Being something of a whisky virgin, I had absolutely no idea how hotly anticipated the Special Releases night is. It was my opportunity to rub shoulders with experts who drink whisky for a living.
Talking and tasting my way around the room, I tried them all and I had a trio of particular favourites. I didn’t open the Tasting Notes because I wanted to make my own mind up and not pre-judge on the basis that the most expensive would be the best.
Now, this isn’t a post for the expert, more for those who love a dram and are interested in learning more about it. I don’t apologise for my Tasting Notes. This is my whisky journey and I’m enjoying the trip.
There are nine Special Releases all from Diageo-owned casks and I’ve listed them, in no particular order.
Lagavulin 12 year old
Thirteenth in a series of special 12 year old releases
Barrels: refill American Oak Casks, each at least 12 years old
Bottles: limited release
I have a special place in my heart for Lagavulin, not least because I just love the distillery and the stories that surround it from Scottish Kings to Peter White.
On first taste, the salty seaweed notes bring me straight back to Islay and the pontoon at Lagavulin, followed by a freshly-baked Mary Berry sponge. Citrus zest and smoke with an unexpected sweetness. Wait a little longer and there’s soft fruits and freshly baked bread. Rich salted chocolate on the mouth with sulphur and menthol notes. Warm and sweet. Love.
Cally 40 year old
A single grain whisky from the Caledonian Distillery, a defunct Edinburgh Distillery.
Barrels: refill American Oak hogsheads
Loved the Cally, on the nose it was THE best rice pudding or vanilla-laced creme brulee you’ve ever eaten with a side of honeyed sultanas. Without water this was oily and full of spiced vanilla. Added, it took on a really creamy mouthfeel. Raisins, spice and wood studded treacle tart.
Dalwhinnie 25 year old
Latest of five limited distillery releases from the highest, coldest distillery in Scotland.
Barrels: refill American Oak hogsheads
Awards: Best in Class IWSC, 2007
I’m a huge fan of Dalwhinnie so knew I’d love this grassy, sweet honeyed tipple. Pears, gooseberries, heather and fresh fruit and with water added, it opens up to reveal banana and bitter orange. Smooth and creamy, butterscotch and hay.
Clynelish Select Reserve
From the Clynelish Distillery at Brora, the second release in this series.
Barrels: first-fill ex Bourbon barrels, rejuvenated and refill American Oak hogsheads and former sherry and refill European Oak butts
Bottles: 2,946 individually numbered
Created by: Master Craftsmen Dr Jim Beveridge
I adored this just-baked sponge on-the-nose, mixed with Granny Smith green apples. Clynelish’s signature waxiness didn’t disappoint and a drop of water really sweetens things up and turned into a glass of smoked and salted Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Warm and chocolate with a peppery after-taste. I’m in love. Anyone got a spare £550?
The fourth new official bottling and the first for 6 years.
Barrels: refill American Oak casks
Bottles: 2,952 individually numbered
Fierce on the nose with Jamaican Ginger Cake and dark chocolate orange, with a hint of herb. Smooth, with a dark espresso hit. Water adds fruit and soft malt. A sipper not a glugger.
Pittyvaich 25 year old
From a defunct Speyside distillery (1975-1993), rarely seen as a single malt. Previous releases include a 12 and 20 year old.
Barrels: refill American Oak hogsheads and first-fill ex Bourbon barrels
Bottles: 5,922 individually numbered
This whisky is beautiful in both colour and packaging, the box is a Farrow and Ball shade straight off the green spectrum wheel. It tastes pretty special too.
It smells like a just-baked swiss roll with a side of charred pineapple. Adding water brings in banana and Fox’s Glacier Fruits. It tastes like a toffee tart but add water and it’s sweet with dried fruit. Oily peat with a honeyed heather, an easy drinking all-rounder.
Brora 37 year old
Fourteenth of a limited series of annual releases and the oldest to date from this celebrated Highland distillery.
Barrels: refill American Oak hogsheads, filled in 1977
Bottles: 2,976 individually numbered
This is one of my favourites and the honey notes mixed with marzipan and old battered leather satchel was super. Sipped, this was joined by red jam, orange and wood.
Caol Ila 17 year old
Tenth limited release of unpeated Caol Ila and the oldest to date.
Barrels: the first of these releases to come from American Oak ex-bourbon casks
Bottles: limited availability
I’m a huge fan of unpeated Islay whisky and this is from a batch made once a year from unpeated malt for blending in the ‘Highland Style’. Now I know the price points, this is bargainous. Vanilla, toffee and orange with hints of high cocoa content chocolate and ginger. Water softens this up but leaves a peppery minerality.
Port Ellen 32 year old
Barrels: from refill European Oak butts filled in 1983
Bottles: 2,964 bottles
I wondered why this bottle was pretty much inaccessible for most of the night, people clambering and jostling to get a glass. I waited until the venue was closing to savour this rather special whisky. It’s from the ghost distillery, Port Ellen, and this whisky is a collector’s dream and really sought-after. It’s some of the last whisky to be bottled in the final year of production. Earlier and far larger releases in this series change hands for up to ten times their original cost. This was a really strong and complex whisky and reminded me so much of Islay, sand, sea and air mixed with Christmas pudding. Dark Demerara sugar notes were enhanced with water and toffee and orange shine through. Burnt toast. No Butter. Honey. Loved.
All images, courtesy of Diageo.