With the world’s largest investment in Scotch whisky distilleries to their name, liquor giant Diageo has some pretty delicious liquid at its fingertips. Since 2001, the barons of booze have been releasing some of their rarer and more highly anticipated stock, under the Special Releases umbrella, and the latest batch to hit our shores does not disappoint.
Quality whisky hasn’t just globally taken off as the tipple du jour of the drinking elite–it’s also started to demonstrate its worth as a clever investment. Some rare drams have proved to be incredibly profitable, with certain vertical collections (that is, complete collections with one expression from each bottling) increasing by over 140 percent in value, in just two years.
This year’s Special Releases Collection includes whiskies from all over Scotland, all of which offer both something unique to taste, as well as a high degree of collectability. The Port Ellen 37 Year Old (pictured above) steals the spotlight in terms of fame and price, and it is a very pretty, delicate whisky (incidentally the equal oldest release the ow defunct distillery has ever bottled). But there are a few other gems in the line up that captured our collective eye (and taste buds); the decision between cracking one of these bottles open, or sticking it in the cellar for an extended period as an investment, would be a bloody hard one.
The 2017 collection also includes two important landmarks: Port Dundas 52 Year Old is the oldest whisky ever released in the series, and is incidentally the oldest ever released by that distillery. As a very old grain whisky, it’s a unique expression of something distinctly Scottish, but different to anything you’ve likely tried before. There are only 752 bottles in existence.
There’s also a new blend, Collectivum XXVIII, which sees cask strength single malts from all 28 of Diageo’s active distilleries in the one bottle. An initial eyeball might raise an eyebrow: this is an easy way to blend together less desirable casks and disguise the flavour with a couple of peat monsters from Islay, but upon tasting it’s easy to see that the blend is masterful.
We took a short-dive into the collection this week to see how this year’s releases stack up, and to pick some of the best for both drinking now, or squirreling away as an investment.
Lagavulin 12 Year Old
All of the smoke and iodine you’d expect from a Lagavulin, but the refined red fruit and sweetness you’ll find in their entry level 16-year old (remembering that older isn’t necessarily better) is more restrained, and masked by the huge hit of earth and forest floor (both on the nose and front palate). There’s also a mild, pleasant astringency to the finish, which activates the saliva glands and leads to a very lengthy finish (add water to open this one up a little). This is an upfront, raw and unapologetic Lagavulin.
You might not think a blend deserves a spot on Diageo’s most exclusive shelf, but this limited release, comprising expressions from all of their 28 Scottish distilleries, is a work of art. Dark and rich in colour (suggesting there’s a couple of sherry or port casks in there somewhere), it is extremely complex, with a mildly sweet peated start on the nose and pront palate opening up to chocolate, fruit and nuts, and a lovely viscosity complementing the spicy, lengthy finish. This is worth every cent and is perfect if you’d like to buy something special that won’t inflict a sense of guilt if you crack it today.
Brora 34 Year Old
If Port Ellen 37 Year Old is the older brother who goes to Harvard and makes his money banking, Brora 34 Year Old is the younger sister who travels through Europe for a gap
year decade before returning to New York to host a photography exhibition. And then gets rich anyway.
As the precursor to Clynelish, ghost distillery Brora is a truly magnificent whisky, and one that would be nigh on impossible to keep for long (despite its obvious investment potential). A “ghost” distillery is one that’s closed its doors, and is only selling what was left in the barrels. Only 3000 bottles of this expression are available worldwide.
As expected, ripe pear dominates the nose (trace elements of ethyl acetate left in from the heads during distillation can be thanked for this), but the fresh fruits you’d expect to meet your palate are replaced by spice and baked apple, with a rich, waxy quality that lends itself to an incredible mouthfeel and very long, delicate finish.