Friends of the Classic Malts

Friends was an integral part of my life growing up.

And, I don’t mean friends, friends…obviously, those as well. But in this case, I mean Friends the TV show.

It started when I was 8 and lasted until I was 18, a time spanning a pretty large chunk of the ages where I was absorbing the ideas and experiences of the things I’d see in cultural media.

As such, there was always a part of me that imagined I’d live in a big city, in a massive flat with my best friends next door. The big city part worked out. The big flat and friends next door…well, not quite.

Now, 10 years after the show has finished (and 20 since it started), I’ve realised that I’m currently about the same age as many of those characters would have been in the show. Which is terribly frightening.

But equally, it made me think about where I envisioned myself being in the year 2014, all the way back in 1994. Writing about whisky certainly wasn’t one of those parts of my imagined life – to be fair, I was 8.

But, that’s kind of my point: no matter how much we envision our lives in a certain way, things don’t always turn out the way we picture them to. And that can, sometimes, be brilliant. Change and doing things differently is a key part to development, I always like to think.

Which is what leads me to this post: the new line-up from the Friends of the Classic Malts series, launched by Diageo at the start of this year. Available only to people who are a part of the online club, the whiskies have been released for the British, German and Swiss markets in limited quantities. The move is something different for the company and, equally, each edition shakes up the normal maturation style attributed their main range releases.

The first two to hit the online shelves are a Royal Lochnagar and Talisker version (there are to be five in the full series) and each whisky is made up of whisky matured first in American oak refill casks, before being transferred first to charred American oak hogsheads and finally to European oak refill casks – a triple maturation, if you will.

No more than 24,000 bottles across all five in the series (so, somewhere just less than 5,000 bottles of each, approximately) will be available and all are being bottled at the nicely punchy strength of 48%, which I was glad to see. They’re being priced at £80/€80.

I should point out that, unfortunately, the Royal Lochnagar has already sold out although it is still available at the distillery for those members who make it up there. The Talisker was available to UK and German members, and is also still available at the distillery.

So, did the change up and diversion from the normal path work out well for these brands? Here’s what I thought:


Royal Lochnagar Classic Malts

Royal Lochnagar: Friends of the Classic Malts Edition: 48%:

(c): Orange sunset

(n): Lovely sticky vanilla and oak nose leads, before a deeper sniff reveals creamy butterscotch, Fruit Salad sweets and chocolate cherries. With water, bubbling brown sugar and then maple syrup on pancakes – I’d quite like to try frying bacon in this! Dough balls (something bready) and Caramilk chocolate bars follow.

(p): Peppery and creamy – this zings on the palate. Wanted a second sip straight away as there was just enough dryness to make my palate encouraged to go in again. That butterscotch and vanilla note from the nose is there along with a richer, earthy note. With water, more of that spiciness comes through and integrates well with the caramel notes.

(f): Cinnamon sticks and cocoa. With water, vanilla pods.

In conclusion: a sweet pudding dram, made more complex by the sharper peppery notes. Really quite moreish.

Talisker Friends of the Classic Malts

Talisker: Friends of the Classic Malts Edition: 48%:

(c): Amber

(n): Much sweeter than your normal Talisker and quite fruity. Lots of vanilla and less salty than I normally find. Caramel and something floral (I want to say daffodils) all lead before the peaty note. With water, still quite sweet – can take a good amount of water without losing edge.

(p): Good spicy, pepperiness to the palate to ruffle up the sweetness of the nose. Wouldn’t necessarily recognise this as a Talisker straight away. Caramel flan and baked orange notes lead for me. With water, the palate becomes a bit waxier but decreases the punchy spiciness which I quite liked.

(f): More classic, salty/sweet notes come through on finish making for a pleasing end.

In conclusion: not my favourite Talisker. Felt the vanilla and caramel sweetness was a bit too intense for my liking as I really love the salty-sweet/peppery note of Talisker normally. With water, the palate lost too much of its punch, but without, I felt the nose was too intense. Pleasant, just not my favourite.

With thanks to Diageo for arranging samples of each.