The Diageo Special Releases, now in its 18th year, has become a mainstay in the whisky calendar and is often an opportunity both to taste well-known whiskies in a different light and to try whisky from lesser-known or closed distilleries. All of the whisky comes from Diageo owned malt and grain distilleries and is bottled at cask-strength in limited numbers. The series was created on the back of the success of the Rare Malts Collection and is targeted towards more educated whisky consumers and collectors.
A total of eight cask-strength whiskies make up the Diageo Special Releases 2019. The Cardhu 14 Year Old, an interesting peated Cragganmore 12 Year Old and Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old get things started. Next comes the almost religiously followed Lagavulin 12 Year Old, a heavily sherried Mortlach 26 Year Old and Pittyvaich 29 Year Old from the relatively short-lived and now closed Speyside distillery. This years series concludes with the Talisker 15 Year Old and The Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Years Old, a brand mainly exported to Asia, but included here giving whisky fans around the world a chance to taste their annual offering.
No blended malt this year after making an appearance in the last couple of releases and 2019 is also missing is a grain whisky. Having been in the lineup for the past four years, a long-aged grain whisky was considered a regular and provided something a little different for us to get our teeth into. Most surprisingly however was the exclusion of anything from Caol Ila. Having been almost an ever-present in the Special Releases lineup since the series began, 2019 is shaking things up and fans will have to wait until next year to possibly get another taste of the unusual but very tasty unpeated expression.
There is often some confusion about which bottles actually went into the series over the years and we try to put these myths to bed by running through from the beginning, starting in 2001…
Diageo Special Releases 2001
Just two bottles in the inaugural release, made up by the very-first Port Ellen release, a 22 Year Old which retailed for a mere £110 and the Talisker 25 Year Old, distilled in 1975 and bottled at 59.9%. 6000 bottles of each were released.
Another Talisker, a 28 Year Old distilled in 1973, of which only 100 bottles were released at £495 was an Oddbins exclusive but is sometimes included in the Special Releases category.
Diageo Special Releases 2002
2002 saw the first inclusion of four distilleries, with Brora, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin and Oban joining Port Ellen and Talisker in the lineup. Brora’s first release was a 30 Year Old, which retailed at £150 and joined the second release of Port Ellen, this time a 1978 24 Year Old at 59.35% ABV.
Oban is rarely seen outside of its regular distillery bottling guise, particularly not at any great age, which is why the Special Releases are considered so special – Oban’s contribution to the 2002 selection was a 32 Year Old distilled in 1969.
The 2002 instalment concluded with the Dalwhinnie 1966 36 Year Old, Talisker 1981 20 Year Old and two offerings from Lagavulin distillery on Islay: a 25 Year Old and the first release of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old, which remains in the releases to this day. This first release retailed at £40.
Diageo Special Releases 2003
Port Ellen, Talisker, Lagavulin, Brora and Dalwhinnie were again included in 2003 as a number of new distilleries made their first appearances.
Cragganmore 1973 29 Year Old, Glen Elgin 1971 32 Year Old, Glen Ord 1975 28 Year Old and a well-aged Glenury Royal, distilled in 1953 and bottled as a 50 Year Old and easily the most expensive of the lot at £950 made up the rest of the bottles.
Diageo Special Releases 2004
2004 saw the first release of Caol Ila, which went on to become a mainstay for a number of years, as well as new whiskies from Mortlach and the long-closed Linlithgow distillery (also known as St Magdalene).
Caol Ila launched with a 25 Year Old, distilled in 1978 and bottled at 59.4% ABV. This would be the oldest Caol Ila bottled for the series for 10 years.
Mortlach’s first offering was a 1971 32 Year Old which joined the Linlithgow 1973 30 Year Old, retailing at £250. The Glen Ord was a 25 Year Old this time around, with Oban also releasing a younger expression for 2004, a 1984 20 Year Old.
