Diageo Special Releases 2015

I try not to do posts that are just about tasting some whisky, but I went to a tasting of the Diageo Special Releases, at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, which I figured merited some special attention. I feel like there’s some kind of Whisky Scouts badge for tasting Brora and Port Ellen for the first time, and it’s good to have checked those off my bucket list. Although I wonder if I’m getting a bit jaded – I think I got most excited when I realised Neal’s Yard were doing the cheese selection…

It was a great range of whiskies for a cricketer. A lot of them had that kind of linseed oil finish that you get from a long time in cask, a flavour which often comes as a surprise, but one I really enjoy once I get used to it. But even among the most willow-wielding of whiskies, the Dailuaine (34yo, bottled at 50.9%) stood out, with a nose that gave me déjà vu – the combination of flannel, leather and slightly rotting wood that sums up all old-school clubhouse changing rooms.

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All photos courtesy of Little Tipple, who is much better at this than me

It was my pick of the night, actually. There was a lovely balance of sweet and savoury throughout – the nose also held some strawberry notes which came out again on the palate, joined by lemon cough sweets and a soft earthiness. The finish was even a little smoky, and the smoothness with which the flavours flowed together from start to finish made this a hard whisky to put down. I gave it a 9.5/10, and it definitely jumps into my top 5 whiskies. If only I could get some more of it…

The other stand-outs were the Caledonian and the Brora. The Cally (40yo, 53.3%) was a whisky that was easy to fall for, a voluptuous nose full of cane sugar, smothering you with rum and vanilla and leading you into a palate full of toffee and orange. In context, the finish was a bit of a shock, much more savoury and slightly tannic, with that linseed oil thing I mentioned and a kind of sawdust texture that contrasted starkly with the smoothness that the whisky seemed to exude. Once you got used to it, it actually worked really well, and brought a memorable kick that stopped you taking the whisky for granted, but it certainly cam as a bit of a surprise. I gave it 8.5/10 overall.

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I’m more used to seeing the wildcat on bottles of Clynelish, but the Brora was the better of the two on the night

If the Cally was a passionate, fast-burn fling, the Brora (37yo, 50.4%) was a softer, long-term romance, like seeing a friend of many years and suddenly realising you love all the little things about them (if that even happens outside rom-coms). The nose was a little sweet, pink grapefruit with a sharp saltiness, and there was a slight mushroomy aroma that developed after a while, not quite smoky, but definitely a little peaty. The palate was quite gentle, but full of flavours popping up here and there – the initial impression was a floaty caramel, there was cherry and orange in there, and a floral, herbal feel of rosemary. The citrus and herb was really what lingered, along with a soft earthiness.

I’ll be honest, a couple of the more touted releases missed the mark – the Lagavulin felt like a jack of all trades, with none of the silky strength of character that the distillery has built its reputation on, and the Port Ellen, while incredibly drinkable in an earthy, meaty kind of way, wasn’t nearly special enough to justify the cost. Although I guess it would be hard to live up to that price tag on the basis of just the liquid. Overall though, a fantastic evening with some fantastic whiskies, and any time you can have a conversation about lignin degradation products with Keith Law, Diageo’s Master Blender, has got to go down as a special one.

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