Whisky Review Round Up: Diageo Special Releases 2018 Collection

, | December 31, 2018

The Special Releases 2018 edition by Diageo has been given the moniker “Impeccably Crafted,” and rightfully so. This collection is full of rare, well crafted single malts from well-known Scottish distilleries and some forgotten. The Special Releases 2018 is a year of firsts; the Carseridge 48 year old is the oldest ever bottled and made from a single grain. The Singleton Glen Ord is the first triple matured in five different cask woods. The Talisker 8 year old is an original expression in over thirty years. The Pittyvaich 28 year old is a rare release for this collection as the distillery was closed and then briefly opened. As well, Oban came out with a single malt aged 21 years, which is the longest aged whisky for them. 

This year, the Inchgower 27 year old and Cladach blended are replacing the Port Ellen and Brora single malts featured in previous collections. The real surprise in the Diageo Special Releases for 2018 is the Cladach blended malt. It was the tenth whisky released this year, and it is the only whisky in this collection sans age statement. The distilleries comprising the Cladach, which means “shoreline” in Gaelic, are Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower, and Talisker.

The bottles of the Diageo 2018 Special Releases Collection (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Caol Ila 35 Year Old

Vital Stats: 58.1% ABV. Islay single malt. Aged in refill American oak hogsheads and refill American and European oak butts.

Appearance: Deep gold/light amber.

Nose: Strong peat at the forefront. Nosing through unveils cinnamon and banana.

Palate: The peat smoke is mild compared to the nose. Reminiscent of bananas foster as the touch of sweetness and cinnamon bring out flambeed banana.  

Final Thoughts: Impressed by this oldest Caol Ila special release to date. I was expecting more oak, but in the end is a flavorful well balanced whisky.

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Year Old

Vital Stats: 59.1% ABV. Unpeated Islay single malt. Aged in refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads and ex-bodega European oak butts.

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Appearance: Deep gold.

Nose: Without peat to mask any notes, toffee overpowers the dram. Baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg linger, while citrus and spun sugar pop in at the end.

Palate: Heavy with cereal and sawdust. Very much like a spiced cake with baking spices, ginger, and cacao nib. The char from the barrel provides a smokey tar flavor.

Final Thoughts: This whisky is a solid winner in my book.

Score: 4.5/5

Tasting Notes: Carsebridge 48 Year Old

Vital Stats: 43.2% ABV. Lowland single grain scotch aged in refill American oak hogsheads. 1000 bottles released.

Appearance: Burnt ochre.

Nose: Funky like some rice whiskies or apple cider vinegar; very pungent.

Palate: Oak; like chewing on a Ticonderoga #2 pencil during a test. The mouthfeel is extremely soft. Just the faintest bit of sweetness with a slice of orange.  

Final Thoughts: I’d prefer not to sniff this dram. Tasting isn’t much better until the finish with the bit of orange. I don’t know if it’s a case of older doesn’t always mean better, or the single grain used that gives this whisky its funk.

Score: 2.5/5

Tasting Notes: Cladach Blended Malt

Vital Stats: 57.1% ABV. Blended coastal whisky aged in first fill American oak, ex-bourbon refill American oak hogsheads, refill European oak butts, and ex-bodega European oak butts.

Appearance: 18k gold.

Nose: Lemon peel and nail polish remover hit the nose first. There is a strong cigar smoke overlapping toffee and vanillas. Reminiscent of bread pudding. A little spearmint pokes through.  

Palate: Oily mouthfeel; a bit chewy or waxy. It seems like fresh hops hit the tongue. Black pepper and ash embody the dram. Has some citrus and honey. The finish is a bit grassy sprinkled with flake sea salt.

Final Thoughts: Overall, the Cladach is a very nice blend. It represents each of the distilleries well.

Score: 3.5/5

Tasting Notes: Inchgower 27 Year Old

Vital Stats: 55.3% ABV. Speyside single malt aged in refill American oak hogsheads.

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Appearance: Brass button.

Nose: Slightly salty air. A touch of melon peeks through. Overall on the nose is homemade turtle bars and butterscotch.

