Those of us who collect rare whiskies look forward to the annual Diageo Special Releases the way some people view Christmas morning. In April, the world’s biggest whisky producer announced nine of the ten bottles in the 2018 collection—as it did last year.
Of course there was great intrigue about what the tenth bottle would be. Now we know.
This week, at a preview tasting in Sydney, I sampled the 2018 Special Releases—including a 48-year-old Carsebridge, a 35-year-old Caol Ila, and a 21-year-old Oban. As for that tenth release, Diageo clearly saved the best for last.
Cladach is a rich and complex No Age Statement (NAS) expression that’s a blend of six stellar coastal distilleries. It’s the only NAS in this year’s list.
Cladach is a rich and complex No Age Statement (NAS) expression that’s a blend of six stellar coastal distilleries that span Islay, the Isle of Skye, Sutherland, and Oban: Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower, and Talisker—the first of its kind. It also involves four casks: First-fill ex-bourbon, refill American oak hogsheads, refill European oak butts, and ex-bodega European oak butts. The result is a peaty paradise and truly exceptional. The word cladach is Gaelic for “shoreline” and its whisky incarnation is everything every true Scotch lover dreams of. It’s oily and saline, with mild sweet and citric notes on the palate. Its mouthfeel is extraordinarily rich. The long finish is smooth and mildly spicy without being overpoweringly peaty. And every sip “feels” different. For those who love Islay whisky, the closest comparison I’d make for this expression would be the 1981 Lagavulin Distillers Edition, which legitimately tastes of the sea and of sweet oysters. As for the price of the Cladach, it’s well within reach.
Beyond the announcement of the “mystery bottle,” there were two notable changes this year. First is the absence of releases from Brora (the legendary Highlands distillery) and Port Ellen (the late, great Islay distillery)—both of which were mainstays since the Special Releases since they were launched in 2001. But no matter, both distilleries are going to be reopened.
Second: The prices are relatively lower, especially for the caliber of whiskies that are on offer. Typically, there’s a Scotch (or three) priced in the thousands. But this year, nothing exceeds the triple-digit range. Diageo says it wasn’t a calculated decision. “It is worth noting that Diageo only suggests a realistic value and price,” Donald Colville, Diageo’s global ambassador, says. “And we do so based on a number of factors, the foremost of which is quality and rarity.
The lack of Port Ellen and Brora expressions aside, there’s still plenty in this year’s collection to be in high spirits.
“Every bottling in this year’s Special Releases collection is limited-edition, rare, and exceptional. And each of them has a reason why I could say, ‘This is my favorite,’” Colville says. “But my personal highlights in the 2018 collection are the Caol Ila 35 Year Old, Talisker 8 Year Old, and Inchgower 27 Year Old. The Caol Ila is a favorite as it is rare to try a Caol Ila of this age with a strong influence of European oak sherry casks. It makes it a richer, bolder Caol Ila—with a beautiful sophistication. The Talisker is first and foremost a delicious single malt. Secondly, the story behind the bottle is also a reason to love it: The 8 Year Old was a historic bottling age for Talisker and was indeed the age it was bottled at before the introduction of the now famous Talisker 10 Year Old in the 1980s. The Inchgower bottling is a favorite of mine, as it has always been a distillery I love due to its unusual location as a coastal Speyside malt and this year’s 27 Year Old is actually the first time Inchgower has been included in the Special Releases.”
The exact release date has yet to be announced—but it’s certainly happening in the early fall. (As always.) View the full list of 2018 Diageo Special Releases below:
2018 Diageo Special Releases
CAOL ILA UNPEATED 15 Year
Diageo Tasting Notes: Deep gold: mild nose, with the fruity sharpness of green apples and orange zest. Dense, firm and mild at first with a sweet, minty-salty taste, then a freezing heat and a long and warming finish.
Diageo Tasting Notes: Antique gold color, floral and fruity on a fresh-clean, smoky base. Cooling and fluid, with a smooth texture. Starts sweetly and soon dries, with a rising peaty pungency and a spicy-sweet finish.
CARSEBRIDGE 48 Year Old
Diageo Tasting Notes: A deep gold color with the delicate, light and balanced nose of a very old grain, then a rich texture, voluptuous mouthfeel and a big, soft, sweet, then gently spicy taste. Long finish.
Diageo Tasting Notes: Full gold, with a series of coastal aromas that a dash of water brings together superbly; the palate and finish are equally flawless. A whisky that is the very essence of a coastal malt.
Details: ABV 57.1%?| Region: Coastal?| Cask: First Fill American Oak ex-Bourbon casks, Refill American Oak Hogsheads, Refill European Oak Butts, Ex Bodega European Oak Butts?| Limited availability worldwide
INCHGOWER 27 Year Old
Diageo Tasting Notes: Full yellow gold, a complex and surprising malt from a little known yet historic distillery that has retained the distillery character well; nutty and spicy, it is vivacious for its twenty-seven years.
Diageo Tasting Notes: A vast palette of aromas and flavors awaits, wherever you look on the nose and the palate. Sweet, oily, and salty, then vinegar-dry and drying.
OBAN 21 Year Old
Diageo Tasting Notes: Dramatic, brooding and compressed, the nose spans a whole range of senses as it shows malt, fruit, oak, peat and sea-air. The taste is intense and sweet, with some saltiness.
Diageo Tasting Notes: It takes time to appreciate the full impact of this appetizingly pithy, charred, occasionally sweet Pittyvaich, which is at the same time straightforward, yet also full-flavored and forceful, with a long finish and a late, drying, bracing quality.
THE SINGLETON GLEN ORD 14 Year
Diageo Tasting Notes: A classic The Singleton Glen Ord with heightened signature aromas of baked apple and sweet orange fruit, beeswax and spice. Smooth and sumptuous too, on a palate rich in mature fruit notes.
Details: ABV 57.6%?| Region: Highlands?| Cask: Refill American Oak Hogsheads and Ex-Bodega European Oak butts followed by a unique maturation and marrying process?| Limited quantities available worldwide
Diageo Tasting Notes: Detailed at natural strength, this fine Talisker is smooth, lengthy, integrated and precisely balanced throughout, with a sweet and youthful assuredness.