Review: Linkwood 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-linkwood-37-yo

Diageo hasn’t put out a Special Release bottling of Speyside’s Linkwood in eight years (and only one other one before that), and for 2016 it’s got a doozy: 37 years old, distilled in 1978. The whisky was aged in a mix of refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak sherry butts.

A clear standout of this series, this malt hits the ground running in perfect stride. A heady nose of rich malt, brown sugar, vanilla, baking spice, and butterscotch all melds together beautifully, its light sherry character batting at the edges of a bold, well-aged aroma. On the palate, the whisky is lighter than expected, though the rounded, caramel-soaked grains at its core can’t be missed. Beyond this sweet-and-savory entry come notes of orange peel, lemongrass, cloves, and a touch of sea spray. The finish echoes just a hint of clove oil, a lightly bitter companion to the complexities that have come before.

Linkwood is a perennially underrated distillery, and here it shows what significant age can do to elevate an already high-grade whisky.

100.6 proof. 750 bottles available in the U.S.

A / $900 / malts.com

Review: Auchroisk 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-auchroisk-25-yo-1

This third-ever release of Diageo’s Special Release of Speyside-based Auchroisk was distilled in 1990 and aged in a mix of refill American oak and refill European oak casks. See also Diageo’s two prior Auchroisk releases in 2010 and 2012.

The nose is mild and quite restrained, with light notes of iodine, roasted grain, baked apples, and a squeeze of lemon eventually coming to light. The palate offers more of an impactful experience, showing a racier, zesty citrus edge, a bold, almost pungent, graininess, and a finish that offers both some black pepper and green bell pepper character. As the finish fades, a warm and slightly nutty character hangs on for quite some time.

While finding Auchroisk as a single malt remains a rarity, this expression largely comes across as a curiosity.

102.4 proof. Less than 600 bottles available in the U.S.

B / $450 / malts.com

Review: Mannochmore 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-mannochmore-25-yo

This unusual whisky in the Diageo Special Release series hails from a young Speyside distillery (established in 1971) that is largely unknown for single malt production, at least under its own name. While most Mannochmore produced ends up in Johnnie Walker, the distillery is probably best known for producing Loch Dhu, widely regarded as the worst Scotch whisky — “the black whisky,” as it was called — ever made.

Loch Dhu is long gone, but Mannochmore is still around, and along has come this rarity, a 25 year old distilled in 1990. Though proportions aren’t stated, what’s in the bottle is a very non-standard mix of first-fill bourbon American oak, new American oak, new European oak, and ex-sherry European oak.

There’s so much going on here, mostly for good. The nose offers loads of character — caramel corn, vanilla, clove-studded oranges, and a hint of smoke. New oak always does quite a number on malt, but here it’s had time to mellow out enough to be palatable. The palate offers the very essence of rolling fields of grain, lightly sweet malted milk, more caramel-laced popcorn, and some light citrus notes. Again, the finish offers unusual (for Speyside) notes of gentle smoke along with some oily petrol character.

All told, it’s an intriguing and unique whisky, and while the way the whole experience comes together is perfectly engaging, drinkable, and discussion-worthy, what I’m left with on my palate as the whisky fades away is something akin to, well, a really nice blend. (Which, in its own off-the-wall way, is what this sort of is.)

106.8 proof. Less than 600 bottles available in the U.S.

B+ / $400 / malts.com

Review: Glenkinchie 24 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-glenchinkie-24-yo-3

A rarity in the Diageo Special Release series, Glenkinchie is a Lowland distillery that has appeared only three times in the lineup. This expression was distilled in 1991 and aged in refill European oak butts.

The nose is darker than your typical Speyside whisky, showing notes of oily walnut, furniture polish, pumpkin, and dried fruits. On the palate, it’s initially chewy and quite nutty, with a slight red pepper sharpness right in the middle — but this all gives way to notes of tobacco, iodine, and green beans. There’s precious little sweetness to go around here, leaving the experience focused a bit too heavily on the earth, with some bitter edges where one would prefer to see suppleness.

114.4 proof.

B / $450 / malts.com

Review: Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-caol-ila-15-yo-2

In recent years Diageo has been experimenting with unusual, unpeated expressions of Caol Ila — typically 14 to 17 years old — for its Special Release series. 2016 marks a another stab at the style, Caol Ila, breaking from tradition.

Unpeated or no, there’s still a hint of smoke here — giving the whisky a decidedly Highland feel. The nose is bready, lightly nutty, and astringent with hot but indistinct hospital notes. At over 61% abv, this is a blazer in comparison to prior versions of this whisky, and it benefits from a drop or two of water. At full strength it showcases fresh grains and baked bread. With water a hint of lemon, burnt marshmallow, coffee bean, and some toffee notes all emerge — though all quite lightly.

It’s always fun to see what the core of Caol Ila is like, unfiltered through peat, although every year it turns out to be relatively simple and straightforward. Nothing wrong with that, though.

123 proof.

B+ / $140 / malts.com

Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-lagavulin-12-yo

Lagavulin 12 appears in the Diageo Special Releases nearly every year — but this year it has the luxury of appearing as part of Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary celebratory releases (see also its 8 year old and 25 year old).

This year’s Lag 12, aged in refill American oak hogsheads, is particularly worthwhile, rounded and balanced right from the start, which kicks off on the nose with notes of sweet barbecue smoke, plus hefty iodine and seaweed. There’s citrus notes — lemon and orange — in the mix, with a hard-to-place character that ultimately hits me as lemongrass. The palate is surprisingly restrained considering the hefty proof level, a centerpiece for briny seaweed, lemon peel, and a touch of spice. The finish retreats to a rather bitter note, which works surprisingly well with the mild sweetness and fruity notes that come before.

All told, it’s a bit of a departure from prior Lagavulin 12s, which have tended to be quite heavy on the peat, but this year’s relative quietness really lets Lagavulin’s more delicate, underlying character shine through.

115.4 proof.

A- / $135 / malts.com

Review: Cragganmore Limited Edition 2016

special-releases-2016-cragganmore

It’s not Christmas yet, but that most anticipated time of the year has arrived: The release of Diageo’s Special Releases, rarities from Scotland-based distilleries (some long-closed) being trickled to our shores.

This year’s batch includes 10 whiskies, all of which we have on hand for review and will cover one of each day for the next 10 days. We’ll start with the only NAS release in the lot, a special cask strength release of Cragganmore.

This malt is filled from both refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads and ex-sherry European oak butts. Again, no age statement.

Cragganmore is a standard-grade but often quite lovely whisky, and at barrel proof it showcases a power it doesn’t usually offer when watered down. The nose is heavy with malted cereal, moderate to heavy sherry/citrus notes, and a haunting pepper/spice note that arrives when you inhale deeply. The palate continues this thread, offering a bruisingly powerful body that features loads of sweetened cereal, billowy heather, modest vanilla, and a lick of iodine late in the game. The finish is sweet, sherried, and lasting.

Traditional to its core, this expression of Cragganmore doesn’t exactly reinvent what we’ve come to expect from Speyside — but it does showcase its core flavors with the utmost of credibility.

111.4 proof. 600 bottles released in the U.S.

B+ / $600 / malts.com

-->