Palate: Reminds me of salted smoked jerky on a hiking a trip. Honey is the only sweetness. On the finish is quinoa or steel cut oats and apple. Leaves the mouth feeling dry of straw or hay.

Final Thoughts: Pretty savory. Not sure how I feel about it on its own, but paired with a good steak or hearty meal this would be a dram to go for.

Score: 3/5

Tasting Notes: Lagavulin 12 Year Old

Vital Stats: 57.8% ABV. Islay single malt aged in refill American oak hogsheads.

Appearance: Pale straw/champagne.

Nose: A lot of Jasmine in the forefront. Banana and almond follow up. There’s just a bit of rose hip. Tar and oatmeal on the backend.

Palate: Balanced with peat smoke. A touch of sweet mint. Ash from cigar or pipe tobacco finishes and lingers this dram.

Final Thoughts: Yup, it’s definitely Lagavulin. Maybe not my favorite expression from them, but certainly up there.

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Oban 21 Year Old

Vital Stats: 57.9% ABV. Highland single malt aged in refill European oak butts. Rare.

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Light peat smoke with a saltiness. Reminds me of sitting in a spring garden with peonies and chrysanthemums. There’s a bit of sugar snap peas and fresh mint in there as well.

Palate: Once you get past the tar, it’s almost like minty fresh mouthwash. There is a bitterness thats similar to the pith of citrus fruit. For the finish, imagine eating as many flower petals as you possibly can.

Final Thoughts: This Oban offering is better on the nose than the palate. I had a long lingering grass/hay flavor stay in my mouth after that left me searching for a new whisky to cleanse my palate.

Score: 3/5

Tasting Notes: Pittyvaich 28 Year Old

Vital Stats: 52.1% ABV. Speyside single malt. Aged in refill American oak hogsheads.

Appearance: Polished brass.

Nose: Nail varnish hits upfront, but quickly dissipates. Salty ocean air like you’re standing at the coast on a nice day. Apples and homemade applesauce come through near the end.

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Palate: Oaky with a bit of brine. It’s hard to get around the tar, but some of that apple on the nose comes through.

Final Thoughts: “Meh” is all I can convey. It’s a take it or leave it dram; out of the collection, I would search for the other bottles.

Score: 2.5/5

Tasting Notes: The Singleton Glen Ord 14 Year Old

Vital Stats: 57.6% ABV. Highland age single malt. Aged in five wood types; maturation casks– refill American oak ex-bourbon hogsheads, and ex-bodega European oak butts, development casks– charred ex-Pedro Ximenez and ex-Moscatel cask wood, marrying casks– European oak puncheons.

Appearance: Brass.

Nose: Pungent sweat come to mind; maybe ocean air. Dark caramel covered in bittersweet chocolate. A touch of meringue.

Palate: Black pepper and oak. Reminds me a nice grilled sirloin steak with beautiful char lines. Some fruity notes, but apple sticks out the most.

Final Thoughts: Another savory one for the collection. I was originally unconvinced by the need for five types of wood to mature this 14 year old whisky, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Score: 3.5/5

Tasting Notes: Talisker 8 Year Old

Vital Stats: 59.4% ABV. Isle of Skye single malt aged in first fill ex-bourbon American oak hogsheads.

Appearance: Golden dusk.

Nose: Ocean air and smoke remind me of a bonfire at the beach. In between is a sharp permanent marker note that leaves as quickly as you notice it. Very sweet (butterscotch, toffee, marzipan) despite the smell of tanned leather. Shortbread and cereal notes on the backend.

Palate: Sweet upfront just to tease you before cigar, leather, and cedar crash in. A tad salty, but then cherry peeks through with some oatmeal. Oily to the tongue, but leaves a strange dried out aftertaste of wood; imagine sucking on a toothpick after dinner.

Final Thoughts: Not the Talisker expression for me just because it’s all over the place in terms of flavor. Would be nice to have this aged in an ex-sherry cask.

Score: 3.5/5

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Courtney Kristjana

Courtney Kristjana is a leading whiskey taster in the country. She left a career in Gerontology after an article on Heather Greene inspired her to follow her passion for whiskey. She is studying to become a Master of Scotch and someday hopes she is nominated for the Keepers of the...