Diageo’s Long Awaited Annual Special Releases Arrive


For the most part of the year, Diageo stays fairly quiet when it comes to new releases. But all of that serenity goes right out the window when their annual Special Releases are around the corner.

Diageo’s special releases is not a platform for them to release expensive whiskies. Rather, it’s an opportunity for the blending team to put together an interesting selection that covers all price points, from existing and thriving distilleries to closed distilleries. Hence, the collection can range from young whiskies from fairly accessible distilleries to old rarities that you can only find get via independent bottlers. This year, on one end of the spectrum there’s a very young and likeable Talisker 8YO and on the other, a rare 48YO Carsebridge, a single grain whisky from a closed distillery.

Traditionally, or at least since 2001, malt enthusiasts have been staking out these annual releases. Not to be confused with the Rare Malts series that was started by United Distillers, the Special Releases are probably most well-known for their Brora and Port Ellen releases. Hardcore collectors and fans of these two iconic distilleries, which incidentally have been announced to reopen, will be disappointed to know that they will not be making an appearance this year. Diego have shared, though, that Port Ellen and Brora will still be made available annually, although details as to how they will be released remains unclear until further notice. Until then, however, there will still be an array of interesting whiskies in this year’s Special Releases to pique your interest.

For starters, this year’s collection will mark the first appearance of Inchgower, Glen Ord (Singleton), and Cladach. As more whisky fans start venturing off the beaten path to unearth new favourites, Inchgower is one of several names that has been gathering pace in recent times. The Singleton is a collective label that features whiskies from the Glendullan, Dufftown and Glen Ord distilleries. After Dufftown and Glendullan made their respective debuts in 2013 and 2014 respectively, it is Glen Ord’s turn to shine in the limelight. This particular bottling features a unique five-cask, triple maturation process.

For the adventurous, Cladach will probably attract the most curiosity from the pundits. Not the first blended malt in the collection – that honour falls to Collectivum XXVIII, a blend that features all 28 distilleries operating under Diego – the theme of Cladach, which itself means shoreline in Gaelic, is that of coastal distilleries. Six are featured, namely Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower and Talisker.

Donald Colville, Diageo’s Global Malts Ambassador, said: “The Special Releases launch is a highlight in ours and every whisky lovers calendar year. It’s a collection that allows both knowledgeable whisky fans and those new to Scotch to hunt out truly unique limited editions. The exceptional variety and quality of whiskies in this year’s collection will not disappoint, and we’re looking forward to sharing all of the stories behind the bottles.”

So here’s a brief look at this year’s collection – info kindly provided by Diageo – and our own thoughts where applicable. One caveat with this year’s collection though: you can only purchase the collection as a set as opposed to individual bottles, which will be a bit of a bummer for some.

Caol Ila Unpeated 15YO

In Brief Deep gold, mild nose, with the fruity sharpness of green apples and orange zest. Dense, firm and mild at first with a sweet, minty-salty taste, then a freezing heat and a long and warming finish.
ABV 59.1%
Region Islay
Cask Refill & Rejuvenated American Oak Hogsheads and Ex-Bodega European Oak Butts
Availability Limited quantities worldwide

Cao Ila 35YO

In Brief Antique gold colour, floral and fruity on a fresh-clean, smoky base. Cooling and fluid, with a smooth texture. Starts sweetly and soon dries, with a rising peaty pungency and a spicy-sweet finish.
ABV 58.1%
Region Islay
Cask Refill American Oak Hogsheads & Refill European Oak Butts Availability 3,276 bottles

Carsebridge 48YO

In Brief A deep gold colour with the delicate, light and balanced nose of a very old grain, then a rich texture, voluptuous mouthfeel and a big, soft, sweet, then gently spicy taste. Long finish.
ABV 43.2%
Region Lowlands
Cask Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Availability 1,000 bottles
Thoughts Single grain often gets a lot of criticism but old Single Grain like this Carsebridge here is complex and has a slight cognac-like character.

CLADACH

In Brief Full gold, with a series of coastal aromas that a dash of water brings together superbly; the palate and finish are equally flawless. A whisky that is the very essence of a coastal malt.
ABV 57.1%
Region Coastal
Cask First Fill American Oak ex-Bourbon casks, Refill American Oak Hogsheads, Refill European Oak Butts, Ex Bodega European Oak Butts
Availability Limited availability worldwide
Thoughts A very likeable dram that is an excellent example of the coastal style: smoke and salt that’s balanced with a dash of vanilla and fruit

INCHGOWER 27YO

In Brief Full yellow gold, a complex and surprising malt from a little known yet historic distillery that has retained the distillery character well; nutty and spicy, it is vivacious for its twenty-seven years.
ABV 55.3%
Region Speyside
Cask Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Availability 8,544 bottles

LAGAVULIN 12YO

In Brief A vast palette of aromas and flavours awaits, wherever you look on the nose and the palate. Sweet, oily, and salty, then vinegar-dry and drying.
ABV 57.8%
Region Islay
Cask Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Availability Limited quantities available worldwide

OBAN 21YO

In Brief Dramatic, brooding and compressed, the nose spans a whole range of senses as it shows malt, fruit, oak, peat and sea- air. The taste is intense and sweet, with some saltiness.
ABV 57.9%
Region Highlands
Cask Refill European Oak Butts
Availability Limited availability worldwide

PITTYVAICH 28YO

In Brief It takes time to appreciate the full impact of this appetisingly pithy, charred, occasionally sweet Pittyvaich, which is at one and the same time straightforward, yet also full- flavoured and forceful, with a long finish and a late, drying, bracing quality.
ABV 52.1%
Region Speyside
Cask Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Availability 4,680 bottles

THE SINGLETON GLEN ORD 14YO

In Brief A classic The Singleton Glen Ord with heightened signature aromas of baked apple and sweet orange fruit, beeswax and spice. Smooth and sumptuous too, on a palate rich in mature fruit notes.
ABV 57.6%
Region Highlands
Cask Refill American Oak Hogsheads and Ex-Bodega European Oak butts followed by a unique maturation and marrying process
Availability Limited quantities available worldwide

TALISKER 8YO

In Brief Detailed at natural strength, this fine Talisker is smooth, lengthy, integrated and precisely balanced throughout, with a sweet and youthful assuredness.
ABV 59.4%
Region Island
Cask First fill Ex-Bourbon American Oak Hogsheads
Availability Limited availability worldwide
Thoughts I’m biased towards young whiskies these days, but this is a great example of a simple whisky done well and demonstrates what’s great about Talisker: smokey pepperiness