The Whisky Tasting Club

Diageo special releases, first half

Caol Ila 14 Year Old unpeated 59.3%

What they want for it: £66

What they said about it: From a batch made only once a year, the seventh limited release of unpeated Caol Ila, the first at 14 years old, also the first ‘sherried’ Caol Ila released in this series. From 1st fill ex-bodega European Oak casks filled in 1997.

What I say about it: The unpeated Caol Ila was a big surprise and one of the highlights last year. I was so impressed I bought a bottle. And that doesn’t happen often. So expectations are high going in to this one and it’s first up on the plate with a roster that includes a 35 year old Brora (a step too far? We shall see…), a Talisker 35 year old (lots of confidence in this), two Lagavulins, a 25 year Dalwhinnie, a Port Ellen, and the oldest Auchroisk ever released. No pressure then…

How it did…

Nose: I can’t say I’m very impressed with the nose. it’s tight and even without water it doesn’t have a great deal to say. There’s a slightly doughy, mouldy off note there, too. With time there is some sweet lemon and lime, some sherbet.

Palate: Much better! Don’t over-water it, but those lemon and lime notes are on the palate and it’s sweet and very drinkable, honeyed, soft in the mouth and with some spice from the oak to keep it interesting. as you’d expect rich and oily in the mouth.

Finish: Big, soft, honeyed and spicy.

Would I or wouldn’t I?* I would! 1–0 to the Ageo!

Next up…oh goodness me, it’s the Led Zeppelin of malt, the historic monster that can still sweep all before it…

Brora 35 year old 48.1%

What they want for it: £400

What they said about it .Eleventh of a very limited series of annual releases. Vatted from whiskies at least 35 years old distilled in 1976 & 1977 and aged in refill American Oak casks What I say about it I absolutely adore Brora, a ‘shiver down the spine every time’ malt from the same site as Clynelish and well and truly consigned to history. But I can’t think of any malt that gives more ammunition to the big whisky companies who argue that independent bottlers damage their brands’ reputations. Diageo has brilliantly managed the releases from this distillery – at a substantial price to the consumer, to be fair. But I’ve tasted independent bottlings priced well over £100 that are as bad as any whisky I’ve taken anywhere in the world. That’s the equivalent of taking a bad bootleg of the aforementioned Zep, recorded on a Sony Walkman, and selling it off as a band rarity. But even Diageo’s release last year was a disappointment. Maybe it was the Caol Ila situation in reverse.

How it did…

 Nose: Moody, Autumnal, Stewed dates and plums, some smoke and peat. Could be Japanese. woody, oily, intense and damp.

Palate: Quite thin, not as bold and rich as other bottlings. I’m wondering whether it’s got too old and frail? That said, there are fare some menthol and liquorice notes which i find irresistible, the peat is still defined and attractive and thew overall balance of the whisky, with some apricot and tropical fruit poking up through the oak and smoke making it a damn fine dram (not my phrase). Hard to fault, then, and I prefer it to last year’s. And it’s certainly Brora.

Finish: Fairly long finish with peat and spice both on top.

Would I or wouldn’t I? This is really tough because it’s borderline. But the case for the defence is that it’s definitely a quality Brora, if not the best, and if you gave me £2000 to spend on whisky this might be my guilty pleasure. So on balance, yes, lie down, I think I love you. 2-0 to the Ageo!

A toughie, Saint, but on balance a home win. Now we turn to one which I want to put my shirt on. I love this distillery but we’re in unchartered territory..

Talisker 35 year old 54.6%

What they want for it £525

What they say about it. The oldest limited release ever offered by the distillery. Sixteenth in this series. From American and European Oak refill casks filled in 1977.

What I say about it. Talisker is an amazing malt because it reinvents itself at different ages. i adore the 18-year-old, can take or leave the 10 year old, but would die for the 25 year old or 30 year old if I had the chance. Still think I’d invest all my available cash in the 18 year old though – just because of how much I could buy compared to the older expressions. Not sure what to expect here, though…

How it did…

Nose: Another tight nose but with some fishy peat, oily citrus fruit and burnt spices. Like the barbecue got left on too long and the lemon drizzled fish has risked round the edge. Not irretrievable but hovering…

Palate: Wowsa! No tiredness here. This is an immense whisky, with distinctive thunder cracker Talisker pepper and peat, a nice splash of oak, and a surprising dash of honey. I’m just listening to AC/DC’s Back in Black and that’s the spot on soundtrack for this…an ageing masculine heavy hitting rock out of a malt showing any young whipper snapper how it’s done. Awesome.

Would I or wouldn’t I?* I know I shouldn’t but put the Brora back on the shelf…four bottles for £2000 please? I feel dirty and seduced but if ever anyone was going to do it, it was this spice girl… 3-0 to the Ageo!

No chance for a 21 year old Lagavulin after that I don’t think. Tough but it’s up against it. Question is, after last year’s 5-3 victory for Diageo can the company go 4-0 up at half time? But let’s play ball…

Lagavulin 21 year old, 52%

What they want for it £350

What I say about it It’s a lot of money for a 21 year old but let’s go there…

How it did

Nose: Typical smoky, oily, fishy Lagavulin: spritely, exciting and very, very Islay. Palate: Beautiful smoky, peaty and oily whisky. It”s young and vibrant with melon, kiwi and mango as well as lots of peat and smoke. Not the most subtle of whiskies but an absolute delight. Excellent stuff.

Finish: Just beautiful; honeyed, fruity, rich, peaty, oily and long. Exquisite.

Would I or wouldn’t I? Can’t do it. A step too far. Very nice but there are better options here. Sorry!

3-1 to the Ageo!

Impressive but still all to play for… watch for part two in the next few days…


* This is based on the fantasy that I’m unbelievably rich

This entry was posted in 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.


  • This is great stuff, the comments are very nice. I love the Diageo Special Releases as a Malt Whisky Collector. The only problem is that every year the cost is higher and it makes more difficult to put the hands in at least one of these bottles. I would prefer the Brora and the lagavulin 21 yrs old with no doubt.

Leave a Comment