Not to be confused with the far more expensive Diageo Special Edition Releases, Diageo’s Distillers Edition whiskies are more accessible (read: affordable) but also released on a (mostly) annual basis. While normally we see these a bit randomly, this year we were fortunate to receive the full collection of 2021 Distillers Editions, six whiskies in total from some of the biggest names in Scotch — each of which was sent with a companion candle created with the respective whisky.
The idea with the Distillers Edition Collection, which got started in 1997, is that it is, per Diageo, “an annual release of Classic Single Malts, each double-matured in a different type of cask wood chosen carefully by Master Blenders to complement the characteristics of the whisky. Using each distillery’s core offering as the base and underscoring the unparalleled craftsmanship and unmatched expertise required by world-class distillers and blenders, Distillers Edition bottlings complement each distillery’s traditional character while providing whisky adorers a chance to explore the dynamic flavor possibilities of these beloved distilleries.”
To translate that, each of these starts with an off-the-shelf spirit like Lagavulin 16, then finishes it further in a unique cask type for an unstated length of time. All clear?
Here’s a look at the full Distillers Edition lineup for 2021.
Oban Distillers Edition 2021 – Distilled 2007 – 14 years old, finished in Montilla fino sherry cask wood. A bit sweeter on the nose than the classic Oban 14, though those lightly herbal, dry sherry-driven notes do pick up as the whisky opens up a little. A slight saltiness kicks off the palate, again pairing well with that fino sherry element, recalling clean linens and white flowers. Notes of baked apples and some graham cracker character give the finish a distinct fruitiness, though there’s ample sea spray and a hint of chimney smoke here to remind you of Oban’s unique coastal situation. 86 proof. A- / $100 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Talisker Distillers Edition 2021 – Distilled 2011 – Talisker 10 years old, finished in Amoroso sherry casks — a rare type of sherry that is made by blending oloroso with some Pedro Ximenez stock. This is a burly and pushy dram, exceedingly nutty on the nose while also infused heavily with smoky peat — more than you get from a typical shot of Talisker. Deep and rich layers of sherry-soaked raisins and toffee are expressive here and on the palate, which grows in depth and complexity as it evolves in the glass. More nuts here, and some spice, with the pungency of fruity PX lingering on the finish. A distinct diversion from standard Talisker 10 that really grows on you over time. 91.6 proof. A- / $85
Lagavulin Distillers Edition 2021 – Distilled 2006 – Lagavulin 16 that’s finished in Pedro Ximenez casks. The PX has done a real number on Lagavulin here this year, tempering the aggressive peatiness with an overwhelming, raisiny, and syrupy sweetness. The combination is, well, a little weird this time around, the two sides struggling for dominance and no clear winner ever emerging. The palate exudes sherry first, then swings back the other way to offer a slug of maritime sea spray and coal dust, and they struggle to get along. A gritty ashiness eventually gives way to a somewhat gummy sweetness, the figs and raisins at the core of the whisky feeling somehow overripened and infused with floral notes that feel out of place. The combination here just doesn’t work as well as it did in 2020. 86 proof. B / $110 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY BARREL]
Cragganmore Distillers Edition 2021 – Distilled 2009 – Cragganmore 12 finished in Port casks. Sounds like a good combo, and it is: powerfully fruity on the nose, but filtered through touches of leather and rug shop. Surprisingly floral as it develops in the glass, with dried potpourri the strongest element. The palate is incredibly sweet with notes of honey, ripe plums, and fresh citrus, with notes of toasted, sweetened cereal and some coconut husk giving the spirit some restraint. Classic Cragganmore spice pushes through on the finish, melding beautifully with all the fruit in the mix. 80 proof. A / $90 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition 2021 – Distilled 2006 – 15 year old Dalwhinnie, with an oloroso sherry finish. Oddly, we’ve never formally reviewed Dalwhinnie 15, so there’s no written comparison here to look to save other Distillers Edition bottlings. That said, the outer Speyside distillery isn’t the most complex malt on the market, but a little sherry goes a long way toward lifting things up. An aromatic core of coconut and vanilla, well-infused with tangerine and grapefruit notes, offers a fresh, engaging way to kick things off. A sharper, more traditional sherry punch — part citrus, part leather — informs the rich palate, well-sweetened (but approachable) notes of butter cookies and a gentle spice cabinet note represented on the finish. 86 proof. A- / $95 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Glenkinchie Distillers Edition 2021 – Distilled 2009 – Lowlands-born Glenkinchie 12 with an amontillado sherry finish. A bit of an oddball in this collection, but still a really engaging, unusual malt. The softer style of Glenkinchie gets a big boost from the amontillado, pungent on the nose with that woody, winey, and well-oxidized character. Quite nutty, with notes of dark chocolate and a hint of brooding fireplace ash. The palate keeps the theme going — again that winey character dominating, with notes of orange peel muddled into the mix. The spirit is both sharp and nutty as the finish develops, never really letting go of its grip. Definitely one I wish I’d had a larger sample to work from. 86 proof. B+ / $90 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]