As discussed in my last post, this year’s reviews of the Diageo Special Releases takes a slightly different slant – knowing I was off to New York City and going to be meeting up with some of the #whiskyfabric, I decided to take a few of the samples I received along with me so I could receive collective input on them from some big whisky lovers.
I couldn’t, however, take them all with me partly because a) I didn’t know if we’d get through them all and b) I was hedging my bets in case my luggage got lost. As such, some were reviewed by just me, myself and I while still here in London.
As background, these whiskies make up a yearly collection from both open and closed distilleries owned by drinks giant Diageo. I’ve written about them previously (you can check those posts out here) and there is no doubt that the releases split people down the middle. Why? Because of the pricing – that never-ending debate in the world of whisky right now around when is something priced too high for its own good…
This year’s collection of 11 Special Releases ranges from £75 through to £2,200, making it a tricky one to review for me: after all, I know a lot of people won’t get to try all of these, but I equally am keen to put out my thoughts on them on the off-chance you do come across a one and are curious if it is worth your money investing in either a full bottle, a dram or neither.
In some ways, I definitely see the point of people who say they’re getting too pricy – after all, back in 2011 the Brora 30 year old only cost £300 (to a new whisky blogger like myself as I was at the time, that seemed eye-watering, but I’ve obviously since learned that’s not a bad price for a whisky of this age). In this year’s releases, the 32-year old will set you back £1,200.
Now, is the liquid four times as good as it was three years ago? I wouldn’t necessarily say so (I’m afraid I cannot recall exactly my emotional reactions to that one versus what I’ve tried this year). I’d be amazed if it were worse, because this is high quality stuff. But what this is is, of course, more a reflection of is waning stocks from these closed distilleries, and increased demand for the liquid. After all, someone will certainly buy it, that much we know. I can only hope that said person is buying it because she or he is truly a lover of this whisky, and not because she or he just wants to flip it one day. But, such is the world of commerce and collectability and at the end of the day if someone wants to do that, it’s their prerogative.
Anyway, long story, short – these are very good whiskies. That much I can say. The crew I reviewed five of them with were very impressed with everything sampled, and it was the Strathmill 25 and the Lagavulin 12 that came out on top, in terms of favourites tasted that evening. In fact, I’d suggest that if you want to get your hands on anything this year but don’t have a few hundred pounds laying about, the Lagavulin at £80 is a great bet.
But onto the other releases. Here’s what I made of the six other Diageo Special Releases for 2014. If you’ve tried them, I’d love to get your thoughts, so be sure to leave those in the comments section below this post.
Clynelish Select Reserve: 54.9%: £500:
Number of bottles: 2,964
(n): Big marzipan and creamy notes – really lush to start off with. Then sticky apples and pineapple cubes. Slightly dusty and a bit straw-like too. With water: a bit more acidic, with a note of blueberry tea and milk chocolate.
(p): Sweet, smokey, savoury, grassy: everything unfolds in a beautiful fashion. Loads of layers: green apples, ripe pears, hay, milk chocolate, honey, straw, marzipan, lemon peel – simply gorgeous. With water: lovely chocolate covered pineapples; becomes sweeter and spicier.
(f): Slightly drying and grassy.
In conclusion: a beautiful whisky that just keeps going. A release that reminds me why I love Clynelish.
The Singleton of Glendullan 38-year old: 59.8%: £750:
Number of bottles: 3,756
(n): Fairly gentle and summery – fresh grass and oranges with golden raisins and reduced sugar syrup, alongside some bright pears.
(p): Surprisingly tropical at first on the palate – really fruity and fresh for its age. Mango and pineapple, then green apples and toffee – it leaves a nice sharpness around the sides of the palate.
(f): Long with notes of dry smoke and Sweet Tart candies, then vanilla ice cream and nutmeg.
In conclusion: The nose didn’t give up a lot for me so the palate surprised. Very fresh for its age and wonderfully complex.
Rosebank 21: 55.3%: £300:
Number of bottles: 4,530
(n): Very delicate at first – honeysuckle and honey on toast. Beautifully floral, then peaches and lemon sugar. With water: slightly more acidic with fleshier fruits.
(p): Much sweeter on the palate than expected – bursting with honey tangerines, loads of almonds and vanilla. With water: relaxes and becomes more fruity and spicy, an almost chilli spice.
(f): Peach ice cream.
In conclusion: Very sweet and fruity, a bit more on palate than I was expecting. Had hoped for a bit more complexity on palate/finish but very drinkable and enjoyable. One to drink on a summer’s evening in place of pudding.
Brora 35: 48.6%: £1,200:
Number of bottles: 2,964
(c): Dried straw
(n): A chameleon in the glass: at first a bit grassy, then a swirl brings out chocolate and after, big vanilla-dusted tropical fruits (mango and guava) before a return to the grassy marzipan.
(p): Glorious! Vanilla, blackberry, blueberry notes lead before green apples, a drier liquorice note, then back to big fruits (this time, redder – cherries almost) before milk chocolate and almonds.
(f): Straw and popsicle sticks.
In conclusion: just stunning. My kind of whisky: fruity but with a big backbone. Just keeps giving and giving.
Port Ellen 35-year old: 56.5%: £2,200:
Number of bottles: 2,964
(c): Mustard seed
(n): At first a nice sweetness – vanilla pods and honey, but lurking underneath is a slightly dusty note, almost like dried turmeric and rubber bands. Later, a strawberry puree fruitiness and dried orange peel. With water: more acidic.
(p): Big and sweet: toffee candies before a real dark, dry grassiness and that slight rubbery note from the nose. Vanilla rich, plus orange peel and, latterly, blueberry muffins. With water: slightly more chocolatey and floral.
(f): Smokey, sweet and grassy – very bold, long finish.
In conclusion: Rich, demanding – this is a whisky that lets you know it’s there, especially on the palate. Even with the intensity, still a bit too sweet for me personally on palate but a lot going on.
Caol Ila 30: 55.1%: £425:
Number of bottles: 7,638
(c): Golden syrup
(n): Crunchie bars and dusty tires; sea salt and chocolate covered strawberries. Just a whiff of smoke. With water: rounds out and becomes very comforting.
(p): Lots of heat without water. Creamy and vanilla heavy but with some nice fruity notes of peaches and then honey. Also, later I picked up blackberries, melon and fennel notes. With water: more of a mint and melon note and first, then peach pie and apricot preserve.
(f): Lovely damp barley note and then sweet woodsmoke.
In conclusion: really beautiful and elegant. Again, sweeter than I would have expected but it gives loads, especially with a few drops of water. Definitely one to keep coming back to as it changes in the glass a lot. One to drink on a beach in the wintertime!