Diageo, the world's leading premium drinks company, have just released their latest cask strength single malt whisky range. The Special Release series began in 2001 and the selected bottlings are released annually, around this time of the year. The idea is to showcase special stock that they are holding from their existing and closed Scottish distilleries. This years selection is made up of nine single malt scotch whiskies, with all limited in numbers and are highly collectable and desirable as a result. They will only be able to be purchased from specialist retailers and in selected markets around the world.
We at Whisky For Everyone were lucky enough to get an invite to the official launch and tasting of the Special Releases that was recently held at Diageo's headquarters in London. We will present our tasting notes from the evening in two parts. The second part, which includes the Caol Ila 12 years old Unpeated, Cragganmore 21 years old, Glenkinchie 20 years old, Lagavulin 12 years old cask strength and Port Ellen 31 years old, will follow shortly.
Auchroisk 20 years old
Info > 58.1% ABV - 6000 bottles - Matured in mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks - RRP £115
Auchroisk (pronounced ar-thrusk) is one of Diageo's least known distilleries and is located in the eastern corner of the Speyside region, close to the village of Mulbern. It is also one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland having been founded in 1974 and has an annual production capacity of 3.8 million litres. The whisky produced there is used within the blended whisky market, mainly Diageo's Johnnie Walker and J&B brands.
The colour is a deep gold and the nose gives plenty of immediate vanilla, honey, coconut and almond aromas. Other notes then join, such as burnt sugar, sultanas and a hint of cinnamon. The nose remains fresh and vibrant throughout. On the palate, this is immediately richer and deeper in character than the nose suggested, feeling creamy and warming. A distinct cereal note is present, reminiscent of oatcakes, and this graininess carries on through to the finish. It is joined by plenty of vanilla, toffee, honey, sultanas and coconut. The coconut becomes particularly prominent with the addition of a few drops of water, as does a previously undetected floral note (think of honeysuckle). The finish is short and slightly dry, with woody oak and a pinch of cinnamon spice present.
Brora 30 years old
Info > 54.3% ABV - 2958 bottles - Matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry refill casks - RRP £280
The Brora distillery was closed in 1983 and as a result the whiskies that were produced there are becoming rarer and rarer as stock dwindle. Brora was located on the north east Highland coast in the town of the same name and was founded in 1819. Upon closure, most of the buildings were dismantled but some remain and are used as warehouses for the neighbouring Clynelish, a modern distillery which was built in 1967.
The colour is golden with an amber tint and the nose is elegant, yet expressive. There are aromas of vanilla, dried tropical fruits (imagine mango and pineapple), cereals and a whiff of bonfire smoke. With time, a sweet note of buttery fudge starts to appear and becomes increasingly prominent. On the palate, there is initial sweetness that combines that fudge with honey, cereals and the dried tropical fruits from the nose (add in some peach now). Then it becomes drier and more complex with a pinch of saltiness and the bonfire smoke (think of the ash and embers) growing to add pleasant depth. The finish is long with plenty of malted cereals, honey and fudge present. The salt and smoke reappear to give a lovely final hit of dryness.
Glen Spey 21 years old
Info > 50.4% ABV - 6000 bottles - Matured in ex-bourbon casks that have also previously held sherry - RRP £120
Glen Spey, like Auchroisk, is one of Diageo's least known distilleries and this release is one of only two official bottling since 2001 (the other was part of the recent Manager's Choice range). The distillery is located in the famous central Speyside town of Rothes and was founded in 1878. Glen Spey has an annual production capacity of 1.3 million litres and all of its whisky is used in blended whiskies, especially Diageo's J&B Rare.
This whisky interested us because we have never tried any Glen Spey, as even independent bottling are rare. The colour is a bright gold and the nose is fresh and vibrant. There are aromas of toffee, butterscotch, vanilla, coconut and fresh green fruits (think of pears and apples especially). On the palate, this begins sweetly with a heavier mouth feel than expected - it is a little oily and seems to coat your mouth. The sweet notes include vanilla, honey and butterscotch, but these soon begin to battle with some very woody and much drier notes (imagine oak, coconut and wood spices like sandalwood and cinnamon). With water, the oak (which becomes more like sawdust) and the coconut become even more prominent. The finish is more subtle than expected and again starts sweetly before turning drier.
Talisker 30 years old
Info > 57.3% ABV - 3000 bottles - Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry refill casks - RRP £230
Talisker is an iconic distillery located on the west Hebridean island of Skye. It is the only distillery on the island and is found close to the village of Carbost. Talisker was founded in 1830 and has a current annual production capacity of 1.9 million litres. The use of Talisker whisky is split between an increasingly popular single malt range and the blended market, where it can be found in some expressions of Johnnie Walker.
The colour is a deep gold and the nose is initially understated but develops well with a bit of patience and time. It is delicate with aromas of caramel, vanilla, dark dried fruits (think of raisins and prunes), spices (imagine nutmeg and clove) and some background coal smoke (this is slightly sulphuric and sooty). The nose is remarkable fresh for a whisky of this age and this is strengthened by some crisp green apple and pear notes. On the palate, there is a burnt sugary note that gives way to sweeter caramel and dried fruits. Add to this the spices (including some black peppercorns now) and the sooty, ashy coal smoke from the nose and the complexity starts to build. The freshness is still evident as a distinct salty tang is revealed and this is joined by a slightly savory, meaty note. The finish is long with a complex yet elegant combination of caramel, malty cereals, drying coal smoke and a hint of cracked peppercorns. A fantastic dram.