Well, they’re here, the next batch of rare and unusual whiskies from the Diageo stable. Including over a quarter of a century of grain, a Jamaican rum-finish Cardhu, and a sherried Clynelish, we taste Diageo Special Releases 2022.
There’s definitely been a shift in the Diageo Special Releases over the last couple of years. And we’re not just talking about the packaging which went fantasy crazy last year and has remained that way for Special Releases 2022 aka ‘Elusive Expressions’ with each given a name like the Lure of the Blood Moon and the Wildcats Golden Gaze.
In the past, the annual Special Releases would include ghost distilleries and massive age statements. As recently as 2017, you had a Port Ellen and Brora available for about £1,500 a bottle which in retrospect looks like a bargain. In 2019 and 2020 you were getting Pittyvaich, a closed distillery, and some seriously old age statements like Mortlach 21 Year Old and Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old.
Cask finishes galore
Now, if you want the really rare stuff, you’ll have to pay mega bucks for the Prima & Ultima releases. The 2021 releases were more about the unusual casks with red wine finishes, Cognac finishes, and freshly-charred American oak barrels. It’s a similar story with 2022. There’s only one very old whisky, a Cameron Bridge 26 Year Old – we’re very pleased to see a grain whisky back in the line-up. After that, there’s nothing unusually old. There’s even a NAS Mortlach in there! Instead, it’s all about the unusual casks some of which worked better than others but it’s really down to personal taste. According to master blender Craig Wilson: “People don’t obsess about age as much as they used to. It’s more about the collection as a coherent whole.” But he did add that there might be some big age statements in next year’s collection.
Brand ambassador Ewan Gunn described the collection as “pushing the boundaries in terms of rarity and fantasy.” He’s certainly not wrong. As with last year, Diageo has partnered with visual artist Ken Taylor, and new for this year, Kevin Tong. There’s also a comic cocktail book. No, not a collection of amusing recipes, but a cocktail book illustrated like a graphic novel plus all kinds of online jiggery-pokery. All of this is to try to appeal to non-whisky drinkers, though a collection of plus £100 bottlings is perhaps not the most obvious place for a whisky novice to start.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the Diageo Special Releases 2022. For me, the two standout whiskies were the Lagavulin and the Cameron Bridge. Stock is with us now, click on the links below to buy and for prices.
Tasting Diageo Special Releases 2022
‘The Knight’s Golden Triumph’
Aged in refill American oak cask. 52.6% ABV Note spacing of ‘Cameron Bridge’. Apparently, until the 1870s it was spelt with two words rather than one.
Nose: Apple and pears, with almonds, oaty cereal notes, cinnamon, and marzipan-like pastry.
Palate: Very smooth texture, mmmmm, vanilla, almonds, custard, coconut, with just a twist of black pepper and baking spices.
Finish: Vanilla, custard, touch of wood tannin and woody spice.
Overall: Gorgeous textbook old grain. Nothing wacky going on here. Just lovely old whisky.
‘The Wildcats Golden Gaze’
Refill American oak, finished in Oloroso and PX casks. 58.5% ABV
Nose: Peachy with tropical and dried fruit, vanilla, orange peel, and toffee.
Palate: Very spicy, cardamon, and chilli pepper. Aromatic, creamy texture and sweet toffee notes, red fruit. Sweet rum and walnut notes pointing to lots of sherry cask influence.
Finish: Creamy, nutty: walnuts and almonds.
Overall: Rich sweet Clynelish. If you only know the distillery from the classic 14-year-old then you’ll be in for a surprise.
‘The Enchantress of the Ruby Solstice’
Refill American and European oak, double matured in a wine-seasoned cask. 54.2% ABV.
Nose: Waxy apple peel notes with almonds, baking spice, brown apple and toffee
Palate: Mellow, sweet, baking spices, and almond/ hazelnut, very harmonious
Finish: Long, lingering baking spices, vanilla
Overall: Very subtle red wine influence. Really just classic orchard and spice Glen Ord but with extra ABV.
‘The Flames of the Phoenix’
According to Ewan Gunn the aim was to “to ramp and spiciness and really go for broke. It’s the most phenolic Lagavulin we’ve made and then amplify with virgin oak.”
Heavily peated Lagavulin aged in American oak refill and virgin oak casks. 57.3% ABV
Nose: Bonfire, bacon crisps and popcorn with some seaweed/ coastal notes, really strong saline influence.
Palate: Positively crackles with black pepper, sweet toffee and smoky wood.
Finish: Big chilli peppers balanced with caramel.
Overall: Punchy but beautifully balanced Lagavulin, American oak sweetness really suits this.
‘The Celestial Blaze’
Refill then new American oak and Amontillado-seasoned casks.
Nose: Sweet-smelling, vanilla and toffee, with red cherry and cardamom.
Palate: Lively, very spicy, liquorice, cardamom, cloves, and orchard fruit. Highly aromatic.
Finish: Long with tobacco and mint
Overall: Lovely aromatics, invigorating like extremely upmarket Listerine.
‘The Lustrous Creature of the Depths’
First fill ex-bourbon, refill and wine-seasoned casks
Nose: Wood fires, furniture polish, vanilla, lemon peel and lemon juice
Palate: Peppery and sweet, a touch of tannin, lingering bonfire, sweet oak, dried fruit and apricot.
Finish: Long peppery with a toffee sweetness.
Overall: Sweet and fruity. The sweet edge doesn’t blunt the Talisker charm.
‘The Lure of the Blood Moon’
Refill American oak then virgin, tawny Port and red muscat casks
Nose: Big nose! Brown sugar, dried fruit, dark caramel, chocolate, coffee, date and cherry
Palate: Full and spicy, caramel, toffee, treacle, dark chocolate, bitter espresso, cola bottles, aromatic pink peppercorns
Finish: Muscovado sugar, a touch of wood tannin, dark chocolate. Long and intense.
Overall: Big whisky, sweet and bitter, but with a good balance.
‘The Hidden Paradise of Black Rock’
Refill and re-charred American oak, finished in Jamaican pot still rum casks
Nose: Lovely fruit, apples, peaches, pineapple, vanilla, baking spices, marzipan and pastry
Palate: Peppery, creamy, chilli, pineapple, vanilla with a saline refreshing edge
Finish: Peppery, spicy and fresh.
Overall: Very elegant and classic but with a subtle tropical fruitiness from the Jamaican rum casks.