Diageo Special Releases 2008

For the 8th year running Diageo are releasing a number of specially selected whiskies for their Special Release-series. This year there are ten different bottlings, with a total production of well under 70.000 bottles all in all. And as usual Diageo has one or two surprises in store for the avid whisky drinker/collector. The bottling will be released later this year. This years prices (RRP in the UK) range from £43 to £205 per bottle. All tasting notes are courtesy of Diageo (as are all pictures). So… on to the whiskies:

Port Ellen 29 Years Old – 1978 – ABV 55,3%

To ease the mind of Port Ellen-followers I’ll do this one first. This is the 8th release of the long gone Islay distillery that was closed down in 1983. But the name lives on throught the limited stock in Diageo’s warehouses and of course Port Ellen Maltings, situated on the same plot.

This years edition is from American Oak and European Oak refill casks, and a total of 6,618 bottles (whereof 42 bottles are destined for Norway) are available thoughout the world. RRP is £180 per bottle.

Appearance: Pure, deep amber. Little beading.

Nose: Elegant, compelling and mellow for this strength. High notes of mild carbolic soap feature, and soothing, syrupy-sweet notes of baked apples with cinnamon and raisins or dark fudge swirl beneath this aristocratic antiseptic. Sea-air coastal aromas emerge with time. Water doesn’t change things much, raising spent caps initially, before the comforting coal-tar smoke returns.

Body: Light

Palate: Hot, sweet and powerfully hot tar-smoky, at natural strength. Lulled into complacency, as you are by the mellow nose, all this flavour comes as a big surprise, the more so in a whisky that has been almost 30 years in cask. Rich fruit sugars are dissected by a cleansing acidity. A good splash of water makes things altogether smoother, sweeter and cooler, with some salt, and then more smoke.

Finish: Very long, with a coal-tar aftertaste. Sweet at first, gaining a salty tang in time. Then late, hot, lingering aniseed. With water, more hints of cinnamon and fantastically late, and pervasive, wood smoke.

Brora 25 Years Old – ABV 56,3%

Brora has taken a turn for the younger this year. The previous versions were all 30yo. The contents is vatted together from both American and European Oak refill casks, with a minimum age of 25 years (some are older). The distillery closed in 1983, so this is “as young as it gets” today.

Less than 3,000 bottles (18 bottles is set aside for Norway) have been made of this expression, and the RRP in the UK is £175.

Appearance: Pale. Warm gold. Good beading.

Nose: Little nose-prickle; restrained and light, quickly developing wood-ash and citrus notes. Underpinning this, lemon and honey. Dried fruit and marzipan: like a faded Christmas cake. Takes time to develop, then lightly waxy with fragrant moorland scents – like sesame oil – and buttery fudge. With water (not too much) immediately more floral and fragrant, as with dried flowers. The waxy note develops, becoming more fruity and scented.

Body: Medium to rich.

Palate: Attractively teeth-coating, oily and creamy. Waxy taste, with light vanilla sweetness. Develops into traces of smoke over nutty, sandy base notes. Drying, with more earthy tones in development, the effect recalling that of a fresh soft cheese. Water makes it much sweeter; not quite so waxy, with an increased tannic, mouth-drying effect. Warming overall, and quite vigorous. Drinks well straight.

Finish: Medium length, considerably drying. Late smoky and herbal notes give way to resins and an oaky dryness

Lagavulin 12 Years Old – ABV 56,4%

This is the 7th release of a 12 year old from Lagavulin’s warehouses. Purely matured in refill American Oak casks for at least 12 years. Limited availability but available world wide.

No excact number of bottles is given, but I calculate that around 32,000 bottles is available of Lagavulin 12 – making it the easiest available bottling of them all (good availability across Norway). UK RRP is £50.

Appearance: Deep amber. Moderate beading.

Nose: A typically full-on Lagavulin nose that also shows great finesse, with less ripe fruit than earlier bottlings. All pervasive, slightly salty, bergamot-scented wood-smoke surrounds a sophisticated complex of sweeter aromas: smooth and creamy toffee sauce on digestive biscuits with shavings of milk chocolate. Later, appetising lemon and white pepper notes. With water the aromas embrace toasted cereal and take on a roasted, nutty quality, but always the fragrant smoke and coal tar return.

Body: Medium. Thick. Coating.

Palate: Oily and pleasant to drink at full strength. Dusty, very sweet, then positively smoky, as with roasted chestnuts from a street-vendor enjoyed on a winter’s morning. Or a real wood-fired pizza, with fresh pesto and pine kernels. Leaves the tongue tingling. Cleaner with water, which brings a smooth mouth feel; sweet start, centre palate engagement, sophisticated smoke.

Finish: Long and smoky, with masses of exquisite smoke and a fragrant-smoky aftertaste. Toasted sesame seeds. Basil. Water brings out Indian spices (roasted cummin).

