Review: Diageo Scotch Whisky Special Releases 2021

Review: Diageo Scotch Whisky Special Releases 2021

Diageo’s Special Releases Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection for 2021 has arrived. Tagged with the moniker “Legends Untold,” this year’s collection spans 8 whiskies, all single malt (no grain whisky this year), designed to “reach into the realms of augmented reality to share the untold stories of iconic Scotch distilleries in new and unique ways.” In other words, bottles have QR codes that take you to a simple AR experience if you scan them.

For the first time since Drinkhacker’s launch, I’m bundling all these reviews up into a single post, a practice I’ll likely continue going forward. It simply takes too long to put these out one at a time, particularly when there are so many new releases to manage this time of year. Anyway, I figured if I can do the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection in one post, I can do the same for the equally rare Diageo Special Releases.

Below find thoughts on the full line of America-released whiskies; all more reasonably priced this year, save for a single bottling which you’ll find at the end. Note that total bottle production was not indicated this year for any of these, except for that last whisky.

Talisker 8 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – Heavily peated whisky aged in refill casks. Ironically, despite the promise of heavy peat, it doesn’t come across as particularly smoky, with a nose more aligned with the barrel than the earth: slightly nutty with an edge of saline. The palate is quite a bit bolder, pumping up the peat but folding in some nuance in the form of lemon peel and a touch of grapefruit. Maritime notes dominate on the finish, with a bold iodine character offering an appropriate foil to a lingering cereal note. Solid, though not transformative. 119.4 proof. B+ / $115 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]

The Singleton of Glendullan 19 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – Glendullan aged in refill American oak casks, then finished in Cognac casks. Tons of fruit here. The nose is a bit hot, with a sweet cereal character that masks some notes of heather and a hint of incense. The palate shifts gears completely, though, pouring on sweet notes of cinnamon-dusted raisins, golden syrup, and a lightly sour cantaloupe note that’s both unusual and fun. The body is rich and creamy, but things turn toasty on the finish, with touches of barrel char and a light sesame note lingering. It’s quite easygoing and gentle on the whole, but a solid, overproof experience. 109.2 proof. A- / $175

Mortlach 13 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – An unusual Mortlach aged in both virgin and refill American oak casks. The influence of fresh oak is immediately evident on the nose, rich with notes of roasted meat — the famous beast of Dufftown coming into clear focus. Silky and unctuous on the palate, that intense savoriness gives way to notes of roasted pumpkin, fresh rosemary and thyme, and black pepper. So… more savoriness. Somehow there’s a sweet element in this, but it’s elusive and hard to place, notes of nougat and some lemon curd giving the finish the slightest of lifts. Mortlach is a perennial favorite here, but the virgin oak influence feels, perhaps, taking things a bit too far. 111.8 proof. B+ / $125

Cardhu 14 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – Aged in refill American oak casks, then finished in red wine casks, another unusual choice. A surprisingly sweet expression of Cardhu, the experience kicks off with a nose of bright mixed fruits, touched with fresh herbs — thyme and a bit of sage — coming across as an accent instead of dominating the experience. A big burst of honey awaits on the tongue, balanced again by hints of thyme and some mint that slowly comes into focus. The wine influence is noticeable here — in many other wine-finished whiskies, it’s not nearly as clear — lightly tannic and effusive with notes of dried flowers, chocolate, and some nutmeg. Lots going on, most of it quite enjoyable. 111 proof. A- / $150 

Oban 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – From ex-bourbon and refill bourbon casks. A rougher, more rustic expression of Oban, with fresh wood heavy on the nose, though here it’s touched with sea spray and an oddly perfumed floral character. Toasty oak dominates the palate, washing out some of the fresh maritime elements that Oban is known for. It’s hard to push past the wood here; I normally love the balance of forces that Oban offers, but with this bottling things are simply off target, finishing on notes of gunpowder, cloves, and pepper. The standard Obans (any of them) are better bets. 112.4 proof. B / $115 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]

Royal Lochnagar 16 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – Aged exclusively in bourbon and sherry refill casks. This is a straightforward expression of Highland Scotch, and a delightful one at that. A woody, lightly sweetened nose plays things close to the vest initially, before the palate fires away, full bore. Notes of fresh apple and pear give way to elements of flamed citrus peel, spice box, and hint of tobacco, the finish bright and lemony with elements of well-aged wood in the mix. Slightly austere around its edges with its hints of incense but otherwise effusive and sunny, it’s arguably the best whisky in the collection this year. 115 proof. A / $250 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]

Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – Aged in refill bourbon casks. No big surprises here: Plenty of green wood smoke and coal dust on the nose, with a decidedly salty, maritime bent. Overripe fruit notes dominate on the palate, notes of orange and peach giving way to some lemon as it reaches for the finish. Hints of black tea work their magic on the finish alongside a spray of iodine and that lingering, omnipresent smoke. 113 proof. B+ / $150 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY BARREL]

Lagavulin 26 Years Old Limited Edition 2021 – The big kahuna for the year, done up in first-fill Pedro Ximenez and oloroso sherry casks, giving it a gorgeous amber hue. Nutty, woody, and smoky on the nose — in that order — with the essence of oily, well-polished wood dominating. Quite gentle on the tongue — after 26 years, the alcohol level has declined significantly — a layer of peat gives way to a huge slug of black tea, layers of dried figs, and a touch of salted caramel. There’s dark chocolate on the finish, more old wood, and a touch of PX-driven, oxidized wine, and a pinch of spice box. Peat retreats well into the background, poking its head out only slightly. 88.4 proof. 7542 bottles produced. A / $2400

Royal Lochnagar 16 Years Old Limited Edition 2021




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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