To steal some paraphrasing from Marks and Spencer, there are special releases and then there’s Diageo Special Releases. Each year since 2001, Scotland’s biggest distiller has whipped up an unprecedented level of excitement within the whisky industry with a set of releases from across its 28 distilleries, as well as some of its now silent cousins.
Each of this year’s nine bottlings has a number of common features in that they are small-batch, cask strength and come in individually designed, hand-finished packaging. Their rarity also means they have one other thing in common – price.
A couple of years ago, the pricing of the Special Releases seemed to spiral out of control, with the collection coming across as a way for Diageo to make a quick buck. Things have been brought under control this year though, with one (fantastic!) bottling available for just £90. Unfortunately, a bottle of Port Ellen is still going to set you back £2,400.
For the first time this year, I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of the Special Releases and below you’ll find details about four of the bottlings, with the final five (enjoy the sci-fi reference Battlestar Galactia fans) to follow this later this week.
I’ve tried to order/rank these whiskies, but the quality of the malts involved has made this an almost impossible task. Let’s just say I’ve held my five favourites back until the next blog post.
Dalwhinnie 25 Year Old – 48.8%
The special release from Scotland’s highest and coldest distillery was the only slight disappointment of the entire evening. Very flora and light on the nose with the sweet notes, this had all the characteristics which make Dalwhinnie the perfect entry level whisky. Things are slightly punchier than usual on the palate, with a bit more fruit and a crisp, short finish. A good dram, yes, but this collection is about great drams and Dalwhinnie couldn’t stand-up to the stellar competition.
The Cally 40 Year Old – 53.3%
Now, here’s a treat – a single grain release from Edinburgh’s now closed Caledonian Distillery. “The Cally” closed in 1988 (the year I was born), with both official and independent bottlings an extremely rare sight. After 40 years in American oak hogsheads casks, the resulting liquid was the colour of treacle, which gave an extremely rich, sweet and nutty nose. Creamy and soft to taste, the sweetness continued and the presence of the oak wood also came to the fore, with a clean yet lingering vanilla finish.
Pittyvaich 25 Year Old – 49.9%
Another of Diageo’s silent distilleries, Pittyvaich was only open from 1974 to 1993, making the whisky older than the lifespan of the actual distillery. It nose is reminiscent of its Speyside origins, combing malty and fruity notes to give a rich yet fresh first impression. Although this richness dissipates slightly on the palate, the twin flavours are still there, with a sweet, spiciness also added. The oak linger sin the finish, along with a bit of chocolatey sweetness.
Brora 37 Year Old
A saltwort of the Diageo Special Releases, this year’s Brora is the oldest to date. This, coupled with the diminishing stocks from the now closed distillery, results a hefty price tag. It’s well worth paying though. Sister to Clynelish Distillery (more on which in my next post) there is that waxy, leathery first impression on the nose. There’s a lot of exotic fruit here though – kiwi, passion fruit and lime. As expected, the waxiness continued on the palate, adding big, rich, sweet flavours to an undercurrent of smoke. The finish is long and lingering – something I hope the Brora continues to do for many years to come.
So there you have it – four down and five to go.