Not familiar with Diageo? They’re the world’s largest producer of spirits (think Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys) — and they own many of the best whisky distilleries in the world. Each year, they unveil their Special Releases Collection. This April, they’re releasing 10 meticulously crafted limited-edition Scottish whiskies to the Australian public.
Since 2001, Diageo has been putting on the Special Releases Collection. It’s a hand-selected range of the rarest and oldest cask-strength bottlings from distinguished, lesser-known — and even closed — distilleries. The Plus Ones were on hand for a guided tasting throughout the portfolio.
Rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème of the whisky world — the writers, collectors, connoisseurs and enthusiasts, not to mention many from Diageo’s Australian team — we had the upper level of Hotel Centennial in Woollahra to ourselves for the big reveal.
We journeyed from room to room, with beautiful tablescapes of props, food, and decor (ranging from old fishing nets to honey to fresh bread) helping guide our tastings.
We started in the Highlands with The Singleton Glen Ord 14-year-old (RRP: $179.99 AUD). The 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. I found it eminately approachable, and loved hearing that it’s made by a female distiller.
Next in our tasting was the Inchgower 27-year-old (RRP: $499.99 AUD), the first time in special release. It’s triple matured using an ingenious five cask process. With its cooling menthol flavour, there are only 8,544 bottles worldwide. 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.
Switching areas, we were led into the Ghost Distillery room. Now, this was something I’d never heard of before! Ghost distilleries are shuttered establishments from which whisky is still maturing or on sale. Diageo has bought up stock of these closed companies — in some cases, with barrels older than the entire time the distillery operated. We were able to try the Pittyvaich 28-year-old (RRP: $499.99 AUD; 4,680 bottles worldwide). I loved this one: it was beautifully thick in the mouth, with a sweet and warm tingle on the lips. Tasting notes: 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.
Next up: the Speyside room, which my Irish companion (head Food & Beverage writer for The Plus Ones, Orlaith Costello) felt a bit like home in. We started with the Oban 21-year-old (RRP: $824.99 AUD), from one of the smallest distilleries. It was light but complex, and quite quaffable. 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.
The Cladach (RRP: $249.99) is a unique blend of six renowned coastal distilleries – Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower and Talisker. It smelled like the inside of a peat cottage, according to one attendee; and like maple-glazed bacon, to my +1. Either way, it was truly yum. 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.
Finally, we rounded off our excursion through the Special Releases with the Caol Ila 35-year-old (RRP: $1,249.99 AUD; Worldwide no of bottles: 3,276). It’s the oldest bottling ever produced from the distiller. An incredibly long, five-second finish released ‘freezing heat’ — and was the favourite of my +1 and the Diageo head brand ambassador. Tasting notes: 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.
My favourites of the bunch? The Singleton and the Pittyvaich. Now I just need to visit the distilleries in person someday. #goals
Rounding off the rest of the Special Releases 2019, we have:
- Caol Ila Unpeated 15 year old | RRP: $179.99 AUD
In Brief: 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.
- Carsebridge 48 year old | Worldwide No. of bottles: 1,000 | RRP: $1349.99 AUD
In Brief: 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.
- Lagavulin 12 year old | RRP: $179.99 AUD
In Brief: 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.
- TALISKER 8 year old | RRP: $129.99 AUD
In Brief: Detailed at natural strength, this fine Talisker is smooth, lengthy, integrated and precisely balanced throughout, with a sweet and youthful assuredness.
To round off the exciting times with the 2019 Special Releases, Diageo have a world first for us. Australians are invited to try and win the rare collection by deciphering clues and unlocking a three-pin code which will secure the highly-sought after collection upon a grand pedestal on Thursday 14 March, 8am – 5pm at Customs House, Sydney. A set of clues will be released throughout the day at 8am, 10am, midday and 3pm at Customs House, Sydney, to participants attempting to decipher the code. The whole collection of rare and precious Scotch Whiskies is worth over $5,000.
Now, that’s a reason to take a day off work!
Co-founder of The Plus Ones, Theresa someday hopes to do a full Scottish whisky tour — in Scotland.
The Diageo 2019 Special Releases Collection is available for purchase from 15 April 2019 in whisky specialist retailers and venues, pending availability. For more information, visit