I’ve reviewed Kavalan and Nikka before, but that doesn’t guranantee that my tasting notes will be the same if I taste them again.

Taste is personal

I’ve been told time and again that everyone’s palate is different, that what you taste won’t necessarily be what I taste. 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 a year ago. This observation came to mind when I went to last week’s Whisky Wednesday at Gordons DTX for Kavalan and Nikka and found that I had previously tasted most of the lineup. 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!).

I had written about Kavalan in Hurry Up and Wait from last March, and Nikka more recently in Across the (other) pond from last December. 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…when I first tasted it back in February of last year, I had just started to take tasting seriously and my notes then reflect the newness of it all (just as the blog had been a baby at that point, so was my palate). My descriptors were shorter, more pointed, and less varied. Having tasted the Nikka much 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…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 italics.


Kavalan, Nikka, Japanese whisky, Taiwanese whisky
photo credit: Gordon’s DTX


Kavalan and Nikka Tasting

At Gordons DTX, February, 21, 2018

 Kavalan Classic

40% ABV

  • Nose: malted barley, light honey, herbal
  • Taste: sharp start, cinnamon spice quickly rises, medium body,
  • Finish: sweet caramel candy ends with a warm tongue & green grass
  • Comments: nice to sip, first time I’ve had it


Kavalan ex-Bourbon

40% ABV

  • Nose: oak, vanilla, hay (fruit)
  • Taste: starts sharp & creamy, light body, lemon or cardamom (immediate spice, vanilla, aggressive, thinner in the mouth)
  • Finish: herbal, cloves (smooths out, thins out)
  • Comments: clean flavor, crisp bourbon, unadorned, mellow


Kavalan Concertmaster

Port finish, 40% ABV

  • Nose: caramel & oak, cooked fruit, raisins (mild nose, slightly sweet, not really distinctive)
  • Taste: soft entry, sweet plums, vanilla (starts smooth, full mouth, hint of mint)
  • Finish: fades quickly with warm spice & toffee (fruity end, pepper tapers)
  • Comments: sweet red fruits give a rich flavor; I like this one (not that impressive to me)


Kavalan Sherry Oak

46% ABV

  • Nose: baked pears, high alcohol fumes, caramel underneath, malted barley (feeling of lightness, vanilla, apricots)
  • Taste: alcohol & burnt oak, coffee beans, oily (smoky sulfur, like striking a match, forceful)
  • Finish: finishes to prunes & dark chocolate, tamarind (tapers quickly)
  • Comments: lots to taste here, most interesting of the lot


Nikka Pure Malt

43% ABV

  • Nose: honey, oat (red fruit, clover honey, hay, peaches, white chocolate)
  • Taste:  butter, warm compote, slightly astringent (light body, slightly oily, caramel & floral, slightly beachy & smoky)
  • Finish: toasted oats, vanilla, oak (the white pepper lays on the sides of the tongue, the slight medicinal note lingers)
  • Comments:  so easy to drink (lots of flavor layers because it’s a malted blend from 2 Nikka distilleries)


Nikka Coffey Malt

45% ABV

  • Nose: barley, oats, hay (more pronounced caramel & grain aroma, tropical fruit (mango, banana)
  • Taste: toast, sweet corn, cooked barley (fudgy and sweet, med-light body, a bit of pine)
  • Finish: some ashy flavor at the end, fades to mint (the evergreen notes fade slowly)
  • Comments: more of a toasted grain character (a more intense version of the Pure Malt, good layered complexity)


Kavalan, Nikka, Japanese whisky, Taiwanese whisky
The various shades of Kavalan


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!




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