bottled at 57%. If you remember from my visit to the distillery earlier this month, Kavalan utilizes sherry butts from the most restrained and elegant style of Jerez wine and puts them on the top floor of their warehouse, where the heat is at its most intense. Known as the "the church", partly because the vaulted ceiling resembles a cathedral and partly because miracles seem to happen within the sherry butts resting in this room, the temperature reached inside this chamber helps to excrete more nutty, almond flavor out of the fino barrel and into the Kavalan single malt resting inside of it.
A number of Scottish distilleries have used fino sherry butts in the past, but few were able to capture the essence of the sherry so intensely in their whiskies due to the colder aging conditions in Scotland. Taiwan, on the other hand, with its tropical climate has proved to be holy ground for this type of cask maturation. The Kavalan Fino is indeed heavenly. Rich and malty, with a turn towards salted caramel, toasted almond skins, toffee, and creme brulee, this is a side of sherry-aged whisky that we rarely ever see. Hedonistic and other-worldly, indeed.
It's expensive, but man is it good.
While I'm not normally in the market for $350+ bottles of single malt, I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the Kavalan Fino. At the final dinner in Taipei, we spent hours toasting one another with little thimble-sized glasses. Mr. Lee would yell "FINO!" and make us all pour the good stuff when he wanted to say something serious and sentimental. Regular speeches, jokes, and general banter were all met with a small shot of Kavalan Classic.
If you were going to preface your toast with "FINO!"at that meal, then you needed to make sure you were going to say something of value. You'd better not waste a "FINO!" toast on some stupid observation you had, or some dumb attempt to make everyone laugh. I thought that was awesome. It helped to reinforce the respect that Ian and Mr. Lee have for this liquid, which in turn increased my respect for both them and their whisky. In essence: the Kavalan Fino is only something you drink during life's important moments.
I really like that way of thinking (and drinking). I enjoy the reverence.