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Thursday, 20 October 2011

2011 Special Releases roundup

Well, the end of the week draws nearer, as does the tightness of our scarves around our chilly necks. It's very nearly bonfire weather and the city air has that briskness that only a tranche of top flight, limited releases whiskies can soothe.

Every year about this time, Diageo pull out their Special Release collection; a showing of usually their finest - and in many cases rarest stocks, which are snaffled up like the orange creams in a tin of Quality Street.

This year is no exception. 7 bottlings, including 3 classic closed distilleries (and one closed grain distillery) were showcased tonight at a Central London location to the great and good of the drinks business and the general buzz regarding what was going to be the highlight was unusually palpable.

the list of drams released is as follows, but rather than make this an unruly post, we've decided to bring you our opinion on the best 3 of the bunch.

Brora 32 year old
Caol Ila 12 year old Unpeated
Knockando 25 year old
Lagavulin 12 year old
Port Dundas 20 Year Old
Port Ellen 32 Year Old
Rosebank 21 Year Old

Nothing on this list that shouldn't be, we think you'll agree. However, let's dive in on the biggies and, unsurprisingly first up... it's the one that most of you are probably expecting... Yes! The Knockando.

Sorry, couldn't resist that.

Port Ellen - 32 Year Old - 1978 - Refill American Oak casks- 53.9% - 2,988 bottles - £300

Nose: Huge butterscotch & marzipan hit first, with a waft of iodine, soft vanilla poached pears, burning pine and liniment. Given time and a little dash of water, the classic chamois leather rears its head and we're transported back to Islay for that magical day tasting the previous 10 releases in the old filling store. Whatever magic Port Ellen has, this bottling has got it.

Palate: Quite earthy on the first sip, followed by a clean malty note, with some superb medicinal notes (the softest of peats...) Then comes the soft fruit, smoked lemon notes, rosemary and a little dash of white pepper.

Finish: Rich, coating and superbly lingering.

Overall: Yet again, this PE has all the hallmarks of a true great. For us, it is a reminder of the classic bottlings (the first 4 releases in particular) and despite being into its 30's, shows no sign of falling apart. If you can find this one, grab it, but good luck!

Next on our list- the Port Dundas Grain. This is an unusually aged bottling, but the colour really drew us in before anything else did. It's a remarkable chestnut brown, which has been developed from the 3 different casks used in this bottling: Aged for 3 years in refill casks, then for 17 years in ex-sherry, new European oak charred casks and finally first fill ex-bourbon American oak.

Port Dundas- 20 year old grain whisky - distilled 1990 - 57.4% - 1,920 bottles - £110

Nose: Lordy, this has some serious Armagnac notes - wafts of very floral notes, perfumed bourbon notes, cherries, lemon zest and sweet vanilla. In fact, it is strangely reminiscent of a classic whiskey punch recipe, made by the maestro of cocktails, Professor Jerry Thomas. That might not mean a great deal to a good many of you, but think about a wonderful interaction of vanilla, refreshing and often sharp citrus bursts and a delicate swirl of something perfumed. It's like sniffing a Wild West harlot's hankie...

Palate: Sweet then into a slightly drying darker fruit note, with cereal overtones, some hints of rice crackers/Rice Crispies, with a dash of white pepper and more vanilla.

Finish: The complexity of the casks gives this some added definition and the dark fruits and nuttiness linger beyond the more lively softer fruity notes.

Overall: Unlike most grains we've tried, and clearly influenced by cask choice, but a terrific experiment nonetheless. It has the elements of oak ageing in sherry wood, but with some of the more obvious light and heady notes you can come to expect from a decent grain. Well worth seeking out.

And finally.... The Knockando!!

No, sorry, although the Knockando was a decent enough dram, the final highlight must go to the Lagavulin 12 year old. Always a consistent classic in the distillery's portfolio, the 12yo release is now into it's 10th release and this release promises to be right up there again.

Lagavulin - 12 year old - 57.5% - £63

Nose: Slightly starchy water (boiled potatoes perhaps?) into some creamy blue cheese notes (Cashel Blue) sea salt, some iodine/sea spray notes, linseed oil, followed by a gristy, dusty malt and that big old blast of classic carbolic Laga peat.

Palate: Gristy again, with wood smoke, creamy vanilla chocolate, banana foam sweets and some red berries. The peat is vibrant and tongue coating, just like you'd have hoped. Wonderful stuff.

Finish: More of the iodine and carbolic soap notes, but outside of these firm flavour favourites, the finish is quite short. But don't think of this as too much of a limitation. It might leave you relatively quickly, but it leaves a huge impression.

Overall: A cask strength 12yo Lagavulin for £63. What more needs to be said?

The bottles should hit the shelves, in the UK at least, sometime within the next 10 - 12 days. With the summer we've had, it's very much the winter of discount tents (see what we've done there...?!) so get out, get yourself some cheap camping equipment and pitch up outside your local independent whisky retailer to beat the rush, if their allocation hasn't already been snapped up.