Thursday, September 30, 2021

Review / Diageo Special Releases 2021

The arrival of Autumn is always signalled by Diageo, Scotland's largest whisky producer, announcing the line-up for their annual Special Releases programme. Each year these bottlings are designed to highlight rare or old whiskies from within Diageo's extensive portfolio of maturing stocks and are eagerly anticipated each year since the series was first started with just three expressions in 2001. The 2021 collection marks the 20th anniversary of the Special Releases.

This year is one of the smaller recent collections and sees just eight bottlings. The eight have been put together to show the stories of whisky from different environments and terrains across Scotland. This incorporates a set of mythical creatures that reside in the sea, lochs and mountains and  can be seen on the packaging. The 2021 collection is subtitled Legends Untold as a result. The striking artwork has been created by illustrator Ken Taylor.

As with all previous years the whiskies are all bottled at their natural cask strength and colour. This year's selection has again been curated and hand picked by Dr. Craig Wilson, one of the Master Blenders at Diageo. The Diageo Special Releases 2021 : Legends Untold will be available in limited quantities via specialist whisky and luxury retailers in selected markets worldwide (including Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, UK and USA) and They can be purchased individually or as a set.

"We have delved into the core characteristics of several classic distilleries for Legends Untold. The mythical creatures of this year’s collection represent the true expressions of these distilleries and we have taken inspiration from them." 
Dr. Craig Wilson.

Our tasting notes

Cardhu 14 years old
The Scarlet Blossoms of Black Rock
Speyside / 55.5% ABV / Re-fill American oak with ex-red wine cask finish / £120 

The colour is pale lemon yellow and the nose is packed with aromas of green apple and honeycomb. These are joined by hints of milk chocolate, tropical fruit (especially pineapple and lychee) and some increasingly influential malted cereals. A pinch of cinnamon and white pepper add extra depth and complexity.

On the palate this whisky has a luxurious feel and creamy texture. Notes of vanilla and heather honey kick things off, followed by baked apple, toffee and fresh honeycomb. These are followed by luscious red fruits (think of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry) and dried fruit (imagine juicy sultana and a hint of candied orange). Everything is underpinned by a developing robust maltiness. This is accentuated by that tropical note from the nose, plus hints of milk chocolate and gingerbread biscuits. Fresher notes develop towards the end, particularly crisp green apple and newly cut grass. Delicious.

Lagavulin 12 years old
The Lion's Fire
Islay / 56.5% ABV / Re-fill American oak casks / £130
The colour is pale gold and the nose is fiery and vegetal in nature. Spicy and feisty peat smoke dominates and has a mossy and earthy edge to it. Cracked black pepper and clove are also evident, along with vanilla and malted cookies. A late twist of lemon zest and fresh red chilli round things off.

On the palate this whisky continues on its fiery path. The peat smoke again dominates and shows notes of damp moss and vegetation, freshly turned soil and bonfire ash. This is finished off with a hint of dried seaweed. The malty and biscuity note follows next and gives a distinct bittersweetness. Then comes some much needed sweetness in the form of sugar syrup, honey and vanilla. A hint of milk chocolate, peardrops and cocoa also contribute to this. The spiciness is never far away and continues to be feisty and peppery. A note of clove gives a hint of antiseptic, before the black pepper and red chilli appear. Further spice comes in the form of pink peppercorn.

Lagavulin 26 years old
The Lion's Jewel
Islay / 44.2% ABV / Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry seasoned first-fill casks / £1,650

The colour is coppery amber and the nose is highly fragrant. Elegant sweet peat smoke rises from the glass and is wrapped around aromas of caramel, baked figs and apples drizzled in honey, orange oil and lingering wood spices. There are also hints of raisin, toasted nuts (think of almond and walnut especially), damp moss and treacle.

On the palate this whisky is weighty and oozes class. Notes of baked fruit (those figs and apples again, plus peach) with honey rise first and are followed by the distinct nutty and earthy characteristics. Toasted almonds, walnuts and pecans lead the way and are joined by notes of damp moss, dried leaves, seaweed and bittersweet peat. With time these are joined by warming wood and baking spices, especially cedarwood and cinnamon, plus dried fruits (raisin, dates, sultana and a hint of candied orange) and some black treacle. The smoke elegantly weaves itself around everything and has a sweet and bonfire-like feel that is reminiscent of dying embers and ash. Such a treat.

Mortlach 13 years old
The Moonlit Beast
Speyside / 55.9% ABV / Virgin and re-fill American oak barrels / £135
The colour is vibrant gold and the nose is packed with earthy and woody aromas. The savoury nature dominates with aromas of malted cereals, dusty wood shed and old cigar box evident. Underneath are whiffs of red apple, manuka honey, toasted coconut and a distinct nutty quality - think of hazelnut and walnut in particular.

