New Distiller Editions from Diageo
There are times when life is good to be me. When Fedex rings the buzzer, my dog “Garrett Oliver” starts barking and back I come in with a box of the good stuff. That is what recently happened when the Diageo Princess waved her magic wand and the 2012 Diageo Special Release sample box arrived.
To understand how “Special” the special release is from Diageo, you have to understand the history of Diageo’s Distiller Releases. Starting in the 1980’s Diageo began releasing Distiller Editions from their six core distilleries. In the mid 1990’s the “Rare Malts” Distiller Editions began to be released. 2001 was the first year of the “Special Release” Distiller Edition, which started with three distillers releases. Over the 12 years since the program has been in place, the number of bottles released per edition has ranged from 100 bottles to over 6,000 bottles. This year’s release is over 57,000 bottles but don’t feel there is a plethora of them out there, as the quantity released is 1/3 the amount that was released five years ago. The “Special Release” program will continue till the stock runs out. I hope to not see that day!
What really separates the Special Release whiskies from the other ranges of whiskies from Diageo is that these are bottled in its purest state, at natural cask strength. The angel share takes its toll on these whiskies and you will find most of them at the 55-60% ABV levels. They are also hand filtered as compared to chill filtered. So when you add that drop of water into the glass, because of the high alcohol levels…don’t freak out when it becomes cloudy.
The 2012 Special Release includes eight different distillery editions with seven of the eight available in the United States, and only available at specialty whisky shops around the world. So make friends with the whisky buyer for these are not normally placed online or on the shelf for general purchase. It has been our experience that these whiskies are placed on limited allotment per retailer, and mostly sold to their top customers. To all those collectors out there…we respect what you do, but buy two… drink one and collect the other, if you must. Whisky is meant to be enjoyed, not displayed in a gallery!
Auchroisk 30 year US $359 2976 bottles released at a 54.7% ABV
Let us simply say you don’t find Auchroisk bottling out there for there have only been three distillery releases in its lifetime. Founded in 1974 and located in the Northern most area of Speyside where its name in Gaelic translates to “Ford of the Red Stream.”
In the glass, it has a rich amber gold. Its nose is as fruity as one would expect from a Speyside, and body really opens up with a few drops of water. It has a lovely long sustained finish and overall good dram for to last the night.
Brora 35 Year US $624 1566 bottles released at a 48.1% ABV
Brora began as a reopened Clynelish Distillery and rebuilt mash house in 1975. It was produced alongside Clynelish as a heavy peated whisky till it closed in 1983. Today we get to reap the rewards of this short-lived distillery.
In the glass it looks like a subdued solid bronze. Its nose and taste is fine neat, but with water, becomes a fine balance between sweetness and tart with a lovely finish that is both long and warm.
Caol Isla 14 Year US $103 5938 bottles released at 59.3% ABV
A classic Islay distillery whose name in Gaelic means “Sound of Islay.” Founded in 1846 today it uses the sea to cool the hot process water before returning it to its condensers.
This is a special release, for instead of using traditional bourbon barrels, it is aged in ex-Bodega European Oak Casks that were filled in 1997. The special distillation occurs once a year from a batch of unpeated malt for blending in that classic Highland Style. It is interesting to compare to other Caol Isla releases, as this is the seventh Special Malt release in the collection.
In the glass it is clear with a golden hue. You get that light smoke of the Islay with a light fragrance of fruit when water is added, which is recommended with such a high alcohol level. I find the finish lightly sweet and smoother than one would expect from an Islay. Not an Islay that you find challenging or engrossing, but a good whisky to bring a non Islay lover into the fold.
Dalwhinnie 25 Year US $289 5358 bottles released at 52.1%
Originally founded in 1897, it has had multiple owners along with fits and starts over the years. The whisky itself is light in color for a 25 year. The nose contains the signature scents of a Dalwhinnie with its strong aroma of honeycomb. (Until I went back to look at the Distillers tasting notes I could never properly identify that smell.) With a drop of water, it has that soft sweetness and even long soft finish as its stays in the mouth. A whisky for those who want and desire a smooth experience.
Lagavulin 12 Year US $111 31656 bottles released at 56.1%
Lagavulin is one of classic Islay distilleries known for its smoky peatiness and found on the island rocky south shore. This special release comes from all refill American Oak casks that are vatted a minimum of 12 years.
The liquid in the glass is pale in color for a 12 year from this distillery. The smoke is more a hue than a flavor, surrounding the glass with light hints of sweetness. With a little water added, the sea can be imagined. The body and finish is typical of a twelve year old, as it not long in taste. The light distinctive smokiness continues to surround the glass and mouth.
Lagavulin 21 Year US $624 2772 bottles released at 52%
The distillery was originally founded in 1816 at the site of a previous illegal still. It has had numerous owners over the years and briefly shut down during World War II. This whisky is vatted from first fill ex-sherry European Oak Casks, each at least 21 years old. This is a rarity for this distillery to have long aged ex-sherry cask whisky and will see strong demand from followers of this distillery.
The liquid has a wonderful, rich, deep amber with long legs as it moves around the glass. You can envision the Islay Distillery as you pick up the peatiness and deep smoke, almost reminiscent of the soft smoke from a meat smokehouse. With a little water you almost feel the age of an earlier time, when “real men” sat around the fire in their cottage. The taste itself is a bit sweeter than expected, with caramel staying lightly on the tongue with a deep finish.
Port Ellen 32 Year US $936 2964 bottles released at 52.5%
Port Ellen began as a malt mill in 1825 and later became a major distillery on Islay, as it secured the right to trade directly to North America in 1848. Though the unthinkable happened in 1983, when the distillery was razed during that black period in whisky history, and numerous distilleries were closed. In the last decade, whisky from this distillery has become a prized possession by most collectors and whisky aficionados including our very own Pat McCarthy. Pat is one of our top judges in the New York International Spirits Competition along with being the Whisky Buyer at World of Liquor. He was also inducted last year to the esteemed Keepers of the Quaich.
The liquid in the glass is a tarnished gold bar with legs as long as a Rockette. The nose fills with a smooth mix of waxed oil, smoke and a hint of sweetness. Tasting it you know that age and balanced wisdom is in the glass, with the fine balance of smooth and light smoke, which continues on with a long finish.
This bottles overall is a worthy purchase to your Liquor 401K. It has a better chance as an investment grade purchase than the stock market today.
Talisker 35 Year Approximate US $750 as not sold in the US 3090 bottles released at 54.6%
Talisker is the only distillery located on the island of Skye. Founded in 1830, it experienced a devastating fire in 1960 and its still house was replicated in 1962. This whisky was distilled in 1977 and aged in American and European Oak Refill casks.
The liquid in the glass is a dark golden color. The peppery taste that you expect from the Talisker portfolio, along with a fine mix of peppered mint sweetness that comes out with a drop of water . The finish is long and smooth, which I find rare for a whisky from this distillery.
Overall I thought this was a wonderful “Special Release” from Diageo. I am personally not chest pumping fan of Port Ellen and believe that a lot of the hoopla for Port Ellen amongst the whisky freaks is because it is no longer available. Though I must admit I really enjoyed this year’s Port Ellen selection.
I will be purchasing a few for my collection to pour with friends. One or two on the higher price range and two from the entry level to share with friends, and show what real distillers edition unchill filtered whisky should taste like!