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 / malts.com
The former Soviet block does such wonders with vodka that I had perhaps overly inflated hopes for Odessa brandy, which is made in the Ukraine and carries a VSOP designation.
The producer offers some details:
Odessa is produced from spirits distilled from white grape varietals including Rkatsiteli, Aligoté and Pinot varieties. The Rkatsiteli is an ancient pale-skinned grape variety from the Republic of Georgia – one of the oldest (if not the oldest) wine-producing regions on earth. Aligoté is a white grape used to make dry white wines in the Burgundy region of France, but it is also cultivated in many Eastern Europe countries.
Odessa is distilled using the traditional French “Charentais” – or double fractional distillation – in copper pot stills. The heart of the distillate is then carefully selected to be bottled and aged, enhancing the delicate and refined aroma that is the signature of its white grape varietals. The spirit then ages in oak barrels for at least five years.
The bad news is that none of that really matters. It’s hard to put it delicately, but Odessa is tough to choke down.
The nose is equal parts new wood and old Butterfingers. There’s a playful eastern spice note that gives one hope, but it really can’t hold up against the bolder and less enthralling notes underlying the brandy. The palate is rough and tumble, highly astringent with notes of cleaning fluid atop butterscotch and heavy pours of maple syrup. Those eastern spice notes don’t make an appearance here, leaving you to ponder a finish of melted gummy bears mingling with sawdust.
D+ / $10 / globalspiritsus.com
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.
B- / $310 / malts.com
Cru Bourgeois is a wine classification specific to the Medoc region of Bordeaux. A middle ground wine, the term dates back to 1932, but it’s been revamped (and was briefly killed altogether) until its most recent revival in 2010. Wineries must apply to France’s wine-governing body to be allowed to put Cru Bourgeois on their labels.
Are Cru Bourgeois wines any good? We sampled three from the 2012 vintage to find out.
2012 Chateau Greysac Medoc Cru Bourgeois – This is a simple expression of Bordeaux, soft and a bit green, with ample savory herbs and some bitter notes overtaking a basic core of blackberries and stewed apples. A touch of gingerbread spice lifts the finish a bit and adds some needed sweetness. B / $20
2012 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois – A heavily herbal expression of Bordeaux, some balsamic notes overtaking a more basic cherry and blackberry core, this wine is already showing a considerable amount of age on it. Fans of more austere styles of wine will find this of interest, but the wine feels a bit like it’s fading, with a rather lifeless finish. B- / $22
2012 Chateau du Cartillon Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois – Probably the best wine in this group, this Haut-Medoc offers a more rounded fruit core, studded with lighter herb notes, citrus peel, violets, and hints of chocolate. The finish is tart and a touch astringent, not overwhelmingly complex but interesting enough to merit exploration. B+ / $25
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 / malts.com
Two highly-anticipated beers from Deschutes are now hitting the market: the Oregon brewery’s annual winter beer, Jubelale, and its large-format, barrel-aged Black Butte, celebrating the brewery’s 29th birthday.
Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2017 – Deschutes jumps straight from summer to winter with the release of its latest Jubelale, and this year’s expression is a big winner. The spices are present but played down enough to give the brew a toasty and warmly Christmas-like character. Fig notes are particularly strong, and they are complemented by notes of dates, spiced almonds, toffee, and ample malt. There’s plenty going on, but the beer is amazingly well-balanced, finishing with soothing notes of baked bread and a distant smokiness. 6.7% abv. A / $9 per six-pack
Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXIX 29th Birthday Reserve – The 29th edition of Deschutes’ experimental porter always includes some oddball ingredients. This year it runs to cocoa, Saigon cinnamon, and cayenne, 50 percent of which is aged in bourbon and rum barrels. The cayenne isn’t readily apparent here, but the chocolate/cinnamon notes sure are. These bold flavors build on top of a core of plum, rum raisin, and dark caramel sauce. The finish sees more Christmas spice, chocolate cake, and a hint of bitter amaro. As with the Jubelale, there’s tons going on here, but the interplay of flavors and balance are excellent. 12% abv. A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle
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.
B+ / $130 / malts.com