The Whisky Tasting Club

Dom’s diary, Tuesday October 25: Diageo Special Releases

I know I can do this. It’s a big bottle of water and those flip caps can be tricky. Glass of whisky in one hand, open the water bottle with the other…how hard can it be?


The bottom of the bottle slides, connects with a bottle of Knockando, spraying sherried malt on a small group by the table, and the whisky bottle in turn dispenses four or five tasting glasses to the floor in an explosion of splintered glass. A whisky cluster bomb in the heart of London.

Everyone is startled, and turns to stare. And then they see it’s me and a resigned look collectively crosses their faces.

Yep, I’m back! Should I get my coat?

We’re attending Diageo’s annual special releases party and the event is packed with journalists, retailers and bloggers. A record turn out for one of the whisky highlights the year.

Only last year wasn’t. In fact it was a big disappointment. I’d say a crashing disappointment, only last year I don’t think I did any crashing.

When you’re tasting rare and expensive whiskies, you have two questions to answer: is the whisky any good, and if it is, is it good enough to justify the the price tag? Price is relative of course and for most, these whiskies aren’t cheap. But you have to judge them in  as luxury items.

Here then is the verdict:


Rosebank 21 year old 2011 release, 53.8%, £160

Rosebank closed years ago and what remaining stocks there are are patchy. But this is an exceptional example of this much loved Lowlander and fans of the distillery will be very tempted even at this price. The nose is shy and needs some water to open, but look for it and it’s a delight – floral, with rose water, peach and soft citrus notes. And traces of raspberry blancmange. On the palate there’s lemon meringue, a dry white wine astringency and a dusty peppery finish. A delight.

Worthy? Oh yes.  Worth it?  Marginal, but yes.


Knockando 25 year old, bottled 2011. 43%, £134

This is the one I knocked over. But it came out fighting, which is why I was reaching for the water. This is a monster of a sherry cask, a deep well of berry, fermenting fruit, squidgy raspberries, dark chocolate and earthy, rustic rugged cask. Not anywhere near as complex as the tasting notes would have us believe. It is to whisky what The Fall are to music. If you like this sort of growling sherried whisky, it’s great. But not necessarily for everyone. In big company at this tasting though, and it held its own. And £135 for a 25 year old isn’t bad at all.

Worthy? In a manner of speaking, yes.  Worth it? Yes



Port Dundas 20 year old. 1990 57.4% £110

Grain whisky has long had a bad press, dismissed as the poor relation of malt whisky, more part of the vodka family than the whisky one. But great and aged grain whisky takes all its flavour from the cask, and if that cask is high quality American oak, then wowsa!  The results can be stunning. This had a mixed response on the night and I think I know why. If you’d tasted this and weren’t familiar with the 35 year old big beasties from the likes of Invergordon this may well have blown your mind. But for those in love with aged grains, this had two flaws. Yes, the candy, vanilla, exotic fruits and tobacco box notes were here, but at 20 years it lacked complexity, and, bizarrely, was too woody. Like someone had turned the bass line up so it was interfering with the melody. Good, but no cigars

Worthy? Just.  Worth it? No.

Caol Ila 12 Year Old Unpeated, 2011 Release, 64% £53
Everyone goes on about Islay being the peaty island but almost certainly the majority of its malt output is unpeated. That’s because Caol Ila, currently shut for further expansion, was already the island’s biggest distillery and much of what it makes is unpeated malt for blends. I’ve tried unpeated Caol Ila before, and not liked it.

So wow, wow, and thrice wow…

Just once or twice a year whisky manages to completely surprise me. This was this year’s moment. Sherbety, fruity, tangy, lightly spiced, with gentle citrus, vanilla ice cream and a trace of menthol, it reminded me of a great Tamdhu. Soft, sensual, and very sexy…I’ve ordered a bottle.

Worthy? A big, big yes.    Worth it? Cask strength this great at that price? Are you kidding?


Brora 32 year old 54.7%. £300

One of my absolute favourite malts – a couple of official 30 year old bottlings are up there with the best whisky I’ve tasted, so expectations were high. Too high? Probably. A few people were underwhelmed. But Brora is my whisky equivalent to R.E.M – any official release, even the less spectacular ones,  still walk the floor with most of the opposition. This was a bit odd, though – a damp, moody chilling Autumn of a whisky, clammy and less giving than other Broras – pepper, peat and damp charcoal come late on, and some menthol at least put a smile on its face. Much as I love that flavour, though, it wasn’t enough to totally redeem it.

Worthy? Yes, it’s Brora.  Worth it? Sorry.. Five unpeated Caol Ilas please

Port Ellen 32 year old 1978 53.9% (£300)

Ah, the long walk down the room feels like a procession. Two huge whisky names to go and tonight we’re already overwhelmingly in credit. This is a night of greatness.

Plus the signs are good – they’ve got the heavies down this end – well, Dr Nick Morgan anyway – so the excitement rises with every step.

And this is a delicious and great Port Ellen. The woodsmoke is elegant and wisps in and out, but the heart is a beautiful cottage kitchen where they’re baking on the oven and freshly cut wood is on the hearth. There are sweet and savory notes but the killer for me is the luscious aniseedy note which I describe as rancio and is certainly something to do with whisky this age. Great.

Worthy? Oh my oh my, yes.   Worth it? It’s a lot of money but yes. History in a glass? Priceless.

Lagavulin 12 year old. 57.5%. £63

Another favourite distillery, and as the 16 year old is close to perfection, can you mess with it?

Well blow me sideways and tickle my tummy, this is the second amazing moment of the night. This is the whisky equivalent of going to see The All Blacks and after a first half of  sublime rugby they come on for the second half in skirts and proceed to play perfect netball…

So: oily, soot and smoke, grungey, industrial and earthy undertones, so far, so very Lagavulin…hints of something sweeter, and then, netball time…with water, sweet melon and pear, mint and aniseed, fragrant incense smoke.

Brad Thorn in a tutu! Another one for the collection. I go for seconds – twice.

Worthy? Absolutely.    Worth it? Again, look at the price. A big yes from me.


And that’s it – a stunning and wonderful tasting. And two purchases. And if it hadn’t been for the Knockando incident, it would have been the perfect night

This entry was posted in Blogs, Whisky Tastings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • I laughed when I read your tasting notes for the Lagavulin 12yo, but only because they are so damn accurate when I reflect on my first experience of this distillery in this format, which I had on Islay last year. That one was the 2009 version, and while it certainly blew me sideways, it also nutted me in the forehead and foreheaded me in the nuts. So to speak. A phenomenal whisky indeed. Such a shame I can’t divert anymore cash from actually living (electricity, food etc.) and purchase it.
    Dropping whisky bottles – you never think it will happen to you.

  • personally the Laga 12 has always been one of my favorites, I prefer it to the 16. Cant wait to try this one.

Leave a Comment