This year we have eight limited-edition cask strength whiskies selected by master blender Dr Craig Wilson. The theme for Diageo’s 2019 Special Releases is “Rare by Nature”, which seems to evoke the old Flora and Fauna range with some beautifully dramatised illustrations of the wildlife, and flora surrounding the distilleries depicted on the packaging. We were lucky enough to try them all at a pre-release event at Somerset House in London, here are our thoughts and tasting notes:
The 2019 Diageo Special Releases in their entourage
A rare outing for this North Highland distillery that is one of Diageo’s largest distilleries, and also doubles as the malting site for the barley is used in many of the companies single malts. The whisky was matured for 18 years in freshly charred American oak hogsheads, from a 2000 distillation.
Nose: Dried apple, citrus rind and peel. Marmalade on vanilla toast, grapefruit pith, some almond oil and fresh cereal.
Palate: More zingy citrus, creamy tangerine cheesecake or curd like body. Plenty of fresh vanilla-wood char and some subtle and playful spice. White grapefruit sprinkled with sugar.
Finish: Waxy orange peel, wood spice and toasted vanilla. Almond/marzipan, apple cores and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Overall: The signature “smooth and balanced” style is evident here but with the extra strength, some richer more oily body to the Glen Ord style.
Described as “The Queen of Speyside malts” and the spiritual home of the Johnnie Walker brand, again this whisky is rare to see. An aged cask strength release of Cardhu which spent 2 years being finished in Amontillado sherry seasoned hogsheads, after its initial ageing in traditional refill casks.
Nose: Light toffee, ripe pear, caramelised orchard fruits and some red cherry. Banana fudge, chocolate-caramel bars and subtle wood spice.
Palate: Rich toffee and ripe pear to start then some caramelised orchard fruits, red cherry jam and banana fudge with delicate wood spice and caramel-chocolate combo.
Finish: Old fashioned toffee pennies, red apple and dried banana chips. Malty fudge, toasted oak and baking spices.
Overall: Classic soft and creamy Cardhu with added depth, complexity and spice for a most easy going Speyside malt.
The big surprise of this year’s releases is a rare peated expression from the highly-respected Speyside distillery, Cragganmore. The whisky was distilled in 2006 and matured in refill American oak casks.
Nose: Smoked oatmeal biscuits, waxy quince jelly and singed straw. Creamy cheese curds and rinds, apple pie filling and wood-polish-soaked chamois dusters. Some aromatic leafy wood smoke.
Palate: Opens with barley sugar/boiled sweets then developing an unusual smoky and savoury edge to the waxy citrus-led body. Some notes of chocolate bitters and forest floor mulch.
Finish: More waxy and citrus curd like notes with smoked oatmeal, herbal honey and a lingering hint of a distant forest bonfire.
Overall: An unusual Cragganmore for sure but for me one of the highlights of this year’s releases. A real collector’s item from a classic Speyside malt never to have released as a peated version before.
With no Brora or Port Ellen in the line-up this year it is down to “The Beast of Dufftown” to deliver the big hitter. The whisky was distilled in 1992 and aged for 26 long years in first-fill Pedro Ximeénez and Oloroso Sherry seasoned casks.
Nose: Prunes in Cognac, festive spices, sticky honey baked ham and Brazil nuts. Orange curacao, coffee grinds and some savoury leather, with truffle like notes to the obvious Sherry wood nuances here.
Palate: A big grapey-Cognac or antique Armagnac like delivery with a meaty body and chewy mouthfeel with dark honey roasted nuts. Rich fruitcake mix, stewed black plums and damsons. Some clove studded orange.
Finish: Nut brittle, marmalade glazed ham joint, rich fruitcake and plum pudding. Mulled port/brandy and liquorice or bark like notes but all very long and satisfying.
Overall: An Umami rich Mortlach that will keep all the sherry bomb lovers happy; big, bold and meaty and more than justifying of its price tag.
The oldest of this year’s releases, from a 1987/88 distillation and matured in a combination of refill hogsheads and butts.
Nose: Snuffed candles, old dusters with French polish and peach-melba. Honey roasted root vegetables, singed heather and some stem ginger.
Palate: Deep and waxy to start settling into quince jelly and ripe orchard fruits behind a silkscreen of singed grass and herbs. Becomes creamy and peppery with a sort of oaky muesli/granola bar enjoyed near a leafy bonfire perhaps.
Finish: Rootsy and herbal with some sweeter floral honey notes. Spiced white chocolate and freshly baked sultana scones and a touch of fragrant smoke.
Overall: Always a reliable and good all-rounder of a Highland malt, and here well-aged displaying great poise and elegance for its 30 years.
A ghost distillery that was closed in 1993 after just 19 years of distilling. A rarely seen Speyside single malt with ever dwindling stock, and here matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads.
Nose: Opens with elegant floral and fresh sponge cake from the oven. Lavender and sugared almonds and all quite delicate and austere, with a mineral like touch and some loose leaf tea.
Palate: Almond pastries, sultana sponge cake, vanilla custard and light butterscotch. Stem ginger, aromatic tea chests and subtle woody spice.
Finish: Ginger biscuits, almond croissants, candied peel and warming spice.
Overall: The most delicate of this year’s offerings from a distillery, as rarely seen as the shy Capercaillie bird found in the Scottish pine forests that surround the site of this lost distillery.
Another aged offering from this iconic Isle of Skye distillery, and after last year’s triumphant 8 year old it has a lot to live up to. The whisky was matured for 15 years in 100% freshly-charred American oak hogsheads.
Nose: Classic maritime and harbour-side character with some lobster pots and boggy seaweed in here too. Some sweeter elements of lavender honey and Szechuan pepper. Soy sauce/seafood marinade and tarry smoke complete the most complex nose of this year’s Special Releases.
Palate: Chilli flake and honey roasted vegetables with some beetroot cured gravlax, along with notes of charred anise and earthy chocolate bitters. Salted/peppery smoked popcorn.
Finish: More chilli flake heat, walnut oil, honey roasted parsnips and boat varnish. Some menthol and lingering peppery smoke.
Overall: Sure to be many peoples favourite of the 2019 releases. After last year’s 8 year old that makes two stunning Talisker releases in a row, and the first ever official bottling at 15 years old.
With no Caol Ila in the line-up this year it’s up to the yearly stalwart of the Lagavulin 12 year old to represent the Islay contingent. As always it’s proven to be the best value offering, this time distilled in 2006/07 and matured in refill American oak.
Nose: Ashy and sooty peat smoke with medicinal notes to the fore with elements of lime pickle. Sweet brine juice, mossy and herbal with tarry/oily ropes, Japanese Nori seaweed and some fresh coastal sea spray.
Palate: Sea salted green peppers preserved in brine and olive oil. Sooty lime curd, some menthol freshness and rock candy enjoyed on a fishing trawler.
Finish: Oily and sooty with vegetal, earthy compost heap notes balanced by boiled sweets. Mossy rock pools and vanillin oak bringing some sweetness and freshness to what is a long and satisfying finish.
Overall: An ever reliable annual offering in the Diageo Special Releases, which again steals the show as being the last-tasted that lingers long into the night. A superb dram from a distillery that seems incapable of releasing anything other than impeccable distillery character with every release.
All eight of this years whiskies are now available to order with free UK shipping on our Diageo Special Releases 2019 page.
For past releases from previous years, you can check them out on our Diageo Special Releases page.
Nickolls & Perks