Diageo’s six Distillers Edition single malt Scotch whiskies are back. We last reviewed this annually released collection in 2021, and if you’re experiencing deja vu, don’t be alarmed. These whiskies do not change every year save for the time of production: The ages and bottling proofs don’t change, and the use of special finishing casks is identical each year.
It’s the finishes that give these whiskies their uniqueness, each whisky spending up to half a year in wine-seasoned American oak barrels. What exactly is a wine-seasoned American oak barrel? I missed this nuance in prior years but finally caught on this year that the finishing barrels are not standard, used wine barrels, but rather something entirely different. Here’s the scoop from Diageo directly, explaining how they work:
Each distiller and their team assemble bespoke casks from re-charred American oak casks and special, charred cask-ends of brand new American oak. The casks are then filled with hand-selected fortified wine from Spain or Portugal and aged for one month to develop their exceptionally rare flavor. The casks are then refilled with mature single malt Scotch whisky originating from a single year to maintain the utmost consistency. Finally, the casks are then rested for up to six months all while being diligently assessed until the desired flavor profile is attained.
So there you go. You will also note that the 20232 releases mark the removal of distillation year on the bottle. Distillers Edition whiskies used to carry a vintage date, indicating all the whisky inside was produced in a single season. No more, as distillation years are now gone. Diageo explains:
The reason behind the removal of distillation year is that the process of cask selection, second maturation, unique cask finish and consistency of quality underpin the success of the collection. Removing the distillation, bottling year and batch numbers allows for focus on the true benefits. There has been no change to the liquid, and the quality craftsmanship, prestige among audiences and liquid credentials from the last few decades continue to speak for itself.
I’m also pleased to note that prices for these whiskies are defying the market and have mostly come down a little over the last 2 years. Here’s hoping that’s a trend that catches on elsewhere in the industry.
Oban Distillers Edition 2023 – Oban 14 years old, finished in Montilla fino sherry-seasoned American oak barrels. I always enjoy Oban and the Distillers Edition regularly provides a playful spin on the formula, adding a bright level of fruit to the nose alongside a whiff of smoke. Here, the Fino clearly impacts the whisky with considerable power, maybe too much, adding even more saltiness to an already saline-driven whisky, plus a grassy quality. Soon there’s a nod to underripe fruit that culminates in an earthy, hemp-driven quality. A little gritty on the finish, this feels less fully baked than previous Distillers Edition releases, missing out on a some balancing sweetness to temper the more savory, rougher qualities of the whisky. 86 proof. B / $95
Talisker Distillers Edition 2023 – Talisker 10 years old, finished in Amoroso sherry-seasoned American oak casks; Amoroso is a rare type of sherry that is made by blending oloroso with some Pedro Ximenez. There’s considerably more peat influence than you get from standard Talisker here, a comment I’ve made in the past regarding Distillers Edition. Salty and coastal, there’s a certain earthiness here that borders on muddy, though somehow this does not come across as offensive. Rather, it’s soothing and immersive, offering a dreamy quality that is distinctly seaside — yet short of Islay. The sherry influence is tempered in this 2023 expression, though a little winey PX shows itself on the finish, growing more insistent over time. All told: Sultry, woodsy, and more understated than expected. You have to allow it to grow on you, and it does. 91.6 proof. A- / $85
Lagavulin Distillers Edition 2023 – Lagavulin 16 that’s finished in Pedro Ximenez-seasoned American oak casks. Unlike the Talisker, the sherry influence is immediate and intense against Lagavulin’s expressive Islay backbone. Sharp with notes of mint and peat on the nose, a distinctly oxidized wine character adds an unexpected element — though for this release the sherry influence is dialed back enough to allow the Islay core to shine through. Much the same on the palate: Ashy, lightly medicinal peat elements dominate, giving the whisky a brooding, slightly funky sensibility. The PX elements fade into the background as the whisky gets some air, though a light touch of raisin on the finish provides a mildly pushy sweetness that is eventually countered by a final reprise of grassy, chewy seaweed. Lagavulin fans should enjoy the change of pace. 86 proof. B+ / $125
Cragganmore Distillers Edition 2023 – Cragganmore 12 finished in Port-seasoned American oak casks. This is a regular power hitter and again with 2023 it knocks an easy home run. Bright hints of lemon and spice inform a nose rich with nougat, sesame, and toasty cereal notes. Very mild but enveloping, it’s a tantalizing entrée to the lip-smacking palate, which balances all of the above with aplomb. The Port influence is dialed well back here, letting the fresh malt do most of the heavy lifting alongside a twist of orange peel, a little pepper, and a mix of baking and savory spices. Vanilla lingers on the soothing, rounded finish. It’s only 80 proof, so it may come across as demure in comparison to some of the heavier hitters here and elsewhere, but that helps to make it a more dashing aperitif. Think of it as a whiskey highball, sans the soda. 80 proof. A / $85
Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition 2023 – 15 year old Dalwhinnie, with an oloroso sherry-seasoned American oak cask finish. Sherry and Speyside Scotch are natural bedfellows, and this combination comes across as an iconic example of how the pair can work well together. There’s bright citrus and a touch of oily leather on the nose, with a slightly brooding undercurrent, featuring well-roasted grains and some turned earth. The palate brightens up immediately, with a sharp attack of citrus peel, followed by soothing caramel, then an earthy, hemp rope quality to give the finish some gritty punch. It may be the least exotic construction in this collection, but it’s hard not to love. 86 proof. A- / $90
Glenkinchie Distillers Edition 2023 – Lowlands Glenkinchie 12 with an amontillado sherry-seasoned American oak cask finish. Surprisingly easygoing on the nose, with a touch of duskiness driven in equal parts by the Lowlands style and the use of amontillado sherry. Earthy and a little ashy as it develops, the sherry notes build stronger with time in glass. The palate sees the same, a nutty, sherry-driven experience with a brooding sensibility you don’t get out of neighboring Speyside, finishing with a bit of coconut husk, honey-driven sweetness, and a drying, oxidized note. Less enchanting than I recall from the 2021 release, but an interesting study into the unique impact of amontillado. 86 proof. B / $85