Review: Collectivum XXVIII Limited Edition 2017

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and for this final look at the 10th whisky in the 2017 Diageo Special Releases we come to a true oddity. For the first time ever, Diageo has made a master blend of all 28 single malt distilleries that it owns (hence the XXVIII). I’d list them here, but you can Google the full list as easily as I can. The resulting spirit (formally a NAS release) is a blend of refill American oak hogsheads, refill European oak butts, ex-bodega European oak butts, and first fill bourbon casks.

In a nutshell: This is an infinity bottle done by professionals.

One catch: It’s not available in the United States. Here’s a writeup anyway for our international (and mor industrious) readers.

Considering this whisky is sourced from nearly every producing region of Scotland, I expected a spirit writ broadly, with minimal finesse and a somewhat muddy character. That’s not the case here: Collectivum is complex, and its disparate elements manage to come together surprisingly nicely.

Speyside runs the show here. On the nose, it’s malty, sharp with alcohol and moderately heavy sherry notes, and an ample, earthy character that offers notes of tobacco, mushroom, and forest floor. The palate is hot at full strength. Water helps temper the beast and brings out plenty of character. It starts with that classic, golden honeyed Speyside character, heathery florals, and a squeeze of lemon. As it evolves in the glass, peaty smoke is present but elusive, dialed well into the background, allowing notes of coconut, fig jam, and dried flowers to evolve. The finish is a bit off, sharp and somewhat vegetal, which is a minor letdown in what is otherwise a fun and engaging little whisky.

Should you find yourself in Europe and faced with the prospect of a purchase, I’d nab one.

114.6 proof.

B+ / £125 /

Review: Port Dundas 52 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

The lone single grain whisky in the 2017 Diageo Special Releases is this one from Port Dundas, and it’s a whopper: The Glasgow-distilled spirit hit the barrel in 1964 and spent 52 years in refill American oak hogsheads. This is only the second Port Dundas release in the history of the Special Releases — the last one being a mere 20 years old, back in 2011.

Single grain whisky doesn’t get a lot of respect because it is often harsh and uninspiring — that is, until it reaches serious age. At more than half a century, this Port Dundas has had time enough to reflect and grow into something potentially special.

What’s amazing is that, even after 52 years, Port Dundas still manages to come across like a classic grain whisky. The nose is heavily floral — with ample notes of rose-heavy potpourri — with a sharp, citrus-like overtone. On the palate the whisky, though under 90 proof, is also sharp on the palate, with a biting orange peel note up front. This soon fades to reveal a more lush and austere interior: big butterscotch notes, heavy coconut character, banana, rounded oak notes… though it also gives way to some oily petrol character, particularly on the surprisingly pungent finish.

There’s a lot going on here. Most of it is definitively worth exploring and examining (and you won’t find much 52 year old single malt at this price), but as with many a single grain whisky, the flavors can be an acquired taste.

89.2 proof. 752 bottles produced.

B+ / $900 /

Review: Teaninich 17 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

In the far north of the Scottish Highlands you’ll find Teaninich, a quiet distillery that is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Teaninich single malt is virtually unheard of, because Diageo uses almost all of it for blending. In fact, this is the first time that Teaninich has ever appeared in the Special Releases lineup. This release was distilled in 1999 and aged in refill American oak hogsheads.

While this isn’t a bad whisky by any stretch, upon sampling it’s easy to see why it’s not widely released as a single malt. Hot, grain-forward, and heavy with wood, it tastes like it could be from just about anywhere. The nose is indistinct, boozy, and a bit rustic. Water is a big help at evening out the experience, bringing out notes of ripe banana, green vegetables, heavily roasted grains, and mushroom — none of which may sound overly appealing, but all of which are better than raw alcohol notes. The finish is on the bitter side, echoing the granary, with a touch of orange peel on top.

All told, this is more of a curiosity than a collectible, the odd man out in this collection, though were it priced at about 90 percent off, it would be a perfectly serviceable daily dram.

111.8 proof.

