Kavalan Whiskies – One of the World’s Best Kept Secrets

It has been an insanely long time since my last post. 2014 was a crazy year for me in that my day job was crushing me to the point that I had zero time to do much of anything outside the office. Fortunately, circumstances changed and I found myself in a new job that I both enjoy and allows me time outside of work to enjoy whiskey once again instead of drinking whiskey for the sole purpose of drowning my sorrows.

Kavalan's Varsity Squad

Kavalan’s Varsity Squad

This post is about a line of single malts that I think are among the best in the world from Taiwanese producer, Kavalan. At this point in time, they’re gaining some notoriety in winning numerous awards, but for the average consumer at large, they’re relatively unknown. The reviews on their product line are overwhelmingly favorable across the board and they have racked up numerous awards at spirits competitions worldwide, most notably recently winning “Best Single Malt” in the World Whiskies Awards.

My hypothesis for the under exposure is that these whiskies come from a non-traditional whisky producing country, Taiwan. With the exception of Japan, the East Asian region is relatively unknown and new to the industry. Japan has done an incredible job making noise across the world with their excellent single malts. As many know, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask was bestowed with the honor of “2014’s World’s Best Whiskey” by Jim Murray, author of The Whiskey Bible. So while there is recognition being awarded, much of the region remains unknown to whiskey aficionados and the general public.

An additional hurdle is that Kavalan’s whiskies were not even sold in the US until 2014. I have faith that they will certainly receive their due credit in time as they produce a fantastic line of single malts – probably some of my favorites.

About the distillery:

The King Car Distillery is located in Yilan, Taiwan. Having a very tropical climate with extremely high temperatures and humidity levels, this whisky is subject to some intense heat – and therefore takes on the barrel influences at an accelerated rate.

According to their website (http://www.kavalanwhisky.com/en/news/news.aspx?ID=141):

Kavalan, which means “flatland people,” is named after the Taiwanese aboriginal ethnic group that originally inhabited modern-day Yilan County, where the Kavalan distillery resides. The warm sub-tropical climate of Taiwan ensures the whiskies mature faster than their Scottish, American and Japanese counterparts. Yilan was selected for its abundant supply of cold spring water flowing through the Central and Snow Mountain ranges and for its proximity to the Pacific Ocean resulting in ocean mists and mountain winds circulating around each cask. Master Blender Ian Chang and Dr. Jim Swan, an international whisky expert and consultant to Kavalan, have quickly established a reputation for their innovative incorporation of various types of wood casks. Accounting for the tastes of Taiwanese drinkers, Kavalan whiskies boast fruitier flavor profiles, thanks to modifications such as stainless steel fermentation tanks, oil-based fuel instead of peat, and ex-sherry, port and bourbon barrels for aging; all Kavalan whiskies are cask strength, non-chill filtered and natural in color.

In this post, I will be reviewing what they present as their three “core” offerings. All of these expressions are bottled at cask strength/barrel proof, which I love!

  1. Sherry Cask – aged in ex sherry casks
  2. Vinho Barrique – aged in barrels previously storing red and white wines
  3. Bourbon Cask – aged in barrels previously holding American Bourbon

Sherry Cask: 57.8 ABV
Dried plums, raisins, rich dark fruits, honeysuckle, heavy sherry influence

The sherry cask definitely has a heavy hand in the taste. It produces a dryness, almost a vermouth type of mouthfeel, but it’s not overdone. There’s a good balance with the sweetness that has some of the taste of dried plums I picked up on the nose. Overall, there’s a solid balance here and the burn is surprisingly not too overdone considering its proof of 115.6.

I’m very impressed with this. In my mind, I imagine that this would be similar to how a Yamazaki single malt would taste at cask strength. The dry mouthfeel took me a bit by surprise. If you like sherry bombs, then this is a definite must-try.

