Diageo’s Special Releases series has been a part of the their whisky lineup every year since 2001. The series is comprised of limited edition expressions from across the Diageo Scotch whisky portfolio. Some distilleries like Lagavulin and Talisker are part of the lineup almost every year. Other expressions are from lesser known distilleries that typically produce for blends while others still are from closed distilleries. The bottlings in this annual series are almost always bottled at cask strength and natural color.
2022’s Special Releases focused heavily on cask finishing as a prevailing theme. Most of the whiskies in the range this year spent time in a secondary cask. This approach puts a unique spin on the typical house flavor set for each distillery. Many of Diageo’s standard expressions like Lagavulin 16, Clynelish 14 Year, and Talisker 10 year are staples in the average whisky lover’s collections. Adding a cask finishing element gives consumers something new from familiar distilleries.
The 2022 Special Release series is comprised of 8 different expressions, 7 of which are available in the United States (Mortlach isn’t available in the US this year).
The ages of this year’s series—entitled Elusive Expressions—vary from 10 to 26 years old and feature both single malts and a single grain Scotch whisky.
The order of these reviews is in the same order we used while tasting through the range with Diageo’s National Program Director Ewan Morgan. Let’s dive in and see what this year’s range is all about!
Cameronbridge 26 Year
Single Grain Scotch Whisky (wheat and malted barley) aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 26 years.
|Nose||Lemon curd, sweet cherry, vanilla, caramel, a bit of banana, hard candy, and some graininess. With water, a slight botanical/juniper note appears along with Hefeweizen.|
|Taste||Pain au chocolat, hazelnut, orange peel, sourdough bread, hint of licorice. With water, this whisky is maltier and oilier.|
|Finish||Medium-long length, cinnamon, clove, old oak, more chocolate, earthy undertones, baked apple. With water, cherry wheat, more chocolate, and walnuts.|
|Overall Thoughts||A nicely developed single grain that has a lot of yeasty, bready notes alongside oak and chocolate.|
Cardhu 16 Year
Aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 16 years and finished in Jamaican Rum casks.
|Appearance||Very light gold|
|Nose||A big bowl of fresh fruit: apples, pears, grapes, oranges, ripe bananas, coconut, vanilla. With water, icing and a bit of pencil shavings.|
|Taste||Cantaloupe, green melon, a bit of sharp white pepper, allspice, juicy Anjou pear, apples, raisin, more bananas, brown sugar syrup. With water, a bit of molasses and hint of flan.|
|Finish||Medium length, baking spice, graham cracker, raisins, more pepper, dried berries. With water, more melon, clove, and a bit of fresh hay.|
|Overall Thoughts||This is the true fruit bomb of the series this year. The high esters present in this whisky must be from the rum casks. This expression has a big ripe fruit profile but was missing other flavors that would have left this better balanced.|
The Singleton of Glen Ord 15 Year
Aged in Refill American and European Oak, then double matured in wine-seasoned casks.
|Nose||Vanilla ice cream, spent black tea leaves, malty, hint of sour candy, toast, green grape skin, honey, hints of fruit salad. A bit grainier with water but the fruit also come through more.|
|Taste||Deep stewed fruits, pepper, anise, raisins, slightly tannic oak, custard, prunes, blackberry. With water, hints of tropical fruit, melon, and mint.|
|Finish||A long finish that starts with a blast of oak for just a moment, then it opens up into sticky toffee pudding with fresh whipped cream, mixed berry jam, and some allspice and clove. With water, some lemon-lime citrus adds a bit of tartness to a really nice mix of flavors.|
|Overall Thoughts||I was pleasantly surprised when I tried this at the US launch event and I remain impressed with this whisky now that I’ve had time to analyze it. I’m usually not a big fan of wine cask finishes in general but this is a nicely layered whisky that progresses from light-and-creamy to deep-and-rich the longer it sits in the glass. A true sleeper in the lineup!|
Clynelish 12 Year
Aged in refill American Oak casks, then finished in 50/50 PX and Oloroso seasoned casks.
