New Whiskies

Batch 62: Diageo Special Releases 2016

by
Diageo Special Releases 2016

This year’s much-anticipated collection includes nine whiskies with a collective minimum age of more than 250 years (plus one NAS expression), among them a venerable single grain from Cambus and the latest releases from cult closed distilleries Brora and Port Ellen. Dave Broom gets his tasting boots on.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Auchroisk 25 Years Old, 1990

    Score 7.5/10
    Scoring explained >
    Auchroisk 25 Years Old, 1990
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Fresh, if slightly hot to start. Apple – core and skin – then grassiness with a crisp, almost starchy quality that yields gently to light creaminess from American oak. That freshness is retained with water, but there’s now added white toast and face powder.

    Palate

    A sweet start with a touch of spice, while the texture is soft and chewy, with a little oak coming through. There’s mashed banana and blackcurrant leaf. Water doesn’t damage the feel, but brings out pear, daikon and then tangerine.

    Finish

    Perky and clean. Some shortbread, citrus and raspberry.

    Conclusion

    A bouncy little baby. 

    Right place, right time

    Sheets flap in the back garden. She gets herself ready. 

    Brora 38 Years Old, 1977

    Score 9.1/10
    Scoring explained >
    Brora 38 Years Old, 1977
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Bam! Immediately robust – even defiant – Brora character from the first sniff. Opens with you walking on a moor, whin, supple leather (evidence of rancio), lanolin, and then you are dragged onto the tideline after a storm, pebbles splattered with sweet seaweed and kelp, spent fire and smoke. Water is not advised. This is a monster.

    Palate

    There’s an initial suggestion that this is losing strength and therefore shape and intensity, but it quickly hauls itself back together. The seashore elements on the nose are all present, but now combine into a dashi-like, umami-rich texture, with some smoke, lemon, oiled paper and pepper. Highly complex.

    Finish

    Some heat and sancho pepper.

    Conclusion

    A classic Brora. Of all the glasses, this (and the Cambus) are the ones I kept returning to. Not just because of the quality, but because there’s little chance I’ll ever try it (or indeed either) again.

    Right place, right time

    Umami or ooh… mammy?

    Cambus 40 Years Old, 1975

    Score 9/10
    Scoring explained >
    Cambus 40 Years Old, 1975
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.7%
    Production type
    Single grain whisky
    Region
    Lowland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Ding dong! Thick and sweet. Honey and steamed syrup pudding, concentrated pulpy fruits, honeysuckle blossom, Crunchie bar, seaside rock, strawberry and red cherry. A little whiff of sesame and a hint of green almond add interest. With water there’s some pine needle/sap.

    Palate

    Huge and spicy immediately with more rummy elements; cinnamon and pineapple chunks, tropical fruits dribbled with honey.

    Finish

    Massive mango lassi, then blackcurrant.

    Conclusion

    The first official bottling of Cambus? Certainly since the start of the 20th century, when the seven-year-old was claimed to have ‘not a headache in a gallon’. Gorgeous, sumptuous and elegant. The price will, sadly, be the only headache for many. Find a friendly bar (or a rich friend), as this is a must-try. 

    Right place, right time

    I took one sip and it was like, I dunno, Some Candy Talking.

    Caol Ila 15 Years Old, 2000

    Score 6.7/10
    Scoring explained >
    Caol Ila 15 Years Old, 2000
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    61.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    As this is the (unpeated) ‘Highland’ version, it leads with grass (lemongrass to be more precise), green pepper and a touch of oiliness (rapeseed if you are interested), chalk and then, weirdly, fresh lamb’s lettuce and watercress. This herbaceous quality continues when diluted.

    Palate

    Very fresh and lifted opening, with yuzu, grapefruit and, thanks to Caol Ila’s agave-esque character, a pre-mixed Paloma. Soft, light and gentle.

    Finish

    Sweet and short.

    Conclusion

    It’s Caol Ila, so you know this will be reliable and on the button. My slight doubt is that it doesn’t have that other dimension to lift it above the existing standard bottlings.

    Right place, right time

    A healthy salad for lunch – a calorie-counter’s Caol Ila.

    Cragganmore (NAS)

    Score 8.8/10
    Scoring explained >
    Cragganmore (NAS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    You never quite know which facet of Cragganmore’s personality you are going to be presented with. This starts with it in a slightly brooding guise – big, savoury and (unusually) slightly waxy. This then moves through black fruit pastilles, dried lime, then cooked red fruits: hawthorn jelly and cranberry sauce. All of these elements are retained as it lightens, leaving you – when it’s diluted – with bamboo and cassia.

    Palate

    Very Cragganmore, filled with that fluxing complexity which leads you in one direction and then changes when you return. Waxy and meaty again; quite powerful and now with chestnut honey. When water is added, there’s a vinous white Burgundy note and tobacco.

    Finish

    Long, peppery with a little smoke.

    Conclusion

    A statement whisky (with no age statement on the label) and a belter from this often overlooked distillery. The irony is that this year it’s liable to be overlooked again. Don’t, as this is up there with some of the great bottlings of the past.

    Right place, right time

    Seems ferocious, yet there are such subtle depths. Take it away, Link.

