comment 0

Kavalan Khaos

The Challenge

The spark for this challenge was a recent walking tour with a new Kavalan ‘Sherry Oak’ (57%) bottling, which was deemed to be different enough from a previously-tasted Solist from 2014 to be identifiable blind. Add to that a new Solist sample (57.8%, like the 2014 version) and we’ve got ourselves a 3-way. Well, a 3-way blind Kavalan sherry cask tasting!

A: “I don’t know if I like it as much as the Solists? But I don’t know if that’s just, err..”
P: “I’d be really interested to taste these side-by-side, I’ve got enough to do that – I’ve got a new one too.”

Challenges - progress
I think this means we’ll score 12 out of 8 in our next challenge..!

Now then – we also had the newly-released Kavalan ‘Sherry Oak’ (46%), which we’d throw into the mix later. How would our identification skills perform? Considering we scored 0 points in our first challenge, hope wasn’t too high:

Kavalans - Line up
4 pretty spectacular Kavalans for tonight’s challenge.
Kavalans - Remembering smells
Trying to remember unique smells was harder than we thought.
Kavalans - Watering
Watering-down Dennis to 46% – a tricky process!
After trying 3 Kavalans, could we re-identify them each blindly?

We’d double-blind this test. One would pour and remember the order. Then the other would name the glasses and remember the name order. An attempt at a public key cryptography, so we didn’t have to be blindfolded initially! (OK, perhaps it was more Secret Sharing..) Aaaanyway, we’d taste all 3, remember what they tasted like and how they differered, then we’d be blindfolded and have to put a name to each one.


Challenge one involved naming three glasses as (for obscurity’s sake) ‘WINDOW’, ‘FAIRLY’ and ‘DENNIS’. After we tried them and gave some basic tasting notes, did we re-identify them blind?


WINDOW: Juice smell is the most pronounced.
FAIRLY: Dusty compared to WINDOW. Floral and buttery smells.
DENNIS: Also dusty compared to WINDOW. More pronounced spiciness than FAIRLY.

Blind Test #1 (FAIRLY): “First though, maybe this is FAIRLY. Definitely not WINDOW.”
Blind Test #2 (WINDOW): “Think it’s WINDOW, need to try the 3rd”. [after trying the 3rd] “This is definitely WINDOW.”
Blind Test #3: (DENNIS): After time passes, gets confused… sticks to this being DENNIS.

Score: 3/3!


WINDOW: Rich, massive raisins. Massive in general – hits the nose more.
FAIRLY: Tennis ball smell, more fake sugar / big whiff than DENNIS and slightly older cupboard smells too. Spicy zing.
DENNIS: Ridiculous to say, but compared to WINDOW, almost like a bourbon cask. Slightly drier taste?

Blind Test #1 (WINDOW): “Straight off the bat, I’d say WINDOW. Can’t be sure without a reference.”
Blind Test #2 (DENNIS): “Wow, smells like pizza. Dear god, I have no idea! #1 had more punch, and was stronger and sweeter, so that was probably WINDOW.” After #3, decides this is DENNIS.
Blind Test #3: (FAIRLY): “Totally guessing. Initially thought #2 was FAIRLY, but my instinct says this is.”

Score: 3/3!

So what were they?

WINDOW was Kavalan Solist 57.8% from 2014.
FAIRLY was a 2015 sample of Solist, also 57.8%
DENNIS was the 2015 ‘Sherry Oak’, 57%

Well, I’m not entirely sure how we did it, but we both got perfect scores!

Is the Sherry Oak (46%) distinguishable from watered-down Solists?

Once we’d been through identifying the three cask strength solists, we’d get out a 46% abv ‘Sherry Oak’ and put it next to the two cask strength Solists that were released in the same year (2015). They’d get watered-down to 46% so it’s a fair test. Could we identify the new kid on the block? Will we have it (the right stuff)?


Now we replaced WINDOW with the 46% Sherry Oak (2015) and called it NEW WINDOW. We watered-down FAIRLY and DENNIS to 46% then, with no prior tasting, both had to identify the newcomer blindfolded.


NEW WINDOW was give to Ali last, and he immediately knew. “Zingier and spicier”, although he was less sure on the nose. Despite being zingier, he felt it was the wekeast of the 3, and perhaps FAIRLY and DENNIS had been under-watered.


Phil also got NEW WINDOW last, and thought it was maybe the outlier. He wasn’t sure in what way, though – maybe a bit stronger? Felt the first two tasted very similar.

Scores: Both got this bang right.

What did we learn?

Challenge #1 Notes:
– Tasting them right next to eachother is easier – Tasting one-by-one like we did blind makes it much harder. Doubt creeps in easily.
– FAIRLY and DENNIS were so incredibly similar – maybe virtually identical? Think we might’ve been lucky with out guesses.
– The early Solist (WINDOW) was clearly identifiable… way bigger and richer than the other two.
– WINDOW is also clearly better*, bigger and totally different to FAIRLY and DENNIS. We’d guess simply that it’s been in a cask for two or so years longer.

Challenge #2 Notes:
– Neither made any mention of flavours in this challenge, focusing on strength and ‘zing’.
– Watering-down needs care – but there was disagreement over whether the cask strength samples were over- or under-watered.
– Perhaps some ‘marrying time’ is important – the watered-down samples were easily identifiable. Or perhaps there was a taste difference?
– The flavours were more dominant in cask strength, but DENNIS seemed to lose a little less in the process. Dennis was the Sherry Oak 57%, and the least expensive!