A treasure trove of the world’s “Most desirable, valuable and collectible” single malt Scotch whiskies – Nik Keane, global director for Malt Whiskies at Diageo
Diageo’s Special Releases Series was begun in 2001 to satisfy enthusiasts’ demand for unusual, distinctive, usually older and often unrepeatable cask strength bottlings. Collectors, connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike eagerly anticipate this annual release of remaining older stocks and unusual expressions of a distillery’s character; a rare opportunity to experience and enjoy a treasure trove of priceless malts.
All malts subject to availability – please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register interest in a bottling, or call 020 7437 2385
* = individually numbered bottles
** = individually numbered cartons
*** = closed distillery
Lagavulin 1976, 37 year old – Refill American and European Oak
The oldest expression of Lagavulin ever released by the distillers, and limited to fewer than 2,000 bottles. Georgie Crawford, distillery manager at Lagavulin, said:
“Lagavulin is probably the most sought-after single malt whisky in production today – universally acknowledged as one of the unchallenged grands crus of Scotch Whisky. For many years we have been unable to supply sufficient mature spirit to meet worldwide demand. So bottlings of old Lagavulin are exceptionally rare, and this year’s 37 year old is the oldest that we have ever released. Its 12 year old younger brother makes a regular appearance in the Special Releases, and has always been received with huge enthusiasm.”
• Appearance: Rich amber with copper lights. Good beading.
• Nose: Modestly low key, setting the tone for a maestro’s ‘less is more’ performance. Yet still the aroma could only be that of Lagavulin: rich and complex, an artist’s oils wreathed in scented smoke. The top notes are elusive: is that menthol or beef consommé? Further in, though, there’s honeyed toffee with hints of lime zest, and a cigar-box made of resin-rich sandalwood. With water the aroma is joyously sweet and lightly oily.
• Body: Medium. Lightly coating.
• Palate: At natural strength, the taste is sensational, rounded and comforting. There’s a nice cooling mouthfeel, while the sweet-smoky start of charcoal and ripe tropical fruits is followed by gathering wood smoke leading to a palate-cleansing, black tea dryness. Along the way waves of honey, pine, treacle tart and roasting chestnuts interact. It’s really delicate with water, which pulls back the curtain of smoke to reveal a sweetly coating, softly warming and gingery character that is honeyed yet still refreshing.
• Finish: Initially sweet then drying, a little like a treacle tart made with burnt pastry, but it’s the lingering, all-pervading fragrant smoke that seeps into your very soul.
Summary: This outstanding mature Lagavulin is a perfectly balanced, calm and confident malt that is utterly wonderful and understated even at cask strength and becomes joyously delicate with water. Smoky flavours can fade with age, but they are undimmed in this elegant yet robust whisky.
Lagavulin 12 year old – Refill American Oak
A lively expression of Lagavulin released to accompany the blockbuster 1976 release.
• Appearance: Extremely pale green-gold.
• Nose: Soft, beguiling and cautious at first, when an appetising sharpness slowly crystallises into red berry fruit, then developing soft, savoury aromas and a delicious smoky sweetness. Savoury hints of charred baked potato skins cooked in a bonfire come first, then peat smoke and a box of spent matches come through. Later still, there are teasing, oily hints of sharp tropical fruit (lime pickle?). These aromas are altogether softer with water; less tense and underscored by youthful sweetness. There are smoky-fresh notes, then raisins and dried fruit, with distant wood smoke.
• Body: Light. Oily.
• Palate: Cooling at first, then salty, drying and dusty, with a good balance of sweetness and acidity. Beautifully cleansing, like a salad of tarragon and peppery rocket, then really appetizing, as if a char-grilled endive splashed with peppery olive oil. The charred notes then strengthen, into smoky wax. Sweeter with water and more accessible, as captivating notes of aniseed and fennel seeds give way to charred fruit scones and burnt jam tarts.
• Finish: Simultaneously sweet and savoury, dominated by pungent smoke and appetising aniseed. With growing warmth, it becomes oily near the end. With water it is sweet and abrupt with subdued smoke; pleasantly drying and piney.
Summary: An initially reserved member of the Lagavulin family, which grows much more at ease and expressive with water. As you might expect, this is a wonderfully appetising, invigorating and cleansing malt; soaring pine and pungent smoke invite you to pair it with lean, intense foods.
Talisker 1985, 27 year old – Refill American Oak
From the Isle of Skye, 3,000 individually numbered bottles of the much loved Talisker are being released and sure to be in strong demand.
• Appearance: Rich, clear amber with notes of antique gold.