On the palate this whisky is big, rich and bold. The savoury feel continues with robust malted cereals, punchy wood spices (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and old oak furniture) and a hint of dried tobacco leaf along the cigar box line from the nose. Golden syrup, honey and a hint of caramel bring much needed sweetness and also add depth. A suggestion of dried apple is also evident, along with toasted nuts and coconut. A pinch of cocoa and ginger powder comes through as does a distinct note of vanilla sugar. However, the savouriness is never far away and returns towards the end with further notes of cigar box, wood spice and drying biscuity malt.

Oban 12 years old
The Tale of Twin Foxes
West Highlands / 56.2% ABV / Freshly charred American oak ex-bourbon casks / £105
The colour is golden yellow and the nose has welcoming aromas of honey, toffee and coconut. Further aromas build on these - think of white chocolate, fresh lemon zest and oatcake biscuits. There is also a touch of spice on show in the form of white pepper and green chilli, plus a whiff of sea spray and brine. Very interesting indeed.

On the palate this whisky has an uplifting and scintillating vibrancy. The fresh lemon zest and white pepper from the nose combine with candied lime peel and the brine-like notes to give this feel. Richer and sweeter notes develop - imagine heather honey, toffee and milk chocolate with a drip of bitter orange oil. Earthy malted biscuits come through also, along with a hint of green apple and that green chilli from the nose. Woody oak spices begin to evolve towards the end and add a lovely vanilla note, plus some gripping dryness and warmth on the tongue. That peppery and chilli-like heat returns for one last hit right at the end.

Royal Lochnagar 16 years old
The Spring Stallion
East Highlands / 57.5% ABV / Re-fill American oak and European oak casks / £200

The colour is deep gold and the nose is lovely and malty with plenty of biscuit-like and brown sugar aromas. Then comes a lovely combination of burnt orange peel, crisp green apple and something reminsicent of damp Autumn leaves. There are also aromas of vanilla, caramel, baking spices and a hint of earthiness.

On the palate this whisky feels incredibly rich and creamy. The velvety texture accentuates the sweeter notes to begin with and the palate is loaded with vanilla, toffee, confected apple patisserie and crumbly brown sugar. Then the malty cereals kick in and add weight and structure to the whisky. Earthy malted biscuits and oat cakes start this before developing more towards woody and baking spices, plus that Autumn leafy note from the nose. It is an intriguing and tasty marriage. These savoury and spicy characteristics wrap around late notes of baked apple and dried orange peel. Feel slike a hug in a glass on a chilly afternoon.

Singleton of Glendullan 19 years old
The Siren's Song
Speyside / 54.6% ABV / Re-fill American oak with ex-Cognac cask finish / £140 

The colour is deep gold and the nose is rich, sweet and decadent. Aromas of baked apple and pear rise first but are quickly joined by suggestions of dried apricot, sultana and Victoria sponge cake. Then comes golden syrup and vanilla custard, along with a good pinch of baking spices and cocoa powder.

On the palate the decadence continues. This is silky and velvety with initial sweet notes of vanilla fudge and toffee coming through. Baked apple and poached pear are again evident and they are drizzled in a butterscotch sauce with a pinch of cinnamon and star anise. The combination is wonderful. Extra depth is added by evolving dried fruits. The apricot and sultanas are present as before, but are joined by raisin and fig. Another layer is added with the development of a lovely note of vanilla pod and toasted almond late on, along with further baking spices. Ginger powder, cocoa and a crack of black pepper add warmth and depth. Fabulous.

Talisker 8 years old
The Rogue Seafury

Isle of Skye / 59.7% ABV / Heavily peated re-fill casks / £90

The colour is pale lemon yellow and the nose is spiky and peppery. Punchy, hot peat smoke mingles with aromas of fresh green chilli white pepper straight from the pepper mill. Underneath are further aromas of green apples, malted barley, vanilla and lemon zest plus a hint of something confected in the background that reminded us of lime jelly.

On the palate this whisky is as bold and aggressive as the nose suggested. The hot peppery notes bombard the tastebuds and join forces with the robust ashy peat smoke. The combination is quite drying and gives a slight flinty edge. Some sweetness comes through in the form of vanilla, white chocolate and sweet malty cereal bars. These are quickly joined by a suggestion of two delicious desserts - lemon meringue pie and key lime pie. Further depth is added with a hint of clove and an increasing note of salty seaweed. This combines well with the peppery smoke to give a brightness and vibrancy to the whisky. Certainly a feisty one.


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