Rating: 4.5/5 Barrels

Vinho Barrique: 57.1 ABV
Dark berry jam, tropical fruits, floral honey, crystalized ginger

Bits of dried plums, caramelized sugar, a mix of rich tropical fruits

This dram blew me away. The wine casks have a great influence on the malt, not dissimilar from what I’ve found in other wine cask aged whiskies such as Glenmorangie La Quinta Ruban. Granted – they’re very different barrels (port vs. red/white wine barrels), and also the proofs definitely make a difference as Kavalan’s clocks in at cask strength. I can see this going well with a nice, medium bodied cigar.

Rating: 5/5 Barrels

Ex-Bourbon Cask: 55.6 ABV
Rich floral notes, honeydew melon, citrus, light ginger

Honey, Vanilla, light bits of caramel.

This dram surprised me. I was blown away with the Sherry Cask and Vinho Barrique as I feel the sherry and wine influences marry well with the malt. I wasn’t sure what to expect with an ex-bourbon cask as I imagined something lighter may not mesh as well. I’m happy to say that I was proven wrong. This dram has an excellent flavor and balance. There’s not too much dryness and the floral, almost citrus notes would make this a great after dinner dram.

Rating: 4.5/5 Barrels

These are ridiculously good single malts. Everything is well executed, including even the packaging – as they include a beautiful case and the brand and bottle design exude a feeling of luxury. But looks and aesthetics alone are not enough in the world of fine spirits! They deliver on all fronts as a high quality dram.

How I imagine they would look if Kavalan Single Malts entered the world of Male Modeling.

How I imagine they would look if Kavalan Single Malts entered the world of Male Modeling.

They can be on the higher end of pricing at around $120 per bottle, but if you’re looking for an excellent single malt that’s a little different from what is popular with the average drinker, I definitely recommend giving any one of these a go.

Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel – A Joint Review

A buddy of mine at Red White & Bourbon (RWB) had an idea to do a joint review of a semi-rare bourbon – Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel (SFTB). I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive doing this, as Josh at RWB has been doing this for quite a while now, has a pretty refined palate, and does a great job describing flavors I that I sometimes have difficulty expressing. RWB does a great job in breaking down bourbons to the common person – telling the back stories to provide context, and speaking in a way that it’s easy to relate to. In my opinion – it’s easily one of the best bourbon blogs out there, next to Barrel Proof Monk, that is! Here is the link to his post so you can see side by side commentary. Red White & Bourbon’s Review.

On to the back story behind this amazing bottle. One of my best friends lives in London and makes frequent trips to NYC for work. Because of this – he graciously hauls all sorts of whisk(e)y bottles across the pond for me that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. He has already grabbed several travel exclusive scotches. This bottle was a bonus as I read about it when I started to get more into bourbon and knew I had to have one – which my friend happily obliged. I don’t always understand the liquor market, let alone the whiskey market. The US has some pretty antiquated laws that vary state by state, and even more confusing regulations when it comes to distribution and taxes. With SFTB, we have a fantastic bourbon, made in the USA, but for some reason – is not actually sold in the USA, save for some duty free stores in airports. My friend had to bring me this bottle from London, even though it was made just a few states south of where I live – in the same country. 

Made in the USA, but not available in the USA. WTF Buffalo Trace?!?

Made in the USA, but not available in the USA. WTF Buffalo Trace?!?

Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel (SFTB)
Dumped on 3/8/2012
Barrel #268
Warehouse H
Rick 11
132.5 proof
66.25 ABV

Red White & Bourbon’s Review:
Color: Dark, heavily steeped tea.


Nose: Just plain awesome. Huge sugary notes of caramel, maple, and rich dark berries and slight, but bitter orange rind. A deep, somewhat sharp spice box, hearty char, and a smoldering campfire balance a detailed nose.

