Review – Diageo Special Releases Collection 2020

For those that use whisky releases to measure progress through the year then the start of Autumn and the approach of winter is heralded by the arrival of Diageo’s Special Releases Collection.

Last years collection was markedly different from previous ones with the introduction of a theme very reminiscent of the old Flora and Fauna bottlings of several years ago. Another shake up saw a collection with a much lower price point across the range and the continued absence (no doubt due to their imminent resurrection) of the mainstays of previous years Port Ellen & Brora.

This years collection however has focused on almost all of the same distilleries as featured last year, the one change being the 2019 collection Singleton of Glen Ord being replaced by one of its partners in the Singleton brand trifecta, Dufftown.

Personally I’m saddened by the lack of a grain whisky in this years collection – as with last year. There have been some phenomenal grains in the collections over the years and what better place to showcase something special?

Next year Diageo – Grain whisky – sort it out.

The 2020 line up is heralded by Master Blender Craig Wilson as an ‘Encore’ of last year, but with a few twists. Lets have a closer look at each of the 8 expressions.

Cardhu 11 Year Old, (OB), 56%abv, press sample

Distilled in 2008 this was matured a in combination of refill, new (virgin) and ex-bourbon American oak casks. No specific information on the amount of bottles available, the press information states “limited quantities’


The nose is full of citrus fruits, tea leaves, unsweetened cooking apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Lemon bon-bons and pencil wood. Touches of sap and white chocolate.

Custard cream biscuits are apparent on the palate, combined with a touch more lemon interspersed with the famous Cardhu honey. Mildly spiced with some creeping wood notes. Still quite zesty and light. Handfulls of gooseberries and pine needles.

The finish fades to lightly spiced honey with tangy wood (perhaps the virgin oak popping through) coupled with a faint but distinct peppery maltiness.


A mix of delicate, light and zingy. Perhaps my general aversion to virgin oak makes it feel less sweet than it maybe is. Crisp and fresh and almost un-Cardhu like (not in a bad way).

RRP: £85 (available here)

Cragganmore 20 Year Old, (OB), 55.8%abv, press sample

From refill casks and new (virgin) fresh-charred casks, again with the amount of bottles given as “limited quantities”


Damp and dunnagy, fruity syrups, shortbread, touches of leather, vanilla pods, faint hints of breakfast pastries, custard and faint clove.

Savoiardi biscuits and dry cereals, melon and gooseberries. Touch tannic and still vaguely earthy. Sweet nose and savoury palate.

The finish is nutty and malty with sprinklings of ginger and a twist of white pepper


Interesting use of new charred casks – not obfuscating the spirit but integrating well. Quite subtle in nature, and both sweet and savoury – the nose reminds me more of Cardhu than the Cardhu did.

RRP: £130 (available here)

Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old, (OB), 51.9% abv, press sample

This expression was matured in refill hogsheads, 6978 bottles are available.

One of my favourites from last year, how does the 2020 encore fare?


Subtle. Need to get the nose right into the glass. Faint old wood, Manuka honey and mildly grassy. Fading pear drops, rhubarb & custard sweets.

The palate is fruity with over – ripe bananas, charred pineapple, soft wood tones and touches of tobacco. Perhaps a cold draw on a very mild cigar. Faint buttery toast with a smear of lemon curd.

Touches of ginger biscuits on the finish alongside faint tangerines, a little spice and a tongue tingle of black pepper.


Subtle and elegant, perhaps not massively distinct or recognisable but just wonderfully balanced and, if you can forgive the hyperbole, at times almost ethereal.

RRP £550 (available here)

Lagavulin 12 Year Old, (OB), 56.4% abv, press sample

Matured in refill American oak casks this has an RRP of £125, again with ‘limited quantities’


Ashy on the nose, full of wet rocks and distant peat. Charred wood and fishing boat ropes. No full on phenols to be found – a salty tang is the dominating note here.

The palate is softly phenolic with a strong citrus base. There is a spot of burnt toffee and a little woodiness. A cold draw of a cigar follows a few red berries and blood orange.

The finish is very much that of an “ash-bomb’ – mineral, drying and very lingering.


Lagavulin has perhaps become the stalwart of the Special Releases over the last few years – this shows exactly why.

