Diageo Special Releases 2013 Tasting
The Diageo Special Releases started in 2001, following on from the Rare Malts bottlings, and are a yearly allocation of “something special” from Diageo’s many distillery warehouses. The 2013 release has 85,000 bottles across 10 whiskies. Originally intended to save the whiskies from blending into lesser expressions, this has become a big deal in the whisky calendar. Some of these distilleries are closed of course. 30 years ago the world was a different place, the public didn’t want smoky whiskies and Diageo had to choose between closing Port Ellen and Lagavulin. They had no idea that the liquid going into the casks at Port Ellen would turn into such sublime liquid over the next 30 years and the distillery was closed. Lagavulin is extremely successful now of course, and we had the opportunity to try a Port Ellen and a Lagavulin from the same period. A 37 year old Lagavulin is unheard of – and this bottling is it, there’s none older in the warehouses and who knows how many decades must pass before an expression this old exists again. Brora is another closed distillery, with casks running out and only another two or three years of special releases left in it. The 2013 Brora is just incredible, the best whisky I’ve ever tasted, and at £750 it’s out of my range but very tempting. It will never be this price again.
Last night we tried we lucky enough to score tickets for the annual Whisky Exchange Diageo Special Releases tasting led by Diageo brand ambassador Colin Dunn – we had eight of these beautiful whiskies ranging from the £70 Caol Ila to the £2000 Lagavulin 37. £60 for a ticket might seem a lot but we had a taste of £6000 worth of whisky, and there were some real Harry met Sally moments in there, as you might imagine. I will be attending next year. Sláinte!
(notes in italics are marketing information from Diageo)
Cardhu 1992 21 year old, A⊕+
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt. From the renowned Cardhu distillery on Speyside. A second limited release in this series. Interesting to compare with the 22 year old 1982, released in 2005. From ex-bourbon American Oak casks filled in 1991. Fewer than 6,000 individually numbered bottles worldwide.
Nose – Elegant, perfumed, fruity, fresh wax. A little later, tropical beauty and a little marker pen. Real candied perfection - bubblegum edge, incredible floral balance, reminds me of the Tomatin 35 Cadenhead. Just gets sexier but not quite as good as the Convalmore.
Body – Rich, waxed, spiced but very balanced and very smooth.
Finish – Long, extremely balanced, great wood bitterness – no faults. Incredible wood. What a lovely whisky.
What’s not good about it – The spice? Not really, it needs that structure.
What’s good about it – Incredible nose, very beautiful.
Convalmore 1977 36 year old, A⊕+
A fabulous whisky. I would jump at this if it was half the price.
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt whisky. From Convalmore, a closed distillery in Dufftown on Speyside. A very rare malt, highly prized by collectors. A very limited release of individually numbered bottles. Latest of three limited releases to be offered by the distillery. Interesting to compare with a 28 year old 1977 we released in 2005. From European Oak refill casks. Just 2,980 bottles available worldwide.
Nose – amazing, bright but rich and cereal, school hall\parquet polish, a delightful spice edge with malt structure. Eastern spice - stunning. Sweet dimensions and wood balance. Caramel.
Body – Delightful wood, lacquered bookcase and leather, lovely malt chilli spice, and an Armagnac edge.
Finish – Cigars (the tobacco on your lips, not smoking them), balance, lovely smoke backend.
What’s not good about it – Nothing
What’s good about it – The nose – fascinating, lush and addictive. Wood structure and aged perfection.
Singleton of Dufftown 1985, 28 year old, A+
The Singleton whiskies are single malts aimed to produce a certain style for a market (for Diageo). Singleton of Glendullan for the states, Singleton of Glen Ord for Asia and Singleton of Dufftown for Europe. These are meant to be smooth, rich and easily approachable.
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt. From Dufftown, an active distillery on Speyside. A first limited cask strength release of The Singleton in this series. From American Oak refill casks filled in 1985. Just 3,816 individually numbered bottles worldwide.
Nose – Smooth, floral, nicely waxed, some sweetness, nicely balanced with good wood/cereal balance. A little ordinary compared to the rest of this lot but still has a lovely, deep but tropical nose.
Body – Overly wooded, a real disappointment from the nose (and given where we are and what we’re doing). Pepper and chilli – unbalanced, but still some nice sweetness.
Finish – Long, peppered, some wood bitterness. A harsh landing.
What’s not about it – Too much pepper, chilli. Outclassed here, sorry. For this money I need quite a lot of perfection.
What’s good about it – Lovely nose, there’s some good fruit in here.
Talisker 1985, 27 year old A⊕+
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt whisky. From the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. The seventeenth release in this series from the distillery. From American Oak refill casks filled in 1985. Interesting to compare with previous bottlings in the same series, all of them whiskies of great dignity, subtle nuance and easy balance. Just 3,000 individually numbered bottles available worldwide.
Nose – Fresh, sour edge, tropical backing – but it is a faint backing and not a main note. Comforting and delicious, lightly racy with its brightness – raises its skirt a little with a show of peat. A rich, beguiling nose. Highly returnable-to.
