New Whiskies

Batch 113: Diageo Special Releases 2017

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Diageo Special Releases 2017

The line-up for this year’s much-anticipated Special Releases from Diageo was unveiled in April. Now, finally, the wait is over to try out the Class of 2017.

The collection features eight single malts – three expressions each from Islay and the Highlands, plus two from Speyside – as well as a 52-year-old single grain whisky from the Lowlands and a blended malt incorporating liquid from all 28 of Diageo’s operating single malt distilleries. Richard Woodard and Becky Paskin eagerly unleash their tasting glasses. 

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Blair Athol 23 Years Old

    Blair Athol 23 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Availability
    5,514 bottles worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    It’s big, it’s bold, it’s Blair Athol. The Sherry butts are front and centre, but there’s a pleasing contrast of eucalyptus and star anise. Water relaxes things, ushering in dark chocolate, a whiff of roasting coffee and that well-known Auld Alliance dish, venison à l’orange.

    Palate

    Explosive and mouth-filling. Rich fare indeed, bringing a new fusion between Dundee cake and Jamaica ginger cake. A hint of the vegetal (in a good way) and of game on the turn balances all this opulence. Water soothes the beast further, conjuring up an almost syrupy sweetness.

    Finish

    Now that venison is drenched in crème de mûre.

    Conclusion

    Blair Athol Flora & Fauna has long been one of my guilty pleasures. This is nearly a quarter of a century old – and the distillery character has barely been tamed. 

    Right place, right time

    After several game-heavy courses and repeated visits to the dessert trolley, this time Mr Creosote wisely refused the waiter’s offer of a ‘wafer-thin mint’. 

    Richard Woodard

    Brora 34 Years Old

    Brora 34 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Availability
    3,000 bottles worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Gentle, restrained, delicate, urging you to slow down and be patient. Marzipan. An elusive green character that resolves into lime cordial. Water, and time, helps enormously, injecting vibrancy into the fruit – just-ripe tangerine, fully ripe Amalfi lemon. Hay seeds, hedgerow flowers and a lightly creamy texture.

    Palate

    There’s smoke, but it’s in a supporting role, adding a charred touch to the fruit, and reminiscent of green wood snapping and popping in the flames. The lemon’s now so ripe that it’s almost on the turn. With water, the fruit sweetness takes centre stage, while the smoke smoulders away in the distance.

    Finish

    Waxy.

    Conclusion

    Never mind slow food, this is slow whisky. It’s... otherworldly. 

    Right place, right time

    ‘And then reaches high and dangles herself like a child’s dream…’Mr Cave shaping words as only he can.

    Richard Woodard

    Caol Ila 18 Years Old

    Caol Ila 18 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    59.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    Limited quantities worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The nose is somewhat closed but for indulgent whiffs of chocolate digestives and choc ices and a little prickle of heat.

    Palate

    The cocoa-rich nose thankfully rolls over onto the palate: chocolate orange, bitter clementine peel and then that prickly heat and spice. A hint of smoke (Caol Ila unpeated confusingly still contains some peated malt), then the chocolate returns, dark and bitter this time, while dried fruit lingers in the shadows. Water calms the heat, lifting a veil concealing the ripe orchard fruits. 

    Finish

    Chilli-spiked dark chocolate.

    Conclusion

    There are layers, but you’ll need time to find and appreciate them.

    Right place, right time

    Nibbling on a chocolate square at the chilli festival.

    Becky Paskin

    Collectivum XXVIII

    Collectivum XXVIII
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.3%
    Production type
    Blended malt whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Availability
    Limited quantities worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Initially shy, gentle, but hinting at hidden depths. Hot candle wax and then a delicious creaminess. The richer flavours take a while to emerge: roasted hazelnuts with an edge of spice. Water brings out heavy florals.

    Palate

    A waft of smoke that wasn’t apparent (to me) on the nose. Shyness cast aside, this is becoming ever bolder, with a lean, green undercurrent lifting the mid-palate. Water brings it out of its shell still more, with smoke, warm spices and tropical fruit.

    Finish

    A pleasingly prickly tang of acidity.

    Conclusion

    This combination of Diageo’s 28 active single malt distilleries is a fascinating, if not entirely successful, experiment that is (by today’s standards) keenly priced. It also encourages a probably pointless game of ‘spot the distillery’. Is that candle wax Clynelish? Does the smoke come from Caol Ila? Anyone get Roseisle?

    Right place, right time

    Twenty-eight distilleries? This was written almost exactly 28 years ago…

    Richard Woodard

    Convalmore 32 Years Old

    Convalmore 32 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Availability
    3,972 bottles worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Its appearance is very light in colour, particularly for its age. Upon nosing there are earthy elements of dunnage warehouses and damp straw (perhaps a hint of rancio), then – surprisingly – fresh fruit, and crystallised pineapple and papaya. Things then take a grassy turn.

    Palate

    Its waxiness is immediately noticeable (and expected of Convalmore), before the palate is awash with fruit – all confectionery, sherbet and pineapple. A wave of heat ensues, a spiciness interspersed by a charred bitterness, that softens in the end into apricots and honeyed ham.

    Finish

    A touch of smoke, but it’s short-lived. There’s an edge of sulphur and a somewhat thin finish, despite the outstanding texture on the palate.

    Conclusion

    A typical old Convalmore, fruity, earthy, meaty and waxy, but just a tad thin on the finish.