• Nose: Absolutely classic Talisker. First soft and sweet, with shortcrust pastry and rich warm dark chocolate. Next, after the faintest mention of raspberry juice, comes waft upon waft of warming, homely smoke. Through this rises the buttery, oaty aroma of home-made chocolate chip cookies, offset by sharp mixed-berry jam and ripe red apples. There are late top notes of beeswax and polish on new shoes fresh from the box. Water makes it all sweetly smoky and liberates mysterious volcanic fumes.
• Body: Medium. Oily.
• Palate: Cool, salty and sweet; then warming and spicy, with notes of ginger and clove. Growing rich and malty, with helpings of plum pudding and fruitcake. Then resin-rich, dense, fragrant pine-wood smoke. Soft, smooth and bitter-sweet with water, with gently pervasive smoke.
• Finish: Long and silky-smooth, with more of that drying, unctuous and soft dark chocolate, and chewy, with ripe plums. Late warmth, cigar-box cedar and coal smoke.
Summary: A supreme Talisker; wonderfully classic in style and as sophisticated as its peers but with an extra ‘chilled’ self-assurance and even an edge of darkness. A malt that lives life to the full and doesn’t take itself too seriously: it’s also ever-so-slightly edgy, with suggestions of a volcanic heritage.
Cardhu 1991, 21 year old – Ex-bourbon American Oak
From Speyside comes an unusually mature Cardhu, with under 6,000 individually numbered bottles released. This will make an interesting comparison to the Cardhu 22 year old released in 2005.
• Appearance: Old gold; richer amber depths. Good beading.
• Nose: Mild and at first quite shy. An early creamy, fruity note of vanilla and boiled sweets (bubble gum!) is faintly underscored by a rich, floral perfume with a cleansing edge. The creamy fruitiness persists as dried figs, rum-and-raisin ice cream, red apple skins and beeswax. Later a malty, biscuity base layer is revealed, as the cleansing edge becomes a sharply defined top layer. Overall, it’s a richer vanilla custard and fruit trifle creaminess that emerges. Water opens things out, raising both fruit and floral scents slightly, the boiled sweets now mandarin-flavoured.
• Body: Fine and light.
• Palate: At natural strength, smooth and savoury, with light acidity. Clean, refined, pleasantly drying and delicate. Then wonderfully aromatic with notes of black cherry; growing spicy, warming and elegant, with nutty, dark chocolate offset by buttery shortbread. It’s even softer with a drop of water. Now the taste starts cooler and sweeter; still savoury (mint on a fresh fruit salad) but also newly spicy across the tongue.
• Finish: Long, aromatic and warming; smooth vanilla balanced by juicy tangerine and faint orange oil with spicy cedar, late silky-smooth dryness and a wisp of smoke.
Summary: Clean and precisely structured; delicate and feminine on the nose, yet also robust, assured and unusually spicy. A beautifully balanced malt in which lusciously rich and indulgent vanilla notes are complemented by elegantly aromatic and refined tannins in the palate and finish.
The Singleton of Dufftown 1985, 28 year old – Refill American Oak
The first release of a limited cask strength edition of The Singleton, with only 3,840 individually numbered bottles available.
• Appearance: Deep antique gold. Good beading
• Nose: Grand and mild; compact yet detailed, with ripe apple and pear fruit or perhaps beeswax and heather pollen, and scents of moorland herbs. Quite autumnal, with faint smoke and a savoury cereal note, and like an old dusty library carrying scents of wax and worn leather. Later, orange oil underscores the complex floral notes. In time some vanilla develops, becoming intense buttercream. Water lightens it considerably and brings out the malty, cereal character (like being in a grain loft), with leafy strawberries, more waxiness and the merest trace of smoke.
• Body: Oily, dense.
• Palate: At natural strength, this malt has a big, oily feel; sweet and reminiscent of a wholewheat breakfast cereal coated with honey. The initial effect is warming, with an instantly appetising astringency. Below this lie minty and faintly smoky notes and rich chewy liquorice with a digestive biscuit sweetness. It’s all sweeter and less oily with water; losing that piercing aromatic dryness and with the cereal note dimmed, it’s altogether gentler and more approachable.
• Finish: Invigorating, warming and gloriously astringent at the end, with notes of pine and cedar to leave the palate tingling over a lingering last wisp of smoke.
Summary: A wonderfully appetising, full flavoured and mature malt, made subtle by long ageing, yet retaining its malty/nutty distillery character. Beautifully structured and paced, it is at once fresh and alive on the palate, yet also evocative of the past; complex and exciting, intricate and intriguing.