Body – Sweet, spicy peat, chilli and pepper, very nicely balanced and bold – the bright edge is lovely, invigorating, life affirming.
Finish – Long, wooded, effortless integration of the wood structure. Loads of pepper, some tropical fruit, reasonably stunning.
What’s not good about it – Too much spice? For the money (£500), a little ordinary, frankly.
What’s good about it – A beguiling sweetness, a bit naughty, really exciting, and beautiful really?
Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve A⊕
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt. From Caol Ila, an active distillery on the Isle of Islay. A eighth limited release of unpeated Caol Ila. From a batch made only once a year, from unpeated malt, for blending in the ‘Highland Style’. From a mix of refill American Oak, rejuvenated American Oak and ex-bodega European Oak casks, so interesting to compare with expressions from first fill Bourbon previously released at 8, 10 and 12 years old and a 14 year old from ex-bodega oak, released in 2012.
Nose – Pleasing, light coastal edge. Fresh, sweet nose. Lacks the intensity of the Cardhu but absolutely lovely. A fresh, spirity but floral nose, a slight savoury edge and just a touch of smoke. Bright, floral, very light plastic. Beautiful leatherclad bookcase.
Body – Hot, spicy, very strong given the nose, lovely tannic strength, very good.
Finish – Very long, wooded, great composure but quite bold.
What’s not good about it – Hard arrival given the nose, but it works
What’s good about it – Lovely nose, bold but very balanced, big fan.
Brora 12th release, 35 year old, A⊕⊕
My favourite whisky of the night and I think maybe, of all time; I’ve had to extend my metrics to accommodate its excellence.
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt. From a closed distillery at Brora on the Sutherland coast. The equal-oldest Brora we have ever bottled. Twelfth of a very limited series of annual releases. Annual allocation has extended availability of this irreplaceable malt but stocks are now depleted. From refill American Oak and European Oak casks over 35 years old that were filled in 1977. Just 2,944 individually numbered bottles worldwide.
Nose – oh hell. Almost indescribable. Some plastic book casing, a ghost of smoke, exquisite candied wax, medieval lacquer, well varnished old bookcase; improbably sexy. There’s a kind of Thai edge to this, extremely lovely.
Body – Very rich, very sweet, lacquered, structured, then tropical, then spicy wood, then building into peppery massiveness, then ashen, then…
Finish – ..backing of more tropical notes, long drying and Szechuan fizzing. Extremely long. Complete balance throughout. Near the end, tropical wood, and of course tropical burps.
What’s good about it – Everything. Seriously delicious, total balance, huge complexity, luxurious.
Port Ellen 13th release, 34 year old, A⊕+
My first taste of Port Ellen.
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt. From Port Ellen, a closed distillery on the Isle of Islay. Now very rare and highly sought after at this age. Thirteenth of a very limited series of annual releases. Annual allocation ensures availability of this irreplaceable malt for just a little longer. From refill American Oak and refill European Oak casks filled in 1978. Just 2,958 individually numbered bottles available worldwide. From specialist retailers only. The oldest release of Port Ellen to come from the original distillers.
Nose – Fresh, sour, warmly peated in a comforting, toffee-laden way. A perfumed, coastal edge, savoury backing and a the air of a national trust library. Very nice, gentle wax, some tropical fruit, waxed old wood and all perfectly integrated. Gets better and better as you go further. A little more solvent fruit. Just fabulous. If I owned this, a glass could last for an hour (and it would have to).
Body – Structured, immediate sweetness, beautiful wood and rich antiques. Lovely balanced, gentle peat, just incredible complexity. Bright, deep and spicy.
Finish – Long, spicy, pepper and chilli. Some bitterness at the very end.
What’s not good about it – The finish just lets it down slightly. Some sourness at the very start.
What’s good about it – Enormous complexity, everything represented, incredible nose, stunning sweetness. Particularly good wood.
Lagavulin 1976, 37 year old A⊕
A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt whisky. From the essential Islay distillery, Lagavulin, on Islay’s rocky south coast. The oldest Lagavulin ever bottled by the original distillers and exceedingly rare. From refill American Oak and European Oak casks filled in 1976. Just 1,868 bottles available worldwide.
Nose – Hammy? Like hot dogs. Some rosemary, rum and raisin. Deeper investigation gives richer wood and toasted cereal. Lovely balance, some black pudding, the internal void of an acoustic guitar.
Body – Rich, massive but authoritative, very sweet, incredible balance, loads of wood. Stunning delivery – the best delivery so far. What balance and integration.
Finish – Long, spicy, incredible balance and loads of structure. Just wonderful but then it just stops. Oily finish – what a strange ending.
What’s not good about it – The meatiness is a little off putting, not in love with that although the nose is lovely overall. The finish is a bit odd.
What’s good about it – The arrival is phenomenal. Its naughty, but in the same way that the hot dog is – not too elegant but pretty fecund.
Oh what a night!