Glen Elgin 16 Years Old – 1991 – ABV 58,5%

This is only the second time Glen Elgin has a whisky in the Special Release-series (the first one was a 32yo in 2003). A vintage bottling from ex-bodega European Oak casks – something for those who like the sweeter stuff.

9,954 bottles have been made of this “unknown” Speyside distillery. With a UK RRP of £52 it’s nicely priced as well.

Appearance: Polished amber. Good beading.

Nose: Astonishingly fresh and invigorating. Toasted biscuits, then stewed winter fruit compote (bananas, fresh orange, dried orange peel) and pleasantly oily: orange oil with notes of fudge, toffee and vanilla cream, hints of linseed and almond oil, newly sanded cedar and varnished hard-wood. Add a little water, and after immediate pear-drops the nose is mellow and fruity (dried figs, sultanas, raisins, as in a Christmas cake). Faint trace of brimstone. Becomes slightly waxy.

Body: Medium to light. Lightly oily.

Palate: Sweet, mouth-drying and pleasant straight. A sensual mouth feel, and chocolate-orange notes – clean and citric with an underlying sweetness. A warming, superb balance of sweetness, spice (cedar-wood and anise) and cereal. Sweeter still with water, which brings light acidity and even a trace of salt; some dry Brazil nuts.

Finish: Medium-length, leaving a light nutty aftertaste. Lingering warmth, gingery and sweet. Hugely seductive late oak produces pure dark chocolate dryness at cask strength, and sweeter, chocolate tart, notes with water.

Talisker 25 Years Old – ABV 54,2%

Talisker has been the most active participant in the Special Release-program, with this being the 11th expression offered. A vatting of both American and European refill casks.

A total of 6,708 bottles (42 of these are coming to Norway) are available of this expression with a UK RRP of £132.

Appearance: Amber. Good beading, attractive viscosity

Nose: Soft and mellow, with some hot prickle, and discernible pepper. First, dried seaweed and light caramel, then smoked ham. Becomes more complex, with notes of iodine and carbolic, and wisps of lightly fragrant wood smoke drifting above a buttery chocolate cake, topped with slices of pear in a raspberry coulis. Later, new upholstery. Water releases some menthol and eucalyptus, at the expense of the chocolate cake. Charred wood, with some beach smells behind, including very fresh fillet of fish: sushi! Traces of boat varnish after a while.

Body: Medium; smooth and rich.

Palate: Drinks well at natural strength, having a pleasant, oily texture. Sweet to taste at first, then lightly smoky and warming. More rich, moist chocolate cake, in raspberry purée; suffused with spicy wood and smoke. With water, well balanced and positive – light sweetness, some salt, a little acidity, drying gently among smoke.

Finish: Long, gingery and warming; a smoky aftertaste. Earthy and smoky chocolate with very late, drying oak.

Talisker 30 Years Old – ABV 49,5%

The oldest of the Talisker offerings in the series, and the 12th SR-Talisker since the start in 2001. As with the 25yo it’s a vatting of refill European and American Oak casks.

Less than 3,000 bottles (18 of which are coming to Norway) are available world wide, through specialist shops (as with most of the Special Releases). The UK RRP is set at £205.

Appearance: Antique gold. Little beading.

Nose: Remarkably fresh and energetic for 30 years old. Gentle and finely constructed, though coy; with patience, dry seaweed on a salty beach, with a thread of carbolic and smoke in the background. Perhaps a trace of fragrant oil or smooth, honeyed wax, underscored by jammy, red fruit tartness. Festive notes of Christmas pudding and spiced apples, beneath sandalwood accented smoke, which advances with time in the glass. A drop of water brings up sea breezes and wet seaweed at the tide-line, combined with fresh laundry. Hints of brown apples behind, and brown sugar in the development.

Body: Medium.

Palate: Drinks well at natural strength, when it is surprisingly sugar-sweet with light smoke. Cool and rather delicate for its age, it loses some of the malty Christmas pudding notes that were evident on the nose. Water brings forth calming peppermint with a distinct trace of tar and salt. Smooth textured and very easy to drink. An easy balance of primary tastes.

Finish: Long, with a little honey and a cooling, menthol aftertaste of warm wood. Late herbal accents.

Caol Ila Unpeated 8 year Old – 1991 – ABV 64,2%

The third official release of Caol Ila’s “Highland Style” whisky, previously only available to blenders. Once a year Caol Ila changes it’s style and becomes “Highland Caol Ila”. Purely matured in 1st fill ex-Bourbon casks.

None of the 5,664 bottles made will ever make it to Norway, unless the current legislation is changed. This is the lowest priced Special Release with a UK RRP of £43.

Appearance: Pale gold, with light beading.

Nose: A remarkably restrained nose, free of harshness at cask strength. At first, dry and drying, yet with hints of barley sugar sweetness. Behind this, fruity (light tinned pears), with developing notes of creamy vanilla (custard) and traces of fragrant herbs. Dried lavender. Lemongrass? Water releases a glorious, fruit-smoothie-like freshness; clean, sweet, aromatic notes of newly peeled pears and fresh bread – you would think it was a Speyside. The dried lavender fragrance persists.

