Last week the world’s biggest producer of spirits, Diageo, introduced its Special Releases Collection whiskies at an invitation-only tasting session at Sydney’s Centennial Hotel in Woollahra. Hunter and Bligh was there to do the heavy lifting of tasting six of the ten whiskies that make up the latest release.
The ten whiskies that make up the collection are hand-selected from some of the rarest and oldest cask-strength offerings from well-known, lesser-known and even closed or so-called “ghost” distilleries, from across Scotland.
Diageo’s national whisky ambassador, Simon McGoram, says the special release concept was formulated in response to rapid growth in demand for cask-strength single-malt whisky worldwide.
There’s something for everyone in the series, ranging relatively light and floral varieties to more full-bodied, peaty forms. And they range in price from a mere $130 a bottle.
Missing from the tasking line-up on the night was a 48-year-old Carsebridge – almost as old as this reviewer – but since the Australian allocation of this release was a mere four bottles and each one retails for $1,350, it’s understandable why it was kept under wraps.
There is no doubt that each of the whiskies in the range is an outstanding expression of the distiller’s craft. The opportunity to sample six in such quick succession is to be reminded that despite the similarity of the basic ingredients that go into whisky – barley, water and yeast – there’s an enormous variety of products that come out, and each is brilliant in its own distinctive way.
Hunter and Bligh are enthusiastic about great whisky, and our favourite on the night was also the last one we tasted, a 35-year-old Caol Ila, which the official tasting notes describe as having a smooth, creamy texture and the “clean scent of a pair of brand new box-fresh trainers”. It has “a spicy-sweet finish…sweet peat smoke…and a hint of syrupy pistachio pastry”.
Our own tasting notes (by this time largely illegible) recorded it as: “Oily, filmy on the palate, a with barley-like sweetness and then menthol or mint-ish-ness. Tastes like balaclava [which should have read “baklava”]. Could def go another.”
One of the Special Release whiskies now sits on Hunter and Bligh’s shelf. We should point out it’s not the Carsebridge but we fully anticipate it will be spectacular.
The Special Releases Collection will be officially released on March 15. For more information go to the Special Releases Collection.
The Special Releases Collection
(the official tasting notes and Hunter and Bligh’s rating, out of five stars)
The Singleton Glen Ord (14yo)
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. 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.
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. ABV 55.3% Region: Speyside. Cask: Refill American oak hogsheads. Worldwide number of bottles: 8,544.
It takes time to appreciate the full impact of this appetisingly pithy, charred, occasionally sweet Pittyvaich, which is at one and the same time straightforward, yet also full- flavoured and forceful, with a long finish and a late, drying, bracing quality. ABV 52.1% Region: Speyside. Cask: Refill American Oak Hogsheads. Worldwide number of bottles: 4,680.
In Brief: 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. ABV 57.9% Region: Highlands. Cask: Refill European oak butts. Limited availability worldwide.
Cladach (blend of whiskies from Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower and Talisker)
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. 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.
Caol Ila (35yo)
Antique gold colour, 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. ABV 58.1% Region: Islay. Cask: Refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. Worldwide number of bottles: 3,276.
Not tasted on the night:
Detailed at natural strength, this fine Talisker is smooth, lengthy, integrated and precisely balanced throughout, with a sweet and youthful assuredness. ABV 59.4% Region: Island. Cask: First fill ex-bourbon American oak hogsheads. Limited availability worldwide. RRP $130 (700ml)
A vast palette of aromas and flavours awaits, wherever you look on the nose and the palate. Sweet, oily, and salty, then vinegar-dry and drying. ABV 57.8% Region: Islay. Cask: Refill American oak hogsheads. Limited quantities available worldwide. RRP $180 (700ml)
Caol Ila Unpeated (15yo)
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. ABV 59.1% Region: Islay. Cask: Refill & rejuvenated American oak hogsheads and ex-bodega European oak butts. Limited quantities worldwide. RRP $180 (700ml)
A deep gold colour 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. ABV 43.2% Region: Lowlands. Cask: Refill American oak hogsheads. Worldwide number of bottles: 1,000. RRP $1,350 (700ml)