Diageo have announced the eleven whiskies that will make up the 2014 Special Releases collection, which is due for release very shortly. This programme highlights some of the most exceptional single malt stock from within their portfolio of 28 working distilleries, plus remaining stocks from those which have been closed. This year's selection of whiskies are all bottled at the natural cask strength, are non chill filtered and all are limited edition. The collection again places well known flagship distilleries alongside very rare stock from the iconic Brora and Port Ellen, both of which closed in 1983.
Earlier this week, the official launch of Special Releases 2014 took place in The Serpentine Gallery in central London. Karen, Matt C and Matt T were in attendance. Due to the large number of bottlings this year's, we have decided to split our thoughts and tasting notes in to two parts. The first part - this includes the bottlings of Benrinnes, Brora, Caol Ila (x2), Clynelish and Cragganmore - can be read by clicking here.
The Glendullan distillery in located in the Speyside town of Dufftown and is one of the three distilleries used by Diageo to for their Singleton range. This expression was distilled 1975 and matured in re-fill European oak casks. There are just 3,756 bottles and the strength is 59.8% ABV. A bottle will cost £750.
The nose has a lovely warming mix of fruity, sweet and spicy aromas - think of stewed apple, caramel, toffee, orange peel and cinnamon. Underneath is a nutty aroma and a hint of liquorice. On the palate this feels soft, gentle and waxy but has plenty of expressive notes. There is again a prominent apple and caramel note (think of toffee apples) and some tart tropical fruits, especially mango. The nuttiness is reminiscent of walnuts and this combines well with further notes of vanilla, burnt orange and cinnamon. The sweetness and fruitiness fades on the finish to leave the drying, warming wood spices to the fore. This was sampled with Parmesan cheese and they complimented each other superbly. With the addition of water, lovely notes of red berries and bubblegum appear.
A cask strength 12 years old version from the Islay distillery of Lagavulin has become a fixture in the Special Releases programme. The 2014 expression was distilled in 2001 and 2002 and matured in re-fill American oak casks. There are 31,428 bottles, which are released at 54.4% ABV, and will cost £80.
The nose is pungent, oily and feisty with initial aromas of peppery peat smoke, damp moss, icing sugar, honey and dried seaweed. On the palate, this whisky opens up with full on hot and spicy red chilli peppers and robust, punchy peat smoke. Underneath other notes fight for attention and include honey, vanilla, fudge, crisp green apples and something fruity like peach or apricot. These come to the forefront as the smoke dissipates and the icing sugar/honey notes is particularly prominent. There are also hints of liquorice, menthol and cinnamon bark. With water, the smoke is knocked back significantly and becomes more earthy and mossy, almost slightly musty, than before. The vanilla and fruit elements are equally pulled forwards.
The closed distillery of Port Ellen from Islay has gained legendary status amongst whisky drinkers since production ceased over 30 years ago. This year's bottling was distilled in 1978 and matured in combination of re-fill American oak and European oak casks. There are just 2,964 bottles at a strength of 56.5% ABV. Each costs £2,200.
The nose has a classy set of aromas that combines sweet, savoury and smoky notes superbly. The sweetness is driven by aromas of caramel and dried tropical fruits, the savoury by tobacco and leather, and the mild smokiness has an ashy/sooty feel. However, it feels slightly restrained somehow. It is on the palate that this really comes alive. There is remarkable freshness for an old whisky with grassy and delicate wood spices exaggerating this. The dried tropical fruit from the nose is heightened (think of pineapple and peach especially) and combine with the soft, sooty smoke. There is also a savoury meaty note in the background, along with hints of earthy ginger and cigar box. The finish is long with the sweetness fading to leave dry smoke and oak tannins.
The Lowland distillery of Rosebank has also been closed for a significant amount of time, in this case since 1993. This whisky was distilled in 1992 and has been matured in re-fill American oak casks. There are only 4,530 bottles, which are released at 55.3% ABV. They are priced at £300 each.
The nose is light, delicate and fresh with a lovely set of expressive aromas present. There is a deliciously tempting combination of vanilla, honey and toffee that mix with coconut, dried apricots and an increasingly prominent zesty lemon note. On the palate, the freshness continues with the lemon-like characteristic particularly strong. This is backed up by a bittersweet maltiness, plus notes of green apple and dried grass. The blend of these elements with some of those from the nose is very successful. There are notes of toffee, vanilla, honey with a hint of marshmallow in the background. There is also dried fruit, but this is more tropical than on the nose (think of pineapples). With a dash of water, the malt and grass notes really come through and the tangy zest is mellowed.
Whiskies from this Speyside distillery are rarely seen. Strathmill is located in the town of Keith and this expression was distilled in 1988. It has been matured in re-fill American oak casks and there are just 2,700 bottles. It has a natural cask strength of 52.4% ABV and a bottle will cost £275.
On the nose this has a distinct mix of sweet and spice. The sweetness is led by aromas of vanilla, fudge and golden syrup while aromas of cinnamon and ginger contribute to the spiciness. The ginger seems to get more prominent with time in the glass and tends towards gingerbread. There are also hints of orange oil and honeysuckle. On the palate the whisky feels soft and creamy with an immediate ginger note adding a lovely warmth. There are also lots of vanilla and fudge/toffee present and these are joined by a distinct and tangy butter orange note. There is a hint of fruitiness (think of stewed apples especially) and a faint floral characteristic. The finish is of decent length and again mixes sweet vanilla and fudge with warm ginger spice.
What's the verdict?
Yet again, Diageo have released a very good set of whiskies that exhibit the high quality of malts within their portfolio. This is the sixth year that we have been invited to sample the Special Releases and they rarely disappoint. It shows that there are some fine Scotches out there, despite what a certain whisky writer would recently have you believe, and that there are many more excellent releases to come.
So what was the favourite? The Glendullan and Strathmill were interesting, as we had never really tried anything of that quality from those distilleries, and tasting any Brora, Port Ellen or Rosebank these days feels like a treat. However Karen chose the superb Caol Ila 15 years old (which definitely won our 'value for money' award), Matt C picked the Clynelish Select Reserve and Matt T went for the magnificent Caol Ila 30 years old.
To read part one of our review of the Special Releases 2014 - click here