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 (pictured, above) 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.
Karen and Matt C were privileged to be invited to a small private tasting of the eleven single malts in London last month. The tasting was hosted by Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo's Head of Whisky Outreach, and Maureen Robinson, one of Diageo's Senior Master Blenders. Both are part of the Special Releases selection panel. A huge thank you goes to them both ...
|The 2014 Diageo Special Releases preview|
Due to the large number of bottlings in this year's, we have decided to split our thoughts and tasting notes in to two parts. The second part will appear shortly and will include the Glendullan, Lagavulin, Port Ellen, Rosebank and Strathmill expressions.
The Benrinnes distillery is located in central Speyside and the whisky produced there is earmarked for use in Diageo's extensive range of blends. This whisky was distilled in 1992 and has been matured in ex-bodega European oak casks. There are just 2,892 bottles and it has a natural cask strength of 56.9% ABV. A bottle will cost £240.
The nose is full of savoury aromas with an initial mix of meaty, almost beefy aromas and malty cereals. Then come raisin and caramel notes, which add sweetness, followed by background hints of rubber and sulphur. On the palate, this is intense and plenty of the meaty notes are evident. With time malted cereals, dark dried fruits (especially raisins), sugary caramel and toffee notes come through to compliment the savoury notes well. There is plenty of depth of flavour and this is heightened by hints of dried tropical fruits (think of mango in particular) and chocolate. The finish is long and the sweetness slowly fades to leave the meaty, malty and savoury notes to battle it out.
The Brora distillery, which is located in the north Highland town of the same name, was closed permanently in 1983 and stock is now very rare. This whisky was distilled in 1978 and matured in a combination of re-fill American oak and European oak casks. There are only 2,964 bottles released at 48.6% ABV. Each will retail for £1,200.
On the nose there is an immediate hit of stewed red fruit (think of plums and redcurrants) and these are joined by a distinct note of waxy furniture polish and a soft sooty/ashy smokiness. On the palate the whisky has an oily and creamy mouth feel. The soot/ash note seems more pronounced and threatens to take over. A welcome sweetness is present in the form of a lovely golden syrup-like note and some delicious fruit – imagine peaches and dried pineapple especially. There is also a hint of cinnamon and salt, which lift and accentuate everything, and a splash of water brings these out further and makes it instantly more fruity. The long finish becomes increasingly dry, as the sooty smoke takes hold and pushes the sweeter elements to the background.
Caol Ila is the largest distillery on the famous whisky island of Islay. It is known for the peaty/smoky style of its whisky but for a short period each year, they produce a non-peaty spirit. This has made a regular appearance in recent Special Releases and this is the oldest to date, having been distilled in 1998. It was matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks and there are 10,668 bottles. The strength is 60.3% ABV and each bottle will cost £75.
The nose is fresh, vibrant and sweet. There are immediate aromas of fudge, toffee, honey and vanilla, which are lifted by some tangy citrus (think of lemon zest in particular, with a splash of orange oil). On the palate, the whisky feels punchy and peppery with plenty of the vibrancy from the nose present. This could be due to the high ABV. The fudge and toffee notes are prominent again and are complimented by notes of vanilla, earthy ginger and coconut. There is also plenty of citrus with lemon zest and bitter orange noted. A late hint of saltiness combines with the sweeter elements to give an impression of salted caramel. The whisky softens with water and a distinct marzipan note comes out. It can take a lot of water and seems like a bit of a bargain.
The Caol Ila distillery is located on the rugged north eastern shore of Islay. This whisky was distilled in 1983 and has been matured in a combination of re-fill American oak and European oak casks. There are 7,638 bottles to be available and it is released at the natural strength of 55.1% ABV. A bottle will cost £425.
The nose is surprisingly fresh for a whisky of this age. There are lovely grassy and earthy aromas that mingle other savoury notes (think of leather and waxy furniture polish especially). Lazy smoke combines with a tropical fruitiness and golden syrup-like sweetness. On the palate this feels vibrant and syrupy with plenty of expressive sweet and savoury notes complimenting each other - golden syrup, honey, mango and peaches combine with earthy, mossy, grassy and more savoury notes (imagine the leather an polish from the nose, plus hints of cured meat and menthol). The soft smokiness is never far away and is the last element to disappear during the very long finish. This is a very classy whisky.
The Clynelish distillery is located in the north Highland town of Brora, and is next to the old Brora distillery. Clynelish was founded in 1967 and the spirit produced there is primarily used across Diageo's blended Scotch portfolio. This whisky is a combination of different ages and five different cask types. Some of these are 'very rare' and there are just 2,964 bottles. The strength is 54.9% ABV and a bottle will cost £500.
The nose is exquisite with a lovely combination of aromas - think of caramel, butterscotch, orange oil and dried peaches combined with a subtle earthy smokiness in the background. On the palate this has an oily, slightly waxy feel that coats the mouth. There is initially a note of sugary caramel and this is quickly joined by the orange citrus from the nose. This adds a tangy edge. Savoury elements then start to appear with earthy ginger and warming cinnamon particularly coming to the fore. There is a soft, gentle smokiness that has bonfire ash-like and slightly sooty quality to it, which adds a touch of dryness. The finish is long and sweet with the warm wood spice and smoke coming through and lasting longest.
Cragganmore is located in the southern section of the Speyside region in a tiny hamlet of the same name. The 12 years old expression has long been part of Diageo's Classic Malts. This expression was distilled in 1988 and has been matured in American oak casks. There are only 3,372 bottles to be available and they each have a strength of 51.4% ABV. The cost will be £299.
On the nose this whisky has a number of aromas competing for your attention. Initially there is a distinct maltiness and sugary sweetness (think of crumbly brown sugar and butterscotch). Underneath is a spicy, woody, cinnamon-like aroma and further depth is added by notes of bitter orange, honey and a hint of dried tropical fruit. On the palate these tropical fruit notes seem exaggerated (think of mango and pineapples especially) and are joined by fresh coconut, malty cereals, vanilla and butterscotch. The combination is wonderful and balanced by some cinnamon and ginger, which add complexity and warmth. The finish is long and fruity. The addition of water makes the whisky creamier and brings out a previously undetected floral note. Heather perhaps?