Cragganmore also released at a lower age, a 10 Year Old distilled in 1993 whilst Talisker returned with a 25 year old.
Diageo Special Releases 2005
Only three new distilleries this time, with a 22 Year Old Cardhu joining the whiskies from the silent Brechin distillery (also known as North-Port), making its first and last appearance, and Convalmore, also sadly closed.
Talisker and Caol Ila returned with 25 year old expressions, while Glen Ord’s 2005 release was its oldest yet at 30 years old and Glenury Royal returned with a 1968 36 Year Old, the most expensive bottle in the collection at £495.
Last but not least, the Lagavulin 12 Year Old, still at £40.
Diageo Special Releases 2006
No new distilleries in 2006, but there were multiple bottles from both Talisker and Lagavulin joining some other regular contributors.
Caol Ila was released as a much younger 8 years old and was the cheapest at £32 a bottle. Next up a Cragganmore 1988 17 Year Old and Dalwhinnie 1986 20 Year Old, both under £100 a bottle.
Finally, Lagavulin got two bites at the cherry in 2006 with the 12 Year Old being joined by a 30 Year Old, distilled in 1976 and bottled at 52.6% ABV – also the most expensive in the collection at £210. A relativity inexpensive year compared to some of the previous releases.
Diageo Special Releases 2007
2007 saw the first releases from closed Lowlander Rosebank, Glenkinchie, also in the Lowlands, and Highland distillery Royal Lochnagar.
Rosebank 1981 25 Year Old bottled at an impressive 61.4% retailed for £130 and a non-age statement (NAS) whisky from Royal Lochnagar was the first not to be bottled at cask strength.
Glenkinchie’s inaugural appearance was a 20 Year Old which was accompanied by two more Taliskers again, with more 25 Year Old and 30 Year Old expressions, this time with small price increases to match.
The Caol Ila in 2007 was another 8 Year Old and Glenury Royal returned with its youngest expression to date, a 1970 36 Year Old which was once again the most expensive in the collection at £500 a bottle.
Diageo Special Releases 2008
2008 was an interesting year in which Linkwood became part of the Special Releases roster with a triple-headed release aged in different cask types. 26 Year Olds from ex-Port, ex-Rum and ex-Sweet Red Wine casks were released and retailed at £130 a bottle.
Diageo Special Releases 2009
Three new distilleries joined the catalogue of Special Releases in 2009, with the first appearances from Benrinnes, Mannochmore and Pittyvaich distilleries.
For the fourth year in a row, the Talisker 25 Year Old and Talisker 30 Year Old were included along (albeit with a price increase) along with a 10 Year Old expression from Caol Ila and the usual 12 Year Old Lagavulin.
Diageo Special Releases 2010
Glen Spey made its first and last appearance in 2010 along with a first release for Auchroisk. The two Speysiders, Glen Spey 1989 21 Year Old and Auchroisk 20 Year Old were released at £120 and £115 respectively.
Talisker 30 Year Old was the only release from the Island Distillery in 2010 and the Brora 30 Year Old was back, this time at £280 (a £50 increase on the year before).
Diageo Special Releases 2011
2011 saw a number of interesting differences to previous years. Firstly, we saw the first releases from Lowland grain distillery Port Dundas and Speyside distillery Knockando.
The Port Dundas 1990 20 Year Old was the first grain whisky to be included in the Special Releases and the Knockando 1985 25 Year Old was another strange one, being bottled at 43% ABV rather than cask strength.
2011 also saw the inclusion of Glenury Royal 1970 40 Year Old, although this bottle was actually released onto the market in 2012.
Diageo Special Releases 2012
The Talisker 1977 35 Year Old was the oldest Talisker so far in the series and came with a price tag of £525.
The most expensive bottle in the 2012 Special Releases however was the Port Ellen 1979 32 Year Old which was released at £600, £300 more than the previous year despite being the same age.
The Brora 35 Year Old was the oldest ever release from Brora in the series so far, also seeing an increase in price, but only to £400.