Sip: Great texture, viscous and oily. The sugars are dark, passing over the lighter vanilla and honey notes in favor of sticky caramel, toffee and fudge. Baked apples, pie crust, and a faint citrus lead to a powerful rye back highlighted by clove and a smokey char.
Finish: Lengthy and balanced, identical to the sip without the fruit.
Barrel Proof Monk’s Review
Color: dark copper, like a medium-dark maple syrup
Nose: caramel popcorn, almost like a toasted nuts aroma – probably the campfire RWB was picking up. Cloves and sharp rye spices. Freaking amazing nose overall.
Taste: first thing that strikes me is the bold, dry rye spice up front. I definitely get the baked apple pie flavors as well as various other baking spices, and a nice dose of vanilla and honey. Really great balance.
Finish: long, nice dry finish
It’s good to know that my tastes are validated alongside Josh’s in knowing I’m not just making up tasting notes in my mind. It’s interesting, before – I really didn’t understand what people meant when they described tasting “baking spices” in a bourbon – but I can truly get those flavors with this bottle. I think it’s those baking spice flavors, combined with hints of cinnamon that conjure up thoughts of baked apple pie.
Overall, I love this stuff. When I first had  Blanton’s, I thought how it would be great to try a barrel proof version, but didn’t know one existed until I came across this one. It reminds me of Rock Hill Farms, understandably being of the same mashbill, but with more of a kick. I love this stuff, and wish I had another bottle. Buffalo Trace needs to get their marketing/distribution teams on this in some way as it is clearly an incredible bourbon that the majority of the general public is missing out on.
Rating: 5/5 Barrels

Aging my own whiskey

Woodinville Whiskey

With all the interest increasing around spirits recently, especially whiskey – you’re going to get some pretty interesting ancillary products to go along with the liquors themselves. One pretty cool one is the notion of aging one’s own whiskey. There are a few different companies which sell these products. Personally, I like the one from Woodinville Whiskey, out of Woodinville, Washington. You can buy one yourself here. The kit itself comes with a small barrel, two bottles of un-aged whiskey (aka “white dog”) a funnel, and two glencairn glasses. I came across this product when I had been trying to learn how to distill my own whiskey. I quickly learned that it is, in fact, illegal to make your own liquor. To circumvent this law, many distilleries sell kits with already made, un-aged whiskey, and a barrel so that you can age it yourself to understand how the aging process works.

I bought this kit as a gift to myself last year as I thought it would be a great educational tool, and I would hopefully get some pretty decent hooch out of it too. For me, this was a really great experience that made me TRULY appreciate the work and attention that goes into aging whiskey, and how everything about the aging process affect the whiskey: location of the barrel, temperature of the room, amount of sunlight, etc. Before I bought this, I used to think that in order to age whiskey, you would just pour the juice into a barrel and let it sit for a few years, pop it open and drink. Not so much the case. Once I had the barrel prepared, I poured my whiskey in to rest/age. The folks at Woodinville Whiskey recommend adding water to barrel to reduce the proof, but given I prefer barrel proof hooch, I left it at cask strength. The process is that you’re supposed to periodically taste the whiskey every week to see how the flavors change over time. This was pretty cool to see how the wood interacted with the whiskey over time. My biggest mistake in this process is that I left the barrel in my kitchen – which was extremely hot and got plenty of sun. Because of this, a significantly large amount of the whiskey evaporated, much more so than is usually expected through the aging process. Had I aged it in a shaded area, I probably would have had more in the end. At the end of 6 months – what started with 2 bottles of un-aged whiskey being poured in, resulted in only 3/4 of a bottle in total yield.

The whiskey itself is decent, but not something I would buy for myself again. It’s very heavy on the corn flavors with a very sweet finish. Interestingly enough, it reminded me a lot of Balcones True Blue  whiskey – for those familiar. Tasting them side by side, they were actually pretty difficult to tell apart.

Overall, this is a good product, and one that I would recommend to anyone looking to learn more about whiskey and the aging process. The whiskey itself is only average, which is why I knocked the rating down one barrel, but that could have been due to the flaws in my process of keeping it in a sunny, scorching hot room for several months.