    Glenkinchie 24 Years Old, 1991

    Score 8/10
    Scoring explained >
    Glenkinchie 24 Years Old, 1991
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Lowland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Cask-driven elements to open with – the richness of the wood also seems to cut any nose burn – then cooked Victoria plum, rhubarb fool and caramel, before more of an overt ‘Kinchie aroma of scented grass. There’s also a (pleasant) note of cow gum at the back, along with baked apple and raisin, before more savoury elements develop alongside nougat. With water, the aroma of the prairie lands of East Lothian emerge. It also firms up a little. 

    Palate

    A hot rush of fruits, still with rhubarb to the fore, along with heavy hyacinth, then ginseng and roasted nut. Water increases the textural elements and pulls out Brazil nut and spice.

    Finish

    Long and powerful with some oxidised elements, then dives into wet earth.

    Conclusion

    As full-bodied a Glenkinchie as I can remember, with a good level of complexity.

    Right place, right time

    Calexico in an East Lothian autumn.

    Lagavulin 12 Years Old

    Score 6.9/10
    Scoring explained >
    Lagavulin 12 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    A tense start, all rockpools, salt water and winkles. A touch of tar balls and twine scattered at the high water mark. Calms down with water, when you get Fox’s Glacier Mints and fresh chicory and some smoke. 

    Palate

    Huge smoke immediately. Barbecued prawn heads, heather, bog myrtle and, in the centre, some sweet crab meat. A little more weight than previous years, however you can’t ignore the touch of immaturity in there, which is reminiscent of firelighter igniting some kindling. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to like water that much.

    Finish

    Smoky and fresh. Lightly acidic.

    Conclusion

    Though I like its freshness and intensity, I remain caught in two minds; for all of its drive, it just lacks complexity. 

    Right place, right time

    A bag of winkles, a pin; a hermit crab scuttles away.

    Linkwood 37 Years Old, 1978

    Score 8.3/10
    Scoring explained >
    Linkwood 37 Years Old, 1978
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Apple syrup (and how Linkwood is that?) with a gentle hint of tropical fruit, peach jelly cubes, rancio and candles. Water brings out some amazingly fresh elements for a whisky of this age.

    Palate

    A big, slow release of flavour with a huge retronasal hit of berry fruits. The mid-palate is thick with more of the apple, and then a little smoke. Ripe, smooth and long. With water (and be careful because, though it’s needed, too much will shatter the build-up of flavour and texture) there’s more oak, a chalky element and green bark, showing that the distillery character has been retained. 

    Finish

    Valdespino Inocente/Tio Pepe En Rama. Complex, yeasty, mineral, then apple.

    Conclusion

    Classic Linkwood high wire act, balancing power and delicacy. Elegant – but as nervy as a thoroughbred, so treat gently.

    Right place, right time

    The slow drip of time whispers in her ear.

    Mannochmore 25 Years Old, 1990

    Score 6.4/10
    Scoring explained >
    Mannochmore 25 Years Old, 1990
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    53.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Aged in some of the ‘Project Calculus’ experimental (or should that be experi-mental?) casks, and the wood is obvious from the off. Deep, oaky, beech woods in autumn, resinous – and quite hot. Behind this are damson jam and clotted cream, then dark chocolate. It dries with water, while you also get more wood, oilskins and, bizarrely, a hit of acetone.

    Palate

    An instant hit of roasting coffee, then grated nutmeg. It has an intense spiciness that slowly moves and sweetens into blackcurrant Lockets (cough sweets). Water shows depth and chewiness.

    Finish

    Long and oaky.

    Conclusion

    The casks are in charge here.

    Right place, right time

    Despite his having a cold, they went for a walk in the Devon woods.

    Port Ellen 37 Years Old, 1978

    Score 9/10
    Scoring explained >
    Port Ellen 37 Years Old, 1978
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Still good strength and colour. Immediate fragrant smoke, fruity, massage oil in a top-end spa: wild mint, light leather, tonka, sesame, sandalwood, incense-like smoke. Very calm, poised and elegant. Slowly, a thread of peat smoke begins to come through, then comes sweet clams and sizzling bacon fat, and some smoked almond. Water brings out more of the wood, cedar planks. The sweet power remains, albeit now in the background.

    Palate

    Huge, immediately peppery start. Rich, long and very powerful. The thickness surprises – like the Brora, this is umami-rich and chewy, with Danish liquorice, red grape jelly, citrus and blackcurrant leaf, with the peat nudging and commenting rather than standing off to one side. Integration is complete. Moves very slowly to dry-roasted coriander and pimenton. Water makes it much sweeter, but also shows some oak and the slight fragility that age can bring, with brittle timber beginning to pull free. It does bring out a more classically Port Ellen salinity, though.

    Finish

    Smoked meat and some leather when neat. With water there’s more smoke and a lemon pepper element, along with some sand. 

    Conclusion

    A remarkable Port Ellen. Unctuous, integrated and elegant. I do hope this is going to be bought to be shared rather than fall into the possession of avaricious speculators with their greedy little eyes fixed on making a quick buck.

    Right place, right time

    Splitting logs late on a winter’s night in hard frost. Inside, the fire has just been smoored as people head to their warm beds.

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