    Right place, right time

    Hanging out with the pigs in their sty, feeding them dried apricots and pineapple chunks from your pocket.

    Becky Paskin

    Glen Elgin 18 Years Old

    Glen Elgin 18 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Availability
    Limited quantities worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    It’s typical of Glen Elgin’s intensely fruity distillery character. From the off there’s fruit-flavoured confectionery – Maoam chews and cola bottles – then more natural orchard fruit combined with a light green grassy character – a result of the Pombe yeast used during fermentation. Water draws out vanilla.

    Palate

    Thankfully, that fruitiness continues on the tongue, with notes of red apple skin and caramelised stewed apples. Things take an oak-afflicted turn as baking spices appear in the mid-palate, before brittle butter pecan and just a touch of sulphur. Water enhances the sweetness and inspires a creamy texture.

    Finish

    The vanilla-rich oak has had its way, as things end on well-cooked piecrust and crème anglaise.

    Conclusion

    It’s comforting and warming, yet with just the right amount of intrigue. 

    Right place, right time

    Uncontrollably gorging on penny sweets beneath the apple tree.

    Becky Paskin

    Lagavulin 12 Years Old

    Lagavulin 12 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    Limited quantities worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    A reassuringly robust whiff of smoke, but not enough to obscure the scents of fish oil and sweet black fruits. Autumnal – an impression encouraged by adding water, which brings smouldering grass and bracken, or the burning of distant stubble. In time, Fuzzy-Felt.

    Palate

    Thick, unctuous, oily. There’s a peppery, maritime note and great breadth. Beach bonfires and smoked fish on the grill. Water brings out a hedonistic sweetness, with smoke grabbing at the back of the throat, and that oiliness morphs into syrup.

    Finish

    Long, balanced, with a pinch of pepper.

    Conclusion

    A beautifully constructed, benchmark Lagavulin. At £90 a bottle, is it good value, in today’s whisky market? You bet your life it is.

    Right place, right time

    Lying on the beach, picking the last of the meat off the fish bones as the embers glow and Dunyvaig Castle fades into the twilight.

    Richard Woodard

    Port Dundas 52 Years Old

    Port Dundas 52 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    44.6%
    Production type
    Single grain whisky
    Region
    Lowland
    Availability
    752 bottles worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    You could sink into the nose of this single grain and be forever at peace, such is its comforting warmth and inviting aroma. It’s creamy and vanilla-rich, yet ever so slightly biscuity – think cookie dough ice cream. There’s a nuttiness in the form of marzipan that’s peppered with cloves. All in all it’s reminiscent of a Caribbean rum, Angostura in particular. 

    Palate

    The immediate texture is soft and comforting; it practically envelops you in a snuggly comfort blanket. Sweet dried fruit and a heavy batting of vanilla are at the fore – rum-and-raisin ice cream, while a touch of spice on the back palate anchors things. In time it becomes more Bourbon-like with cloves and oak spice.

    Finish

    Soft and sweet with a touch of spice.

    Conclusion

    You’d expect a 52-year-old grain whisky to have picked up a fair amount of character from its cask, but to still retain some semblance of fruitiness from the distillery is remarkable. A hug in a glass, a real comforter.

    Right place, right time

    Eating rum-and-raisin ice cream at the outdoor cinema, blanket over legs.

    Becky Paskin

    Port Ellen 37 Years Old (17th Release)

    Port Ellen 37 Years Old (17th Release)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    2,988 bottles worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Ah, the smell of the English countryside in summer: damp hay bales, manure, the sweet unmistakable aroma of bonfire smoke in the neighbouring field. But then comes lush, mouthwatering fruit – dried apricot skin, apple chews. Take your time, it's worth it. 

    Palate

    Given the savoury nose there’s an unexpected sweetness – sugar cubes, more of those sensational apple chews – then a rush of prickly spice in the middle. A damp earthiness emerges, alongside a waft of bonfire smoke (dying campfire embers extinguished with water) before both recede, revealing a platter of charred juicy fruits like kiwi, pineapple and orange segments. 

    Finish

    As the fruit and smoke die away, the countryside rears back into life.

    Conclusion

    This 17th rendition of Port Ellen is delicate yet pungent, sweet yet riddled with character – if you allow it the time to unfold.

    Right place, right time

    Sipped wisely and slow around the campfire with The Staves.

    Becky Paskin

    Teaninich 17 Years Old

    Teaninich 17 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Availability
    Limited quantities worldwide
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Immediate note of Parma Violet and a general feeling of airiness, although there are riper, warmer fruits lurking in the background. Despite the high strength, there’s nary a prickle of heat to be sensed. Water opens it up like a flower: lemon zest, freshly mown hay, apple spiked with a little cinnamon.

    Palate

    Richer than the nose suggests, but that’s relative; a suggestion of peppery wild flower pollen gathered in with the hay. It’s all held together by a creamy smoothness that only increases in volume once water is added, with vanilla peeping through.

    Finish

    Light, but spiked with a little mint and liquorice.

    Conclusion

    Teaninich’s first Special Release comes as the distillery marks its 200th anniversary. An appropriately celebratory dram that offers a masterclass in balancing distillery character and cask influence.

    Right place, right time

    Freshly laundered sheets flap in a summer breeze. The grumble of a tractor and baler in the field beyond.

    Richard Woodard

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