Rating: 3/5 Barrels

Brooklyn’s Finest: Char No. 4

I lived in Brooklyn for several years before moving to Queens recently for reasons dealing with cost and space. While my new place is great, I really miss all that Brooklyn had to offer as far as bars, restaurants, etc. I much prefer Brooklyn over Manhattan and Queens any day of the week!

One of the places that me and wifey used to love going to was Char No. 4, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It’s renowned as one of the best whiskey bars in the NYC area, and the country, for that matter. What was great was that it was only a hop, skip and a jump from our old apartment. I especially love their name, truly catering to the whiskey purists in the know.

You see, when aging whiskey, the coopers (people who make the barrel) will take a flame and char the wood staves before the un-aged whiskey (aka “white dog”) is poured in it to rest. The charring process brings out the sugars and caramel flavors from the wood to impart in the whiskey itself. A char level of 4 is taking the flame to the wood for 55 seconds. Very clever/cool name for a bar/restaurant!

Back to my review:
Despite the number of whiskey bars I’ve been to, I will always be impressed with Char No. 4’s display of booze, with the entire bar wall covered in a massive selection of liquor – mostly bourbons and ryes. Wifey Monk loves to come here for the happy hour deals and the food. Obviously, I have other motivations. To wifey’s credit, Char No. 4 does have an awesome happy hour. Not only do they have great prices for booze, but they also have fantastic food. We usually will go with a few appetizers to begin with while we have a few drinks. One of my favorites is the smoked and fried pork nuggets. Highly recommended. Their mains are equally delicious as I feel you really can’t go wrong with the selection. I’ve had a great steak there, rabbit, chicken, and almost any other kind of protein and have never been let down. They’re also well known for their brunch, though we’ve never made it out that early in the day.

From a bourbon perspective, they do a fantastic job in updating their list to stay current. Each time we came here, I was able to try a new bourbon which I had read about, but didn’t want to pay for an entire bottle. This has been great because there have been bottles I have had my eye on, only to try it at Char No. 4 and decide against it – and vice versa. A prime example, which I’ll write about later, is my experience with Angel’s Envy Bourbon.

Overall, I highly recommend Char No. 4 as a place to check out. For those living in Manhattan, there’s a bit of a stigma in traveling to the outer boroughs thinking “it’s so far! It’s in Brooklyn!” I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who have previously thought that, then came out to Char No. 4 and said they would come back in a heartbeat. It’s worth the (short) trip!

Rating: 5/5 Barrels


Wifey drinks wine. Monk Man drinks brown liquor

Their chicken legs are insanely good. Skirt steak is great too!

Their chicken legs are insanely good. Skirt steak is great too!

Rare = Not Always Better: Glenkinchie Cask Strength

Glenkinchie Cask Strength

Glenkinchie Cask Strength

I love the hunt for difficult to find/rare whiskies. And who doesn’t? Everybody wants what nobody else can have, which is part of what has caused the insanity around Pappy Van Winkle over the past few years. There’s a mentality of scarcity/value that’s created with a limited supply of a product that people just go nuts over. That’s why every year, people worldwide lose their minds trying to hunt down every bottle of American Bourbon’s limited releases, such as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Four Roses Limited Edition Releases (both single barrel and small batches), Pappy Van Winkle, etc. While many of those whiskies are fantastic – in my opinion they’re not always the best. I’ve had this experience both with distillery exclusive bottles, as well as travel retail exclusives. Again, many are great, but some have had me scratching my head a bit.

This also goes for barrel proof/cask strength whiskies. Yes, they’re the purest form of aged whiskey/whisky (and the ones I usually enjoy the most), but this lends credit to the master distillers and blenders who add water to the juice knowing they can produce an excellent whiskey/whisky by cutting down the proof. Doing so helps to temper the burn of the higher ABV so that you can taste and appreciate the flavors such as caramel, honey, etc.

