An Overview – Diageo Special Releases 2018

Last week saw the unveiling of the full line up of the Diageo Special Releases collection for 2018. Nine expressions had already been announced prior to the event with a secretive tenth expression to be unveiled on the day of release.

Last year I wrote an article outlining my ‘Concept Car’ theory when it comes to the Special Releases. It’s well worth going back and having a read (if I do say so myself) as it covers my thoughts on the Special Releases collection (and it saves me from repeating myself)

Special Releases aren’t cheap. I think we can agree on that. If you want them then you will have to pay accordingly.  Even at the current state of the market they are on the expensive end.

The biggest news this year however was the omission of both Port Ellen and Brora, arguably the marquee names in the line up. No doubt with both brands gearing up for a re-birth there will be expressions of each of these in the pipelines soon.

But what are Special Releases without the big names? Perhaps the chance for some of the lesser known distilleries to come out of the shadow?

Maybe.

Or is it more akin to Formula 1 without Ferrari and Mercedes…

What follows are my general impressions on the collection. As ever its always hard to take comprehensive notes in an event setting, I’ll hopefully do some more detailed reviewing at a future date.

Caol Ila 15

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This is an unpeated release from the Caol Ila distillery on Islay. This years expression is 15 years old, has an abv of 59.1% and is matured in a mixture of refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads as well as ex-bodega European oak butts. The lack of peat showcases some citrus and orange notes that I would usually associate with Caol Ila. After a while earthy and chewy toffee become more dominant. Interesting to try this alongside the 35 which definitely showcased the sweeter, fruitier tones. RRP of £100.

Caol Ila 35

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The oldest expression in this years line up. This Caol Ila has spent 35 years in a mixture of two types of refill casks; American oak and European oak. 3,276 bottles are available with an RRP of £675. It’s a heady mix of coal and costal. I often find it hard to describe an Islay malt as refined, especially Caol Ila, but if there is one expression that comes close to that then it is this one. Stunning indeed.

Carsebridge 48

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This 48 year old single grain whisky has been fully matured in refill American oak hogsheads. 1000 bottles are available with an RRP of £750. Last years collection featured a 52 y.o Port Dundas and always good to see a well aged grain as part of the collection. £750 for a whisky nearly half a century old isn’t bad going. Notably this is the oldest Carsebridge ever bottled. ABV of 43.2%. Sweet, floral and perfumed in places with a fantastic mouthfeel. This was a dram that I could sit with for hours. Random fact: Carsebridge distillery used to produce malt whisky but was refitted as a grain distillery to help keep up with the demand for blended scotch.

Cladach

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This NAS blend of coastal malts (Cladach being Gaelic for shoreline) is comprised of varying amounts of Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower and Talisker. Having tasted this I can say I really did enjoy it (probably more so then the Collectivum XVIII which was last years blended expression) It showcases many of the key characteristics of the component malts in what can only be described as a fascinating layered structure. £150 seems a little expensive for a blend however it is a limited run blended expression with Clynelish at its heart ( a la Compass Box?) so I can see a fair few bottles of this being snapped up. Tempted with this myself.

Inchgower

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This 27 year old Inchgower was matured in Refill American oak hogsheads. It’s a nice example of the Speyside style with a little bit of punch at 55.3%. It is quite crisp, nicely spiced with a fruity backbone. The first time that an Inchgower has been in the collection. There are no off notes or any flaws with the dram, it is very pleasant and drinkable but its not £300 pleasant and drinkable.

Lagavulin 12

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This Refill American Oak matured expression sits at an abv of 57.8%. I cant ever drink a Lagavulin without comparing it to the 16. Layers of smoke, raspberries and toasted oak mingle with an intermittent earthiness. There is a lovely toasted lemon zest note which really adds an extra dimension. I seem to recall preferring last years release a little more. RRP of £110 (or two bottles of 16…)

Oban 21

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The oldest stock of Oban apparently. An abv of 57.9% really takes the  spice driven palate to a punchier level. I’m usually quite ambivalent towards Oban but was really quite taken with this one. Matured in refil European oak butts that, coupled with the strong coastal presence make for an interesting flavour combination. Well balanced and interesting. A little punchy, but in the best of ways, this really opens up nicely with a touch of water. It has an RRP of £450, which won’t be enticing me to buy it, but has reminded me that I really should go back and explore other Oban expressions a little more.

Pittyvaich 28

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A first appearance for Pittyvaich, a silent Speyside distillery (not so much silent as demolished…) 4680 bottles are available at an RRP of £330. Initially designed to produce malt component for Bells blends Pittyvaich is renowned for its nutty character, which it certainly displays here. Feels a little oddball with its fruity, nutty and spiced character and intermittent florality but I did rather like it, which is saying something as I’ve been more than little unimpressed with some other Pittyvaich expressions that I have encountered in the past. Closed distillery, quirky and a decent age means its price tag isn’t as outrageous as perhaps some of the other releases.

The Singleton of Glen Ord 14

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A 14 year old expression which has had some rather complex cask marrying. A somewhat madcap mixture involving (if I remember correctly) European and US oak, Moscatel wine, PX sherry and various toasted cask ends. The end result is something very fresh and fruity with a nice spice, is very well balanced (considering the variety of the casks used that’s no mean feat) easily enjoyable but with a nice depth. Set to be extremely limited in the UK with the bulk of the stock heading to the Far East. Up there with the Talisker as one of my favourites this year. RRP of £100 which is quite tempting.

Talisker 8

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My favourite of the 2018 collection. As with Oban its always been one I’ve never really been fussed on. Produced with the 1980’s Talisker 8 in mind, which is a dram I’ve never tried but always heard others speak fondly of. A combination of coastal character, a fantasic mouthfeel, puffs of smoke and a fantastic meatyness. The 59.4% abv is quite drinkable but it also swims rather well, water lifting the smoke but retaining the oily nature and revealing a little green fruit. The cheapest expression this year, with an RRP of £70.

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As ever its great to catch up with friends at these events. Thanks to Chris White from Edinburgh Whisky Blog, Jason Vaswani from JasonWhiskyWise and Mr Great Drams himself, Greg Dillon for their company.

Find many more tasting notes and whisky news in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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