|Nose||Cereal grains, honey, beeswax, strawberries, vanilla, hint of red licorice, some pink bubblegum, slightly buttery. With water, more fresh fruit along with dried berries.|
|Taste||Sharp cinnamon and pepper spice first, then vanilla, sherry influence, more classic Clynelish wax, some oak, a hint of smoke. The wax is even more prominent with water and there’s a leathery quality that comes forward as well.|
|Finish||Surprisingly earthy for just a moment, dried berries, wet oak, hint of coconut, black cherry, hint of melon. With water, dark dried fruits and a nice chocolate note rounds things out.|
|Overall Thoughts||Clynlesh always performs nicely in the 10-15 year range and this is no exception. The classic waxy profile is nicely accented by sherry casks. This release featured some nice flavors but it didn’t blow me away in any category so it lost a few months for missing the wow factor that would have put this over the top.|
Oban 10 Year
Matured in both new and refill American oak, then finished in sherry and Amontillado seasoned casks.
|Nose||Ripe plum…a lot of ripe plum, vanilla, grape skins, hint of pomegranate arils, salted caramel, a hint of nuttiness, ginger. With water, some coconut and a hint of pear.|
|Taste||Dates, figs, hint of clove, grape jelly, vanilla, orange citrus, a bit of peppery spice, caramel. Sharper spice with water along with a nice fruit juice note.|
|Finish||White pepper, baked apples, sweet and salty, more grapes, a bit of nuttiness returns as well. With water, even more pepper, cinnamon covered apples, and some oak.|
|Overall Thoughts||I don’t often describe whisky with colors, but this expression is a purple whisky through and through. Grapes, plums, and figs make up the backbone of this release along with some additional fruit, spice, and that classic Oban saltiness. At just ten years old, the Oban is my favorite whisky of the entire 2022 Special Releases.|
Talisker 11 Year
Aged for 11 years in first-fill bourbon barrels.
|Nose||Pepper and brine up front, lemon, wood embers, sea air, sponge cake. With water, apples and a bit of seaweed.|
|Taste||Malty at first, more sharp pepper, smoke, salted caramel, lemon zest, a bit floral, light oak. Water brings out an earthy quality, sultanas, and some baking spice.|
|Finish||Fruiter than expected on the finish with lots of fresh orchard fruits, honey, grapes, a bit of anise, more wood char and just a bit of phenolic presence. Butterscotch and more oak with water.|
|Overall Thoughts||This is a classic young Talisker amped up by a heftier bottling strength. Maritime presence, lemon citrus, smoke, and brine are accented by orchard fruits and some restrained but noticeable sweetness. If you are a fan of Talisker’s house style, you’ll definitely enjoy this release.|
Lagavulin 12 Year
Aged 12 years in a combination of refill bourbon casks and virgin oak casks.
|Nose||Grilled pork belly, campfire ashes on the beach, vanilla, caramel, lots of lemon citrus, seaweed. Brinier with water along with more charred meats.|
|Taste||Buttered toast, pepper, lemon peel, more seaweed, brown sugar, coastal, plenty of smoke. With water, the vanilla and oak come forward a lot more along with a caramel sweetness.|
|Finish||Pepper, ash, a bit minty, more vanilla, iodine lingers for quite a while. Water brings out more sharp spice and brown sugar sweetness.|
|Overall Thoughts||Lagavulin isn’t a distillery a typically turn to but this is pretty much the profile I expect when I do taste this brand. Heavy smoke, coastal influence, lemon, and ash are all in play here and the virgin oak adds some extra vanilla and an oily/buttery vibe. I think this one opens up beautifully with water. I’m not a peathead by any means so this whisky isn’t in my typical wheelhouse. However, I do think that it’s nicely crafted regardless.|