Rare does not equate to “good.” Case in point – my experience with Glenkinchie’s Cask Strength, only available at the distillery. I was fortunate enough to make a trip to the Glenkinchie Distillery a few years ago during a stay in Scotland. I was still very new to the world of whiskies and only knew that I wanted what others could not get. I must have walked into hundreds of whisky stores talking to shop keepers about what brown liquor was not available back in the US, trying to figure out what I should bring home as trophies. I happened upon a great shop called Cadenhead’s which independently bottles whisky from all over Scotland. I’ll reserve that story for another post, but it was an interesting experience.

Back to Glenkinchie – it was the closest distillery to where I was staying in Edinburgh at only about a 30 minute drive. Given that I already enjoyed the Glenkinchie 12 year expression, I knew this would be a good trip. The distillery itself is very beautiful, if not surprisingly small and simple. They have a good tourist experience inside the distillery talking about the history of the brand and its association with Diageo. The tour itself is informative and it’s cool to see one of the storing warehouses where the whisky ages/rests.  You’re then taken to a tasting room where you can sample various ages of Glenkinchie from the standard 12 year old, to the non-age stated Cask Strength – though our bartender informed me that the batch I was sampling was 18 years old. I honestly wasn’t too crazy about it, but the hype in my mind was screaming to buy a bottle since there was only one place in the world that people could buy it! What’s interesting is that the bartender even told me that even though it was rare, it wasn’t the preferred spirit of many people, but I wouldn’t have any of it!

an artist's real-life rendition of me at the Glenkinchie Distillery

a forensic artist’s real-life rendition of me at the Glenkinchie Distillery

So I bought a bottle and brought it back to the US. I cracked it open with some friends to share and it was…interesting, to say the least. One of my friends loved it and demanded more and more. Me? I was having trouble remembering why I purchased it in the first place as all I could taste was burning. Well, maybe not JUST burning, but it definitely wasn’t great.  Here’s my formal review:

Glenkinchie Cask Strength
59.3 ABV
18 Years Old

Nose: I pick up some floral scents, along with honey, but much of it is masked by hints of metallic, almost copper aromas.

Taste: in the words of Ron Burgundy, this stuff packs a deep burn.

The high proof is such that it’s difficult to pick up the other flavors. The more tastes I give it, I can pick up some of the floral, honey, and subtle peat. I get some of the fruitiness, but again, the burn is just too overpowering and finishes rather bitterly.

In my mind, there is a reason this isn’t released to the general public. I really enjoy the 12 year bottling as it’s one of my go-to single malts, but for me – this bottle is more of a collector’s item. My friend, on the other hand, loved it and has ended up drinking most of it (hence why the bottle is almost finished). It just goes to show how opinions clearly vary between drinkers!

Rating: 2/5 barrels


Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Review: 137 Proof/68.5 ABV

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 137

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 137

Welcome to my first review! I’m not a master distiller, but have a pretty decent palate and whiskey IQ to boot. I know what I like and will make my reviews as objective and honest as I can. Remember that these reviews are my own opinions and I obviously won’t always share the same views as others.

The rating system I’ll use is on a scale of 5 barrels: 5 being the best and 1 being the worst. If I give something a 5, that means that it’s something that I would buy up as many bottles as I can. 1 barrel means that I may only use it as lighter fluid, and even then it’s questionable.

So onwards to the review!

Much has been made about the hype and quality of Elijah Craig’s latest creation of releasing its 12 year expression in barrel proof form. I figured that given the chosen name of my blog – what better way to kick off my reviews than with a barrel proof bourbon.

The standard Elijah Craig 12 year (EC12) was a bourbon that really surprised me, in a good way, when I first had it. It had cost me about $25, and was full of flavor and depth. I had contested, and still do, that it has one of the best noses in its range of $20-$30 bourbons. Needless to say, I was very excited when I learned that Heaven Hill was releasing a barrel strength version. I had read rave reviews from my trusted blog sources about how amazing this limited edition release was, and even more excited at the price range of sub $50. That’s what struck me the most – was that the consumers were receiving a barrel strength bourbon, possibly in the same level of quality as George T Stagg  – a cask strength bourbon from Buffalo Trace whose MSRP is usually around $80, but can retail for up to $300. However, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (ECBP) was being sold for a fraction of the price. This had me both excited and nervous. Excited because it sounded like a great deal. Nervous because it was also much more affordable, therefore more likely to be sold out in mass quantities nationwide. Thankfully, two things happened – the first being a friend of mine being generous enough to send me a sample, and second – another friend happened upon a bottle at a store near his apartment and hooked me up.

