Port Ellen and White Penguins: The Special Releases launch 2015
Every Autumn,I find myself in a crowded room pouring around fifteen thousand pounds worth of whisky in a single evening (if, like me, guitars are your currency, then that’s about five Gretsch White Penguins), along with other colleagues, including Master Blenders Jim Beveridge and Keith Law, dispensing equally generous amounts of wonderful and very often exceptionally rare whiskies, both Single Malts, and Single Grains, to our guests. Nine whiskies in all, each one a thing of beauty in its own right.
The complete Special Releases 2015 range
Who am I? Well I’m the bloke who had the bright idea to start the Special Releases programme about fifteen years ago, and ‘though I’m mostly put out to pasture these days, I occasionally get asked back, like an ageing thoroughbred, for one more time round the track to share with others what I know about the bottlings, the distilleries, the nuances of their flavours and how or why they might have developed that way over thirty or so long years in an oak cask.
Who, you might be wondering, are the great and good that benefit from this munificence from the world’s leading Scotch Whisky company? Well, search ‘Special Releases’ online and you’ll quickly see the wide range of social media commentators who come along to join us, and who mostly adore the whiskies we pour for them. But there are also old-school journalists (with pencils), broadcasting types, barmen, mixologists, chefs and food writers, and a number of our most important customers.
And lest you think this is one almighty booze-up it’s important for me to say that ‘though it’s certainly a noisy and vibrant evening, the best that Scotch can offer, it’s also an earnest and studious affair. People take glasses into dark corners and ponder the vagaries of each liquid, poetic and occasionally representative tasting notes are composed, words are exchanged between solemnly nodding heads, a consensus is reached. The next sample is interrogated.
The crowd sampling and discussing the whiskies
Which of this year’s whiskies were particularly well received? Well, it’s always interesting to try and judge the room’s enthusiasms, and I do so with no particular bias towards my White Penguin, the 32 year old Port Ellen, rich and smoky from European oak casks, produced in the last year of the distillery’s working life, described by Alice Lascelles as “a magnificent feast of a whisky”.
Or for that matter the “elegant and graceful” (Dave Broom’s words, not mine) Brora 37 year old, described by one of our guests as simply “f*****g amazing”. But people will tell you, and you can see where the discerning tasters return to for a second ‘appraisal’ of their favourites.
Undoubtedly some of the stars of the evening
So I reckoned that one of the room’s undoubted heroes was the sweet, creamy and surprisingly fruity 40 year old Caledonian Single Grain Whisky, or simply the Cally, as the distillery was affectionately known by those who worked there, and the residents of Dalry and Gorgie in Edinburgh where the distillery was located. And being poured by Keith Law, who started his whisky career, following in family footsteps, many years ago (sorry Keith) at the Cally. Another was the Clynelish Select Reserve, a blend or vatting of Clynelish casks created by Jim Beveridge and his team to exemplify the very unusual waxy character for which it is famous. Apparently, either it, or Jim (or both), was “ravishing”.
Some of our guests also loved the Pittyvaich 25 for its waxiness, and the sweet, and characteristically honeyed 25 year old Dalwhinnie, but the one that everyone was talking about was one of Speyside’s hidden secrets, Dailuaine 34 year old, made with a very distinct character to be the backbone of many a fine Blended Scotch Whisky, but rarely bottled as a malt of this age. A big rich, and as one guest described it, “old fashioned” whisky to be sipped and enjoyed thoughTfully.
And, last, but not least, there were the folks who favoured the annual bottling of Lagavulin 12 year old, “Bonfire ash, smoke and faint Bovril”, clearly not for the faint-hearted, and the unpeated 17 year old Caol Ila, “sticky honey sweetness, lifted by a fresher gust of clean cotton, pencil shavings and a whiff of juniper smoke” said writer Alice Lascelles.
But the final question, of course, is which one was my personal favourite? Well, I have to say that one of the things that makes Scotch the world’s favourite whisky is its diversity; no other whisky, or spirit, has such an incredible range of taste and texture. And it’s a diversity that was beautifully represented in this particular collection of whiskies. So that makes it very, very, hard to choose. But if pushed I would have taken a Clynelish and a Caol Ila out of the door, along with one of the White Penguins.
Dr. Nick Morgan
Head of Whisky Outreach
Image gallery with further impressions of the night: