This year a small dream came true (and many large drams came true) and I attended the October release party for the Diageo Special Releases! Not quite on my own ticket yet, Tom Thomson let me have his. As with the Glenfiddich Gallery launch, I wrote up more of a report on his blog, and I’ll put the detailed tasting notes on here.
In short it was a wonderful evening full of wonderful whisky and great to hang out with some people I spend quite lot time talking to online. The absolute highlights for me were the Clynelish and the Dailuaine, with special mentions for the Pittyvaich and of course the Brora and Port Ellen. Star buy for ordinary budgets was the cheapest and youngest whisky, the Lagavulin 12 year old.
Thanks to Jon Bryant for letting me use his photos for this blog (the light in the venue was orange and moody and just terrible for photos and my poor phone couldn’t cope. Jon’s proper camera had a proper lens, you can read his post about the night here). Thanks to Diageo for letting me come along and try these epic whiskies. And thanks to Tom for passing me his ticket!
Dalwhinnie 25 years old, 48.8% A⊕
1989, refill American oak hogsheads, 5.916 bottles, £325.
Body - Sweet and brightly balanced, lots of lemon sherbet and a little spice. Lovely.
Finish - Very long, but with an awkward cereal spice and oak edge. Lovely though
The Cally, 40 years old, Caledonian single grain, 53.3% A+
1974, refill American oak hogsheads, 5,060 bottles, £750.
Nose - Intense oak and toffee led, a classic (and actually quite ordinary) grain nose. That said, some lovely contrasting notes - ham and ozone, glace cherry and Mcvities gold bar. Increasingly (and pleasantly) sweet the more time you spend with it.
Body - Soft but piney, quite spiced and quite clearly tastes of paperback books and rose wine.
Finish - Long with lots of bitter tannins and hard oak.
This is very good but for a £750 whisky this required much more and I think the Hedonism Quindecimus could stand toe to toe with it and some recent SMWS old grains have bettered it (I’m thinking in particular of G1.13, Summer Fete and flower shows, North British, 36 years old from August). Even in this outturn, the Dailuaine is a lot better and half the price.
Dailuaine 34 years old, 50.9% A⊕⊕
1980, refill American oak casks, 2,952 bottles, £380.
Body - Bright, spicy, intensely waxed with ancient cask. Tropical backing; mango, but totally balanced. With time, develops into a real fruit bomb with loads of spiced orange wax. Delicious.
Finish - Long, wonderful, fruity, poised.
Split a bottle with friends and then you'll actually open it. It's worth it.
Pittyvaich 25 years old, 49.9% A⊕+
1989, refill American oak hogsheads, 5,922 bottles, £250
Body - Much more complex and classical than the nose would suggest. Charred wood, red fruit, old cask. Restrained but important.
Finish - Long, toasted, tropical and toffee spice.
A closed nose on this one but robust and elegant, a delicious delivery and a real grower.
Clyenlish Select Reserve, 56.2% A⊕⊕
Ex-bourbon first fill american oak barrels, rejuvenated and refill American oak hogsheads and ex-bodega and refill European oak butts. 2,946 bottles, £550
Another NAS Clynelish release; the youngest cask in here is 15, with others going back into the ‘80s.
Body - Soft and intensely beautiful. Feminine and muscular. Melon, cigars and scented erasers, white fruit and marshmallow. Very structured but very rude and gives you bedroom eyes.
Finish - Long, sensual, spicy and balanced.
Blimey. It's probably for the best I don't drink that one in public again.
Brora 37 years old, 50.4% A⊕+
1977, refill American oak hogsheads, 2,976 bottles, £1,300
Body - Initially totally epic. Soft, toasted malt, plums roasted with vanilla, wood sour and varnish. Then quite tannic with a nice seasoning of sulphur. But then the tannins start to become a little overwhelming.
Finish - Very long, gently spiced with warm spices (faint cinnamon and powdered ginger) and very gentle old oak. But with time those building tannins start to coat and there is an enormous amount of wood.
The nose on this Brora is just epic, redolent of oak panelled study, old leather furniture and Victorian wine cellars, and carries itself with enormous gravitas. But the finish is a little too much, perhaps the whisky is just about to become too old? For a whisky over £1000 a bottle, this just holds it back from perfection.
Port Ellen 32 years old, 53.9% A⊕+
1983, refill European oak butts, 2,964 bottles, £2,400
Nose - Also definitely a PE, but lighter on the alien-Islay than last year. Still; kiwi, sandalwood, musk and seashells. Some plasters, a dash of young Caol Ila; smells like a guest house attached to an Islay distiller (full of history).
Body - Softly spiced, dark long car journeys (travel sweets and petrol), incredibly complex spice, oak, sulphur and boiled sweets and quite robust peat. Epic.
Finish - Very, very long, alien tannins with bright lemon peat and dark south-west France wine.
It was a mistake to try these next two (the Caol Ila and Laga) after the Brora and PE but it would have been a bigger mistake to lose the big guns to these smaller guns. We’re buying and splitting these next two anyway so hopefully I’ll revisit them on a clear palate and have a little more to say (and perhaps even different scores, but usually that isn’t the case).
Caol Ila 17 years old, 55.9% A+
1997. The tenth and oldest unpeated Caol Ila release, the first to come from American oak ex-bourbon casks. £90
Body - Soft and spicy, S&V crisps quite clearly (I thought that was the peat, I guess it’s in the spirit, I assume it's citric acid), Chupa Chups and tannins. Toffee.
Finish- Long and dusty and tannic, surprisingly peated again for the "unpeated".
Lagavulin 12 years old, 48.8% A⊕
13th release of the 12 year old, refill American oak casks, £80. I always buy this bottle. Might get two this year.
Body - Beautifully sweet and gentle. An elegant Lagavulin with a touch of wine.
Finish - Medium long, satisfyingly sweet and balanced. Altogether a very gentle, complex but well rounded Lagavulin.
This was an epic tasting, great people and amazing whisky. Cheers!