The annual launch event of Diageo’s Special Releases is always a big night in the whisky calendar, and this year’s was no different, as sporrans were dusted down for a night of enjoying some seriously expensive and rare drams.
This is a vintage year, with some seriously good liquid on display, including Collectivium XXVIII, the first ever blend from all 28 of Diageo’s active distilleries, not to mention the Port Dundas 52yo, a single grain whisky from a closed distillery that also happens to be the oldest whisky ever included in the collection.
‘The Special Releases range is always a highlight in our calendar year, it reflects the truly extraordinary range of stocks our blenders have available to them,’ said Dr Nick Morgan, Diageo’s head of whisky outreach. ‘The variety and quality of whiskies in the collection is simply impeccable. We’re looking forward to sharing this year’s collection with the world, and in particular keen to see the response to the new COLLECTIVUM XXVIII.’
Now that the dust has settled and our sore heads have abated, we’ve gone back through our notes and picked our star performers from the range…
Our picks from this year’s Special Releases:
Blair Athol 23 year old
‘The first new Blair Athol release of any kind since 2003’, says Diageo. Matured in sherry butts.
Nose: An initial freshness to the nose of spring blossom and clean linen gives way to richer dark chocolate-covered dried orange, cinnamon, apple, melon and fresh oak shavings.
Palate: Caramel and toffee, pine nuts, freshly brewing beer with a developed green sticky hop note. Embossed leather and sea salt.
Finish: More of that green hop character and leather.
58.4% abv, £400/70cl. Distilled in 1993; 5,514 bottles available
Caol Ila 18 year old
Yet another unpeated release from this Islay distillery, this has been aged in refill American oak.
Nose: Plenty of wood on this nose in the form of pine, vanilla and white pepper. It’s a walk in a bakery, with flour, just-baking bread and sunflower seeds too.
Palate: Initial sweetness of toffee and meringue is dried out by a salt pillar, which makes way for thyme, purslane and coastal vegetation. The dryness emphasises the salty, mineral qualities of the dram.
Finish: Austere, yet with a lovely sweetness to it. Sucking on sea pebbles, with a smattering of pepper and gun flint.
59.8% abv, £100/70cl. ‘Limited quantities available,’ says Diageo
The first ever blend in the collection, and an NAS to boot, this incorporates stocks from all 28 of Diageo’s operating distilleries.
Nose: Dusty, with warming sweet spices, cocoa powder and talcum powder. Sweet notes of candied orange, strawberry laces and parma violets too.
Palate: Zippy, savoury and spicy – more so than the nose let on – with mahogany wood, cocoa powder, green capsicum and dried chilli flakes.
Finish: Salt and pepper padron peppers.
57.3% abv, £150/70cl. ‘Limited quantities available,’ says Diageo
Convalmore 32 year old
Distilled the year before Convalmore fell silent in 1985, this whisky was aged in refill American oak hogsheads.
Nose: Wood shavings and black pepper precede sharp fruit brand, apricots, lemons and tarte tatin. Sea shells and hazelnuts add interesting layers.
Palate: Satin-like mouthfeel, with plenty of fresh stone fruit - especially nectarine – and raspberries. Then things get a lot more savoury, with a huge whack of sea salt, sea weed and green capsicum sweeping the fruit aside, before a significant dusting of dried chilli flakes settles.
Finish: Prickly spices and numb lips, sea salt, freshly cut grass and an old worn leather bookmark.
48.2% abv, £1,200/70cl. Distilled in 1984; 3,972 bottles available
Port Ellen 37 year old
Diageo must surely be running out of stocks of this revered mothballed Islay distillery soon. This release, the 17th of its series of annual releases, and the equal oldest ever released, has been aged in refill American oak hogsheads and butts.
Nose: Unmistakably Port Ellen. Freshly baked rye bread studded with cranberries and raspberries and spread with apricot jam. Brazil nuts, orange Fruit Gums and a whisper of old ash trays.
Palate: Gossamer mouthfeel. Sweet fudge and toffee is sprinkled with ash and sea salt. Wholegrain bread is served with salami, tapenade and hops.
Finish: Salty cured meat and black pepper, coal dust and black olive bitterness. Complex and intriguing.
51% abv, £2,625/70cl. Distilled in 1979; 2,988 bottles available
The other whiskies in this year’s Diageo Special Releases:
Brora 34 year old: 51.9% abv, £1,450/70cl. Distilled in 1982; 3,000 bottles available
Glen Elgin 18 year old: 54.8% abv, £300/70cl. Distilled in 1998; 5,352 bottles available
Lagavulin 12 year old: 56.5% abv, £90/70cl. ‘Limited quantities available,’ says Diageo
Port Dundas 52 year old: 44.6% abv, £775/70cl. Distilled in 1964; 752 bottles available
Teaninich 17 year old: 55.9% abv, £275/70cl. Distilled in 1999; Limited quantities available,’ says Diageo