Diageo’s annually released Special Releases are always treasures, but they don’t always shake up expectations, often relying on slight twists to some well-worn formulas in the world of Scotch — some added age, virgin oak, higher proof, and so on. With 2023, that’s all changing. With this “Spirited Xchange” collection, Diageo is leaning on its global footprint and introducing some expressions that are unlike anything previously seen in the collection, including a bold range of finishes in wine, rum, tequila, and other cask types — sometimes in combination. As with last year’s releases, prices have been kept in check. The most luxe of these bottlings tops out at $400.
Says master blender Stuart Morrison: “This year, we’re proudly revealing our new series of distillery-first expressions: Spirited Xchange Special Releases 2023. For me, Spirited Xchange is about identifying and celebrating the ideas, flavors, and tastes that surround us each day and inspire our curiosity to create. This collection has given us the opportunity to roam freely through our vast portfolio and experiment with old and new cask types, including various wine and local spirits casks to create eight one-of-a-kind expressions that we’ve never imagined before.”
I’m ready to dig in. Let’s go!
Lagavulin “The Ink of Legends” 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2022 – Finished in Don Julio Añejo tequila casks. Lagavulin finished in tequila casks, what will they think of next? Well-peated but far from overwhelming in the way that some Lagavulin releases can be, this is quite the delight from the get-go, taking the usual complement of peat and filtering it through a more pepper- and vegetal-driven character, clearly the influence of the tequila at play. The palate is sweeter than expected, rolling spices and some red berry fruit into the austere backbone held high by the peat and a little menthol. As with any good Islay, the finish is forever. Some water helps bring everything into clearer, more seductive focus. 112.8 proof. A- / $170
Mortlach “The Katana’s Edge” Limited Edition 2023 – No age statement; finished in ex-Kanosuke Japanese whisky and ex-pinot noir casks, the first time Japanese whisky casks have been used in the series. Quite sweet on the nose, with notes of bubblegum balanced by fresh grass and whiffs of mushroom. The palate brings forward that enveloping mushrooms-and-soy quality, making for a complex experience that is at once spicy-peppery, seductively sweet, and laden with rich umami character. Putting the already brooding Mortlach into a Japanese whisky cask is rather genius, although the experience can be a little drying at times, particularly on the toasty finish. I’m not sure where the pinot noir casks got to in this experience, but I’m also not sure if I really care all that much. 116 proof. A- / $280
The Singleton of Glendullan “The Silken Gown” 14 Years Old Limited Edition 2023 – Finished in Chardonnay de Bourgogne French Oak casks. Big apple and caramel notes kick off the nose, making for a fruit overload. Sharp and vibrant, with some fig and citrus in the mix, moving from there into a hazelnut character, with florals folded in. The palate drops in banana and doughy banana bread notes, moving into a more almond nougat character. Slightly green, that fruit clings to the experience just about forever, though as I reflect on the whisky as a whole, the whole affair feels a little less thrilling than I’d hoped. 110 proof. B+ / $135
Talisker “The Wild Explorador” Limited Edition 2023 – No age statement, finished in a combination of White, Tawny, and Ruby Port Casks. There’s no missing the Talisker in this Talisker, the nose an immediate rush of briny, nutty, and moderate smoky elements, here tempered ever so slightly with a touch of lemon oil. There’s a solid level of peat on the palate, with a lemony punch well represented. Chocolate and some gingerbread notes make an appearance on the finish. Lots going on here — though it never really evoked Port to me, for better or worse. 119.4 proof. B+ / $135
Roseisle “The Origami Kite” 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2023 – Roseisle is a mere 13 years old, one of Diageo’s youngest and designed to be carbon neutral, using its spent grain to create methane which in turn powers its own generators. Primarily used as a blending whiskey, this is the first ever single malt release from the distillery. Fully bourbon cask matured. This noses with a sweet breakfast cereal quality, lightly and bubbly in its fruitiness. Subtly nutty, with some chocolate emerging. The palate is surprisingly rich, showcasing almond and vanilla, and some Christmas cake spice. A bit peppery on the back end, with more of a dried flower quality. Ideal with a splash of water, which tempers the harder-edged finish and allows for more honeyed sweetness to come through. 113 proof. A- / $150
Glenkinchie “The Floral Treasure” 27 Years Old Limited Edition 2023 – Matured in a mix of bourbon and sherry barrels. Beautifully floral on the nose, the whisky pours on potpourri and rose petals, overlaying a modest core of mixed fruits and honey. Golden syrup and citrus peel notes build on the palate, which drinks surprisingly cool, not hot at all, becoming increasingly bold with chewy fruit notes, green apples, and a sweet tropical fruit influence. Bright and sunny on its enduring, orange-laced finish. Delightful. 116.6 proof. A / $400
Oban “The Soul of Calypso” 11 Years Old Limited Edition 2023 – Finished in (Jamaican) pot still rum casks. An immediate delight. Pretty, gorgeous really, melding tropical fruit with sea spray to create a unique expression and impression of the islands — both Scottish and Caribbean, all rolled into one. This is a whisky that goes down all too easy, its mango and pineapple notes merging with various elements of coffee, dark chocolate, bacon fat, and briny iodine. Water’s a pro move here at 58% abv, which helps temper some lingering heat while making for a more agreeable, rounded body. Slight note of mint on the finish. What I really love is how this absolutely exudes Oban — but also Jamaican rum. It’s truly a best of both worlds, though the whisky at its core is never far from sight. Lovely and probably my favorite whisky in the lineup. 116 proof. A / $140
Clynelish “The Jazz Crescendo” 10 Years Old Limited Edition 2023 – Fully bourbon barrel aged. Tropical pineapple aromas pour out of the glass, though their touched with coastal saline notes and a slight influence of balsa wood. The palate lands as surprisingly salty, then chewy, with fruit-studded vanilla nougat notes making a bold impact. Candylike, with so much tropical fruit and floral influence absolutely pouring out across its waxy body. Water softens and sweetens the experience, giving the finish a decidedly creamy yet floral character. A standout. 115 proof. A- / $200