B- / $310 /

Review: Port Ellen 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

Ever the most prized component of the Diageo Special Releases, this year’s expression of Port Ellen — an Islay distillery shuttered in 1983 — is by far the most expensive whisky in the collection. That said, it’s a full $500 cheaper than last year’s Port Ellen, which was also a 37 year old expression (and also considerably lower in proof). This year’s release, distilled in 1979, is bottled from refill American oak hogsheads and butts.

An exceptional expression of Port Ellen, it’s impossible not to love this whisky from start to finish.

The nose folds gentle peat smoke into lush fruit: that classic Port Ellen banana character, plus pear, chamomile, grapefruit, and tangerine. On the palate, the toasty banana notes dominate, mixing beautifully within the whisky’s supple, silky body while secondary notes of lavender (another classic Port Ellen note) and toasted wood emerge amidst a background of distant, smoky fires. The whisky is so soft and gentle that it can be easy to forget it’s 37 years old, particularly as a finish of silky milk chocolate and caramel wash over the experience. As the whisky fades, it leaves behind hints of raisin, fig jam, and a touch of toffee.

Tragically, we don’t get entire bottles of this stuff, and have to satisfy ourselves with a mere 50ml sample. This is one of those cases where a single, simple dram just can’t do the experience the proper justice it deserves, and my tasting notes feel sadly incomplete. Diageo, send provisions.

102 proof. 2988 bottles produced.

A / $3500 /

Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

This cask strength release of 12 year old Lagavulin is pretty much an annual affair — this is the 15th release of it in the Diageo Special Release series — as usual coming from refill American oak (bourbon) hogsheads.

As with last year’s release (the 200th anniversary of the distillery), this is a more floral and fruity expression of Lagavulin than you might be accustomed to. The nose is classically styled with sea spray, tar, and oily petrol notes, but underneath you’ll detect some fleeting potpourri. The flowers make a bolder impression on the palate, mixing dried rose and lavender notes with heavy citrus peel — though burnt rubber overtones endure.

A little water is a huge help here, giving the whisky’s floral notes a lift and turning the orange peel from bitter to sweet. Some light lemon and lime notes emerge here, too, while the finish melds its modest smokiness with notes of white flowers.

113 proof.

B+ / $130 /

Review: Convalmore 32 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

Convalmore was in the heart of Speyside in Dufftown. It closed in 1985, just a year after this whisky was distilled. It spent 32 years in refill American oak hogsheads before bottling; this is only the fourth time Convalmore has appeared in the Diageo Special Release series.

Very old bourbon-barrel aged Speyside spirit can be truly enchanting, and this Convalmore 32 is no exception. In 2013, I complained that Convalmore 36 Years Old was fading away. At 32 years old, it’s still in its prime. The nose is surprisingly racy, showcasing notes of salted caramel, dark chocolate, dried berries, and lightly toasty granary notes. The palate is in line with the above, but bolder than the nose would indicate. At 48% alcohol, it drinks perfectly, with the dessert-heavy character segueing into notes of blood orange, gingerbread, coconut, and banana. There’s a hint of Band-Aid on the finish, but this does little to mar what is otherwise a stellar whisky from beginning to end.

96.4 proof. 3,972 bottles produced

A / $1400 /

Review: Glen Elgin 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

This Glen Elgin release spent 18 years in sherry oak before bottling. It’s only the third time this Speyside distillery has been featured in the Special Release series.

One of the more conventional (though perfectly well-made) bottlings in this lineup, this Glen Elgin is well sherried, to the point where the nose takes on a nutty character, dense to the point of offering a furniture polish note. The orange peel and clove notes are aromatically thick, as is the palate, which is exceptionally sharp I think more due to the sherry influence than the cask strength alcohol level. Water is a friend here, and just a drop or two will do wonders to soften that throat-scratching harshness. What emerges is a much quieter whisky with notes of lemon honey, tea leaf, and some Christmas spice. At cask strength, the finish is a bit rough-and-tumble; appropriately watered down, it reveals a more approachable, though less enthralling, spirit.

109.6 proof. 5,352 bottles produced

B+ / $340 /