The 2018 Diageo Special Releases Reviewed

The annual Special Releases from Diageo’s stable of scotch distilleries are a focal point for many whisky lovers—and not just collectors. Many drinkers anticipate buying a special bottle from a beloved distillery—for example, Lagavulin or Talisker—that’s a little out of the ordinary. Others splash out for a super-aged scotch to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.

Whatever your motivations, the 2018 Special Releases offer a little something for nearly everyone—and the scores are, as expected, quite high. Three of the ten releases are not available in the U.S., including the blended malt Cladach—a disappointment for fans of coastal distilleries, which contributed to the makeup of this whisky.

Whisky Advocate Scores for the 2018 Diageo Special Releases

Carsebridge 48 year old Single Grain
95 points, 43.2% ABV, $959

Sure, the oldest of this year’s Diageo Special Releases manifests the brown-and-orange world of 1970 incarnate, but it does so in glorious fashion. Golden and warm, dessert-like, with bread-and-butter pudding, spun sugar, plenty of oak character, lavender honey, golden puff pastry, perfumery scents, and the first fruits plucked from the orangerie. Quite simply the grooviest thing to come out of Alloa this year. (1,000 bottles) —Jonny McCormick

Caol Ila 35 year old Single Malt
93 points, 58.1% ABV, $989

A rare veteran bottling from Caol Ila, and the oldest of the 2018 Special Releases, this was aged in refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. The nose is fragrant and inviting, with dried fruit, ginger, and beach bonfire. Vibrant tropical fruit on the palate, with cinnamon and developing brine-sodden peat. Bold fruit flavors along with white pepper and soft peat remain in the lengthy finish. (3,276 bottles) —Gavin Smith

Cladach Blended Malt
92 points, 57.1% ABV, £155

Sun-bleached driftwood, iodine, curry spices, and hot asphalt, with a highly charged, aromatic smokiness: a combination of peat kiln and crackling moorland blaze. There is serenity too, with soft cream, ripe citrus, and key lime pie. Thick and glossy, it’s an intense, mouth-puckering, cask-strength prospect. Chocolate, cinnamon, and mint collide with a barrage of clove and barrel char. Booming spices reverberate in the grip of an extremely long finish. Not available in the U.S. —Jonny McCormick

Caol Ila Unpeated 15 year old Single Malt
91 points, 59.1% ABV, $129

Unpeated Caol Ila has become a staple in Diageo’s Special Releases program. This year’s expression was matured in a combination of refill and rejuvenated American oak barrels and bodega European oak butts. Fresh and spicy on the nose, with tropical fruit aromas. Creamy on the palate, with fruit-and-nut milk chocolate bars, plus notes of developing citrus. The finish is slightly earthy, with wood spices. —Gavin Smith

Pittyvaich 28 year old Single Malt
90 points, 52.1% ABV, $419

The lost Dufftown distillery of Pittyvaich last appeared in the Special Releases as a 25 year old in 2015. Like that bottling, this was also aged in refill American oak hogsheads. Initially, it’s slightly savory on the nose, with salted caramel, walnuts, and spicy raisins. Oily on the palate, with pineapple, apple crumble, malt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toffee, milk chocolate, and licorice in the peppery finish. (4,680 bottles) —Gavin Smith

Lagavulin 12 year old Single Malt
90 points, 57.8% ABV, $139

Lagavulin 12 year old is represented in Diageo’s annual Special Releases lineup for the fifteenth consecutive year. This was matured in refill American oak barrels. Earthy, peppery peat are present on the nose, along with hazelnuts, seaweed, and lemon juice. It offers citrus fruit, bonfire smoke, pepper, chili, and antiseptic on the palate. The medium-length finish features smoked chilies. —Gavin Smith

Inchgower 27 year old Single Malt
89 points, 55.3% ABV, $359

Inchgower makes its debut in the Special Releases range with this veteran bottling that was matured in in refill American oak. The nose offers a whiff of soy sauce, honey, and blotting paper. Salty and spicy on the palate, with green apple, walnut, and cloves. Jaffa orange and black pepper in the long finish. (8,544 bottles) —Gavin Smith

Oban 21 year old Single Malt
89 points, 57.9% ABV, $549

Rather than the customary bourbon cask, this was aged in refill European oak butts. The nose is delicate, with brittle toffee, vibrant orange, pineapple, and a hint of barley. Mellow and fruity on the palate, with apricots, soft toffee, and table salt. Gingery oak and cocoa in the lengthy, slightly minty finish. —Gavin Smith

The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old Single Malt
88 points, 57.6% ABV, £100

This was aged in refill American oak barrels and bodega European oak butts followed by what Diageo describes as a “unique maturation and marrying process, involving five cask types.” The nose is soft and sweet, presenting malt, ginger, milk chocolate, and vanilla. Orchard fruits surface in time. Supple in the mouth, with toffee, ripe peaches, gingerbread, and old leather. Dark berries, char, and black pepper in the finish. Not available in the U.S.—Gavin Smith

Talisker 8 year old Single Malt
88 points, 59.4% ABV, £70

Matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, this youthful Talisker appears at one of the original bottling strengths used by one-time owners John Walker & Sons Ltd. It is the first Special Releases Talisker since 2013. Peppery tweed, ozone, coconut oil, and subtle smoke on the nose. The palate features woodsmoke and chili, toffee, and green berries. White pepper, sea salt, and a savory note in the finish. Not available in the U.S. —Gavin Smith

More From Reviews