Diageo Special Releases 2013
Only one new distillery hit the shelves in 2013 with the inclusion of Singleton of Dufftown 1985 28 Year Old. 2013 also saw the end of the relatively affordable price points for both Brora and Port Ellen.
Brora 35 Year Old retailed at £750 whilst the Port Ellen 9178 34 Year Old, the oldest Port Ellen so far in the series, jumped to £1500, an increase which would become a running theme as the years go on.
The collection concluded with the Talisker 1985 27 Year Old.
Diageo Special Releases 2014
The Lagavulin 12 Year Old remained at £80 and of course the 2014 releases were concluded with a Brora 1978 35 Year Old which retailed at £1200 and another Port Ellen 1978, now a 35 Year Old, and the first bottle to break the £2000 mark.
Diageo Special Releases 2015
Another grain for 2015, with the Caledonian 1974 40 Year Old, released as ‘The Cally’. There was also a first appearance for Dailuaine with a 1980 34 Year Old expression released at £380.
The constant Lagavulin 12 Year Old was joined by a Caol Ila 1997 17 Year Old, Pittyvaich 1989 25 Year Old and another NAS Clynelish, this time at £550.
Dalwhinnie was back with a 1989 25 Year Old which leads us onto the two big hitters, Brora 1977 37 Year Old and Port Ellen 1983 32 Year Old with the latter now at £2400.
Diageo Special Releases 2016
Another first in 2016 with the Cambus 1975 40 Year Old from the Lowland Grain distillery which closed in 1993.
The Auchroisk 1990 25 Year Old, Mannochmore 1990 25 Year Old and Glenkinchie 1991 25 Year Old were joined by a NAS Cragganmore (at £400) and another release from Linkwood after a eight year hiatus, a 1978 vintage 37 Year Old retailing at £600.
The ever-present Lagavulin 12 Year Old and Caol Ila, this time a 15 Year Old distilled in 2000, were back along with the oldest ever releases of both Brora and Port Ellen.
The Brora 1977 38 Year Old (15th release) and Port Ellen 1978 37 Year Old (16th release) were released at £1450 and £2500 respectively.
Diageo Special Releases 2017
The 2017 Diageo Special Releases were special for a number of reasons, not least because it was to be the final time the both Brora and Port Ellen would be included in the series.
2017 also saw the first blend, Collectivum XXVIII, a NAS blend of whiskies from all of the 28 malt distilleries in the Diageo portfolio.
A first appearance for Highland distillery Blair Athol also featured with a 1993 23 Year Old expression retailing at £400.
Another grain this year, with a 1964 Port Dundas at a whopping 52 years old joining the Lagavulin 12 Year Old (£90) and Caol Ila 18 Year Old (£100).
Teaninich distillery in Speyside also featured for the first time with the Teaninich 1999 17 Year Old and another two Speysiders, the returning Convalmore 1984 32 Year Old and Glen Elgin 1998 18 Year Old.
Diageo Special Releases 2018
2018 saw the first releases from two distilleries, one grain and one malt.
The Carsebridge 1970 48 Year Old and Inchgower 1990 27 Year Old joined The Cladach blended malt, a blend from six Diageo coastal distilleries, to make it a total of 38 distilleries and two blends to have featured since the inception of the Special Releases in 2001.
The Lagavulin 12 Year Old broke the £100 mark for the first time and was joined by two expressions from Caol Ila, a 2002 15 Year Old and 1982 35 Year Old, released at £100 and £675 respectively.
Talisker returned to the fold with its youngest release for the series yet, a 2009 8 Year Old which was the cheapest of the collection (and arguably the best) at £70.
The Oban 1996 21 Year Old, Pittyvaich 1989 28 Year Old and Singleton of Glen Ord 2002 14 Year Old made up the rest of the collection with Highland Distillery Glen Ord back to fly the flag for the Singleton brand after 13 years away.