Body: Light-bodied. Oily. Creamy-smooth.

Palate: Develops a huge, herbal bitterness at cask strength; a generous splash of water soon steps in to release a soft, faintly smoky sweetness in the palate. Smooth textured, slightly mouth-drying, with a light mouth-feel and a fresh, well balanced sweet fruitiness.

Finish: A very short and dry finish, yet with an intensely aromatic longevity. Herbal. Medicinal. Liquorice. Again, an attractive softness and sweetness is released with water.

This year’s big surprise is a series of Linkwood-bottlings, bottled in 50cl-bottles. This is the first time Linkwood has participated in the Special Releas-series, and when they first do they put out three different expressions! All matured in different casks for the last 14 years in the warehouse – the first 12 were identical. Very rare and very limited.

A mere 1,260 numbered bottles have been made of each expression, with an RRP of £130.

(Please Note: Linkwood bottle shots are produced from mock up samples and are for visual purposes only as label body copy is incorrect.)

Linkwood 26 Years Old – Port Finish – ABV 56,9%

Sweet, complex and highly unusual. This expression is a real success: great at cask strength, softer but equally pleasant with water, the whisky is not obviously influenced by port. The unexpected acid/sweet twist in the taste is very interesting.

Appearance: Rosewood, with clear bright crimson lights. Heavy beading and notable viscosity.

Nose: Light prickle to start with. Immediately, a distinct, juicy, citric nose (rich, ripe oranges, pomegranates), and milk chocolate or light caramel notes behind; then oat breakfast cereal smeared with heather honey. Late, high-scented floral notes, as in potpourri. Water reveals some hidden coconut. Waxy, increasing to become sweet honeycomb, with some dried herbs (bay leaf?) and light fruitiness, developing into dried flowers.

Body: Light to medium

Palate: Sweet and chewy at natural strength; pleasant and warming. Hot. Limes. A sweet, fruity aftertaste, like vanilla cream over a bed of crushed muesli bars. Then, drying cocoa. Adding water makes things clean and very sweet (soft brown sugar?) Good centre palate taste delivery.

Finish: Still hot. Quite lengthy and cedar-dry. A splash of water brings out a cooling and sublime minty freshness.

Linkwood 26 Year Old – Rum Finish – ABV 54,5%

An attractive and accessible Speyside with a glorious balance of fruit, oak and cereal; elegant and simple – the effect of the rum cask is not obvious, except perhaps for the soft brown sugar sweetness.

Appearance: Warm gold. Good beading.

Nose: Astonishingly fresh and invigorating. Toasted biscuits, then stewed winter fruit compote (bananas, fresh orange, dried orange peel) and pleasantly oily: orange oil with notes of fudge, toffee and vanilla cream, hints of linseed and almond oil, newly sanded cedar and varnished hard-wood. Add a little water, and after immediate pear drops the nose is mellow and fruity (dried figs, sultanas, raisins, as in a Christmas cake). Faint trace of brimstone. Becomes slightly waxy.

Body: Medium to light. Lightly oily.

Palate: Sweet, mouth-drying and pleasant straight. A sensual mouth feel, and chocolate-orange notes – clean and citric with an underlying sweetness. A warming, superb balance of sweetness, spice (cedar-wood and anise) and cereal. Sweeter still with water, which brings light acidity and even a trace of salt; some dry Brazil nuts.

Finish: Medium-length, leaving a light nutty aftertaste. Lingering warmth, gingery and sweet. Hugely seductive late oak produces pure dark chocolate dryness at cask strength, and sweeter, chocolate tart, notes with water.

Linkwood 26 Years Old – Sweet Red Wine Finish – ABV 55,5%

An explosion at the jelly-babies sweet factory! Sweet, complex and highly unusual: great at cask strength, softer but equally pleasant with water, and not obviously influenced by port. The unexpected acid/sweet twist in the taste is very interesting.

Appearance: Deep, dark caramelised orange with burgundy lights. Good beading

Nose: Nose-warming; slight prickle. Soft, deep and rounded, with creamy toffee and fudge. Opens up to reveal sweet fruitiness: jelly babies (in Germany, Gummi Bears) and red fruits (redcurrants, grapes) with citric (blood orange) notes and balancing oaky-dry planed wood. Later, a hint of wine, and more fudge. With water, mellow, with a fugitive whiff of blackcurrants. Distinctly wine-like to start, then wine gums?

Body: Light

Palate: Smooth mouth feel at natural strength, with a brief sweetness soon swallowed by tannic dryness. Fruity, tart wine gums with a powder sugar dusting. Softer and fizzy-sweet with water, with some fudge and pleasing red berry fruit; lightly mouth drying, although sweet overall, with interesting tannic influences .

Finish: Medium length: smooth, fruity and nutty. Cherry stones and white chocolate. Late oak brings liquorice.

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