On Planet Whisky, few can beat the clout of Diageo.
In Scotland, Diageo owns 50 out of the 130-odd whisky distilleries. Cult names like Caol Ila, Talisker and Mortlach are amongst them. It also holds one of the largest inventories of whisky stocks in the world, some of which come from shuttered (but soon-to-be-resurrected) distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora.
Sitting at the pinnacle of Diageo’s massive whisky empire is the Rare and Exceptional, a portfolio of the company’s most-prized liquids. “On average we see fewer than 10 Rare & Exceptional releases a year,” says Adam Brewer, in an earlier interview we did with the head of private client sales. “There are usually fewer than 2,000 bottles per release, made on a global level, but it can be as few as 90 bottles. Once the bottles are sold out, the only opportunity to own one of these is if a collector chooses to make his or her own bottle available on the secondary market.”
“Rare and exceptional” as they may be, these highly-coveted bottles are made more accessible via a dedicated online store, which Diego launched in November last year. There are 48 bottles at the time of writing, with a price range of $150 (Cardhu 11 Year Old Special Release 2020) to $23,400 (Johnnie Walker Master’s Ruby Reserve 40 Year Old).
At our recent taster of the range, we were introduced to six bottles — John Walker & Sons King George V, Talisker 25 Year Old, Pittyvaich 28 Year Old, Pittyvaich 29 Year Old, Lagavulin 12 Year Old and The Singleton of Dufftown 25 Year Old. The first is a rich, creamy and highly drinkable blend of whiskies drawn from distilleries across Scotland that existed during the reign of King George V, including extremely rare casks from the silent Port Ellen. Its sweet, smoky aroma follows with notes of orange, raisins, figs and cinnamon, which are balanced by hints of vanilla, chocolate and toffee. Those new to maritime whisky brand Talisker will find a great initiation with the classic 25 Year Old, which has a whiff of the ocean on the nose, a medium body of citrus fruits and a long finish that is dry, toasty and slightly bitter.
The Pittyvaichs are especially pleasing. Hailing from a ghost 18-year-old distillery — one of the shortest ever lived on Speyside — that fell victim to industry consolidation in 1993, the two bottles have a mellow and a complex sweet-floral structure. The 28 Year Old is reminiscent of a gingery fruit cake, with traces of lemon zest, honey, mint, ripe red apple, vanilla and coconut, while its older sister, double-matured in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso seasoned casks has a rich, fruity depth that ends dry and spicy, like a dense, powdered ginger tea. Both have less than 5,000 in availability.
Lagavulin’s 12 Year Old expression will appeal to fans of peated whisky. The pale-gold single-malt features top notes of ash and linseed oil, followed by light fruity notes of hard candy and a faint suggestion of the sea.
When it comes to smoothness, The Singleton is a clear winner. Its 25 Year Old, one of the oldest releases from the Dufftown distillery, is rich and dark, with sophisticated berry fruit aromas and flavours of peach and passionfruit. Only one cask in the brand’s 50,000 maturing whisky stock makes it to the Rare and Exceptional list, which only deems this bottle all the more desirable.
If you’re faced with choice paralysis and love a more personal touch to your whisky shopping experience, make an appointment with Diageo’s Private Client team at its swanky office. You might even be privy to hush-hush whisky stocks that are unavailable online.
(Main and featured image: Pittyvaich 29 Year Old; all other images courtesy of Diageo)