Review: Classic Malts Selection New Expressions 2010

Every year, Diageo, under its Classic Malts Selection endeavor, tracks down some rare whiskys from the distilleries it owns and presents them for sale, usually on very limited release (a few thousand bottles or less). This year, seven releases are being offered. We got the chance to review them all (plus a more commonly available sibling whisky for comparison).

Talisker 10 Years Old – Remarkably mature for a 10-year old single malt (from the Isle of Skye). Easygoing, lightly peated, with notes of greenery and sea spray. Big body and a round finish. Not terribly complicated, but a nice rendition of a peated whisky. 91.6 proof and perfectly manageable without water. B+ / $50

Cragganmore 12 Years Old – Speyside whisky, very malty in character. Lots of wood, with seaweed and forest floor notes. Not much floral or fruit character leaves this unpeated whisky a bit out in the wilderness, and out of balance. Rough around the edges. 80 proof. B- / $50

Lagavulin 12 Years Old – Standard “off the rack” Lagavulin is 16 years old (see below). This 12 year old is more in line with most distillery’s entry-level whiskys, but perhaps Lagavulin is a whisky that takes more time to develop. Very light in color, the peat is intense on this Islay malt, powerful phenol character backed by a salty/seaweed flavor that’s difficult to shake. Not that you’d want to. 113 proof. B / $80

Lagavulin 16 Years Old – Included as a point of reference. A much more sophisticated malt than the Lag 12 Years Old, far deeper orange in color and with a more interesting mix of peat, petrol, and citrus notes — orange and grapefruit, some lime. A complex and fun whisky that’s heavy in the peat department, which is why it’s a standby in so many bars. 86 proof. A- / $65

Auchroisk 20 Years Old –  Now we get to the real rarities… From a barely known Speyside distillery, this 20 year old cask strength whisky comes off as blazing hot at first (116.2 proof), but mellows with water to reveal some curious character: Sweet caramel, heather, and lots of sea spray and seaweed, laced with smoke notes. A maritime malt, with lots of grain character. A bit odd on the finish, though. B / $180  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Glenkinchie 20 Years Old – Another cask strength malt from the Lowlands of Scotland — located right near Edinburgh. It’s quite hot at 110.2 proof, flavored lightly with honey, wood, smoke, and some herbs — a little mint amidst the heather. Not much to this one, but a respectable dram with a warming, smoky finish. B / $200

Glen Spey 21 Years Old – From a little-known Speyside distillery, this old whisky is surprisingly light in color for a whisky this old, a bright gold hue. The flavor is richly honeyed, with sherry and a little citrus. The finish brings in cedar box, wood, and some spice. No smoke, and the heat (it’s 100.8 proof) fades with a splash of water. Not a complicated malt, especially considering its age, but an interesting diversion for those who like fruitier Scotches. B+ / $185

Cragganmore 21 Years Old – A much more interesting Cragganmore than the 12 year. Still malty, but sweeter, with more complexity. Very heavy on grain character, some light citrus and floral notes. A touch of smoke rounds out a compelling dram. 112 proof. A- / $200

Talisker 30 Years Old – The peat is stronger here, as one would hope, but it’s balanced with marshmallow and some burnt sugar notes. Smoky and warming, and hotter than you’d think at 99 proof. Mellows with some time open to air. Perfectly drinkable, but it lacks a complexity that would justify its price tag. B+ / $349

malts.com

(a selection of bottle photography is displayed)


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