Convalmore 1997, 36 year old – Refill European Oak
From the Dufftown distillery mothballed in 1985 this Convalmore is exceedingly rare, and released this year with greater age than when previously offered in 2005. Available in fewer bottles on this occasion also, at only 3,000.
• Appearance: Vibrant amber or faded polished mahogany. Medium beaded and very viscous.
• Nose: Mild and profound, opening scented with eucalyptus oil and a trace of leather infusing a soft pillow of marshmallow and creamy toffee. Through this runs a rich vein of clean, tropical fruit sharpness, underscored by soft, crumbly, malty notes with a wisp of smoke. In time, the appetising fruit retreats into a rich, creamy shell. A little water brings up the soft toffee creaminess and a little mint, as the fruity complex becomes fresher.
• Body: Lightly oily. Smooth.
• Palate: Big and oily in texture; gently warming and extremely soft and comforting, like a whisky syrup! The taste is immediately sweet yet, with a note of aniseed, not cloying. Successive waves of pepper, salt and smoke follow, revealing a mouth-drying nature. With water, the texture remains big, thick and tongue-coating; the taste is sweeter, cooler and minty; slightly dusty, too, with hints of shortbread and scented smoke.
• Finish: Superbly balanced, with an unusual aftertaste of perfumed smoke. There’s still sweetness but it’s in essence drying, with notable cedar-rich hints of cigar box.
Summary: A subtle, big whisky with an astonishing rich velvet texture that wears its age lightly yet has developed a wonderful complexity. The young-seeming, sweet and succulent nose leads, via the smooth, comforting palate, to a drying conclusion of marked aromatic complexity, masterminded by long years of maturation.
Oban 21 year old – Rejuvenated American Oak and second fill ex-bodega casks
For lovers of West Coast single malts, this 21 year old Oban has been finished in rejuvenated American Oak and a second fill in ex-Bodega casks.
• Appearance: Polished beech-wood; richer and deeper in sunlight. Moderate beading.
• Nose: Full, accessible and oily, with rich caramel notes embracing sweet, ripe apples set in burnt pastry yet also with fresh and cleansing maritime notes; fragrant dried seaweed, hot sand dunes. Then darker, linseed-oil-rich aromas like those found at a furniture restorer’s lead to a briefly salty, then spicy, aromatic conclusion. It’s more complex and sweetly rounded with water, with lighter caramel, more ripe autumn fruit, and a trace of smoke, delivering a pleasurable, moreish malt.
• Body: Rich.
• Palate: Warming overall, the dense, oily texture beautifully coating and liqueur-like. The taste is first sweet, with fruity vanilla toffee, then salty, with pistachio shells, and burnt pastry. Becomes sweeter and less salty: less the old sea-dog! Mouth-cleansing, cool and fresh, and drying. Water emphasises the cooling, sweet and salty notes; rich dark chocolate and minty smoke.
• Finish: Lengthy and drying, starting sweet and savoury with raspberry juice, dark smooth chocolate, ginger and clove, yet with an attractive salty, oily aftertaste, all brine and smooth olive oil.
Summary: Oban, and then some. A beautifully paced, confident and assured malt; complex and contradictory, yet always rewarding. Rich and sweet then briny and spicy, at once conveying the freshness of walks along the coast and through apple orchards early on a crisp, autumn morning.
Caol Ila – Unpeated ‘Stitchell Reserve’ – Refill American Oak, rejuvenated American Oak and ex-bodega European Oak
So named in honour of the long-serving distillery manager Billy Stitchell, due to retire this year:
“Refill American Oak, rejuvenated American Oak and ex-bodega European Oak have all played a role in creating this special Caol Ila,” explains Billy. “It has a firm, clean and fresh style, finishing with aromatic, spicy and drying notes.”
• Appearance: Clear, olive gold. Light beading.
• Nose: At full strength, immediately clean, aromatic and fresh: like inhaling Friar’s Balsam. After this first blast, more reticent; softly sweet, then a vivid freshness like that of crisp green fruit or lemon zest. Water raises a fruity, nutty honeyed sweetness and a faint note of treacle, with perhaps just a hazy hint of smoke.
• Body: Light to medium. Oily, yet firm.
• Palate: Drinks well straight; has an intense and in your face style, with a most appealing smooth, lightly oily texture. Firm, clean and fresh throughout. Intense and mouth-filling, with a great initial surge of sweet spiciness unaccompanied by the usual signature phenols of peated Caol Ila or indeed, much fruit. Becoming honey-nutty (nut brittle, with a dark edge of treacle bitterness) then finally, warming and drying. A good splash of water develops these flavours; it’s tongue-coating and appetisingly bitter-sweet now, leaving a spicy dryness as the tide of flavour ebbs.