The first thing that strikes me about the whiskey is its color. Talk about deep, dark molasses. Comparing it side by side with the EC12, it is like looking at a glass of ice tea next to a glass of Coke. For that reason alone, I know the depth of flavor is likely to knock my ass down. When nosing it in my glencairn glass, I am overwhelmed with the rich, deep aromas of caramel and dark chocolate. If I thought the EC12 had a great nose, the ECBP crushed it in a heartbeat. 

Tasting it, the ECBP knocks my ass to the floor, slaps me around a few times, screams at me like a drill instructor, and demands that I drink some more. That’s how much of a punch this sucker packs, and I happily oblige to continue drinking. At 137 proof, this is not for the faint of heart. The flavors I pick up are rich caramel, chocolately deliciousness, and maple syrup. Understandably, there’s quite a bit of heat with the proof at 137, but it surprisingly doesn’t overpower the mouthfeel. I’ve had cask strength whiskies where all I taste is burning and pain, and this definitely did not fit that mold. Instead, the heat gives way to layers of flavor that keep on delivering.

Overall, I’m extremely impressed with this barrel proof from Heaven Hill and highly recommend it. In my mind when considering quality and price, it’s among the top.  It’s tough to find a quality of this bourbon at a sub-$50 price point. According to sources, Heaven Hill will be releasing another version of this barrel proof at 66.6 ABV in the Spring of 2014, so I will definitely try to lock down another bottle before it’s sold out everywhere.

Rating: 5/5 barrels


Even Optimus Prime is in awe at how awesome Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is

Even Optimus Prime is in awe at how awesome Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is

Barrel Proof Monk Greets the World!

Hello world!

Barrel Proof Monk here. Yes, this is a whisky/whiskey blog. This was born out of me needing to do something productive with my free time, and my incredible love of the brown liquor. A few things as an intro: why the name Barrel Proof Monk? Well for one thing, I tend to prefer my whiskies at barrel proof, or cask strength. One of the things I love about whiskey is that it’s more than just a great beverage. The craft of the liquor itself is an art form. You wouldn’t take the Mona Lisa painting and draw a mustache on her because she looked like she needed it, would you? Well, maybe for amusement, but that’s besides the point. I love drinking my whiskies at barrel proof because that’s the way it sits in the barrel, and that’s the way the master distillers taste it when determining when a cask is ready. In other words, it makes me feel more connected with the hard labored liquor I drink. The “Monk” portion is a nod to the history of whisky as it was monks who developed the distillation techniques. It was actually believed that it was monks who distilled the world’s first whisky in Ireland sometime in the 11th or 12th century. But I digress. Throw the terms together and you get (what I think) is an awesome play on an awesomely bad movie starring now defunct actor, Chow Yun Fat (whatever happened to that guy, anyway?).

So, what’s the point of this blog? Well, I love whiskies – specifically bourbon and scotch. I’m not a huge rye fan, but I’m starting to develop a taste for it. This blog is to talk about my experiences with whiskies: some personal reviews, how I got into whiskey, my adventures in finding/buying them, and overall thoughts/impressions as I go through life. I’m not a professional taster, nor am I a whiskey distiller. I have a decent palate, but honestly sometimes have a tough time picking up on the subtler flavor nuances that some writers seem to pinpoint with insane accuracy. I think of myself as an average drinker with pretty decent whiskey IQ, but I don’t consider myself an expert, just someone who knows what I like. I hope that you can relate to at least some of my posts and experiences!