RRP £125 (available here)

Mortlach 21 Year Old, (OB) 56.9%abv, press sample

This has been matured in Pedro Ximenez & Oloroso seasoned casks (a combination of the liquids, not a combination of the casks if you see what I mean) There will be 7,692 bottles available.


No beefy broth? Is this a Mortlach? Indeed it is, but it is certainly dialled down a little. Yellow plum, blossoms, vanilla and toffee chews are evident initially with some very faint damp old leather and spice lingering in the background. Perhaps a little pineapple here and there.

Thick and oily in the glass, it is equally so in the mouth. The fruitiness of the palate moves along to leave some tangy woody tannins and a handful of slightly spiced gooseberries. Somewhere there is a note of lemon zest giving a little zing and keeping it lively

The finish is malty, oily and perhaps has a faint touch of rubber. There is a touch more melon, yet more cedar wood which all fades to leave mouth drying spices.


Last years Mortlach was much beefier and more Mortlach-esque than this years. I would suggest this is a more refined version. It is 5 years younger but is a third of the price. Distillery DNA in full effect but without that sherried dressing that makes it so distinct. I’ve swithered on this one for a while and I still can’t make up my mind.

RRP £575 (available here)

Pittyvaich 30 Year Old, (OB), 50.% abv, press sample

Matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks. 7,056 bottles are available.


Bursting with tropical fruits in syrup amid an undertone of old wood notes. Plenty of influence from those first fill casks – indicating a potentially thick and unctuous palate to come. There is a big waft of vanilla but it comes mixed with some brown sugar very green bananas and wet pine forrest.

The palate is orchard-esque. Braeburn apples which eventually lead to slightly tart Golden Delicious. There is a faint melon note and a slight sprinkling of mixed crushed nuts. Still quite oily in the mouth there’s a faint minerality here too. Faintest touch of cedar.

The minerality continues as does a faint redcurrant tartness. Fades slowly but continues to be fruity and warming.


I’d argue that for a significantly aged expression from a closed distillery that at £400 this perhaps represents remarkably decent value. The Pittyvaich was one of my favourites last year and its just as good – if not slightly better this year.

RRP £400 (available here)

Talisker 8 Year Old, (OB), 57.9%abv, press sample

This Talisker was matured in refill casks before being finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks.


Light and zesty, young peaty whisky with a salt and pepper prickle. Defined coastal notes mingle with wet sand and charred wood. Pencil wood and and a faint maltiness make for a beguiling nose. There is a slight funk here and there, a seaside farmyard?

Initially the zesty lemon from the nose carries forward into the palate, bringing a little soot and a big twist of pepper mixed with ginger biscuits. There is an underlying sweetness here, presumably from the rum, which presents itself as a sweet smoke or perhaps partially caramelised white sugars.

The finish is typical salt / pepper Talisker. Distant peat tang and touches of ash.


Pretty much exactly as a young peaty whisky should be. I think perhaps there is an argument here for an 8 year old expression to be brought back into the core range. The rum casks adds a twist but does not dominate or disrupt.

Based on the quality of the previous years releases I would suggest that this will be the first to sell out. Based on how good this one is that assurance is doubled – If you want one I wouldn’t hang around.

RRP £90 (available here)

The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old, (OB), 55.1% abv, press sample

This 17 year old has been matured in refill American oak hogsheads.


It is really light on the nose with soft honey, apple blossom, orchard fruits and Madeira cake. Faintly grassy with a touch of polished wood and some distant tropical fruits.

The palate is much as you would expect, full of juicy apples, cloudy lemonade (minus the fizz) and touches of white grape. There is a steady wood and vanilla backbone and a nice creamy texture – accentuated with a splash of water. More than a hint of white wine here.

The finish is surprisingly long, full of limes and white pepper – perhaps a slight touch of root ginger.

A splash of water really brings out the key characteristics, much like the salmon on the label it definitely swims well.


Very pleasant and light, nicely balanced and very drinkable. It is more refined and lively than the Singleton of Dufftown 12 and, in my opinion, a nicer dram however it does come in at roughly twice the price.

RRP £110 (available here)


After tasting each one of a couple of occasions I’ll admit to being somewhat torn. As good as that Talisker is I’m still very much taken by the Dalwhinnie so I think that is my pick of the bunch.

Honourable mention to the Pittyvaich and Lagavulin.

But that Talisker though….

Please be aware that this article may contain commission links. This has no bearing on my review of any product.

You can find more of my tasting notes in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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