• Finish: Aromatic, spicy and drying; a balancing bitter edge embraces more of the soft nutty, biscuity notes, always maintaining that essential freshness overall.
Summary: A smooth-talking, easy-drinking powerhouse. A powerfully, punchy, warming and sweet-spicy whisky with a mighty vitality and a smooth texture: the clean, fresh bitter-sweet nutty flavours give it a character all of its own and it’s a perfect testament to a remarkable whisky making dynasty.
Port Ellen 1978, 34 year old – Refill American Oak and refill European Oak
An immensely rare bottling from a long closed distillery; the 13th and oldest release from the original distillers. Available in only 3,000 individually numbered bottles.
• Appearance: A clear amber, like antique gold in sunlight. Dense beading, suggesting rich texture.
• Nose: Cautious and clean at first, with hints of dark toffee wrapped in wood smoke, then cooling oil of eucalyptus and a trace of bruised apple fruit. The wood smoke parts to reveal a savoury, meaty scent, then sweet honey, toasted cereals and a whole artist’s studio of oils. With water, it starts smoky (like vegetables on a barbecue) the underlying oiliness now punctuated by hints of lime.
• Body: Light, oily, smooth.
• Palate: Stunning. Caution is thrown to the winds as sweet and intense smoke races across the palate chased by fresh lemons, lemon zest and butter. This rich, fruity smoky-sweetness becomes tongue-coating, smooth dark chocolate enveloped in exquisite wood smoke. It drinks very well straight and when the attack slows, there’s yet more honey, lemon and a sprinkling of sea salt. If water is added it is smooth, lightly oily, much sweeter now and more accessible: still some salt, with a new spicy tingle.
• Finish: Long, coating, intense and sustained, all pervading scented smoke, hints of mint and bergamot, then finally dense and savoury, with an aftertaste suggesting cloves.
Summary: A phenomenal, mighty and utterly compelling Port Ellen with astonishing complexity and huge character. The refined nose gives no clue to the vivid, immediate onrush of astonishing flavours; a fine interplay of clean citrus, alluring smoke and salt with honeyed sweetness.
Brora 1977, 35 year old – Refill American Oak and European Oak
Similarly rare and desirable, this Highland East Coast single malt is from casks filled in 1977, also available in 3,000 individually numbered bottles. Both Port Ellen and Brora are ideal for dedicated connoisseurs.
Nick Morgan, Diageo’s head of whisky outreach, commented:
“Stocks of Brora and Port Ellen are inexorably diminishing. Each year’s limited-edition bottling releases one more fragment of whisky history that is unique, and can’t ever be replaced. This puts Port Ellen and Brora in a different category from most other very old single malts – mainly from operating distilleries – that are on the market, often at very high prices. On top of that, Port Ellen and Brora are not merely rare, old and in great demand – they are judged by most qualified commentators to be of outstanding quality, and this year’s edition will be no exception.
“Indeed, many would accept that Port Ellen and Brora are among the world’s rarest Single Malt Whiskies still being released.”
• Appearance: Yellow gold or polished brass. Lightly oily.
• Nose: Initially clean, fresh and bracing; then warming, developing depth and richness. Creamy top notes of warm scented wax or vanilla-custard float above a herbal note (basil?) and a sharper, cereal base, all suffused with just a thread of smoke. The nutty, waxy notes sweeten into honeycomb and toasted coconut. The sea appears very late, as a fresh sea breeze. Adding a little water softens the impact and brings up the scented wax, with honey and lemongrass subduing the more subtle vanilla aromas.
• Body: Light and softly coating.
• Palate: Good texture and a surprising taste: much sweeter than you expect from the nose, and much more smoky, with a most attractive tongue-coating smoothness. A leafy hint of fresh picked strawberry introduces lemon zest and candied peel to set the tongue tingling. Then damp beach notes of wood, sand and sea air round off a beautifully balanced palate. With water added this is a very easy-drinking, rewarding dram: fuller in texture than when at full strength, it is also less sweet, becoming mouth drying, cleansing and softly smoky.
• Finish: Coating, chewy and softly drying, with minty chocolate (after-dinner mints). Wood smoke lingers in the complex, fresh and spicy conclusion.
Summary: A Brora classic: a mature, sweetly pleasing, tongue-coating, softly smoky malt that rewards deep study, evoking a tranquil beach scene rather than the drama of the high seas. Fans of Brora will not be disappointed by this superb, comforting, old-fashioned whisky.