What is your immediate reaction when you think about a Diageo Special Release? Genuine curiosity about interesting and unusual whiskies that need, really need to be tasted; a sigh as you realise that price puts of all but two out of reach. Perhaps you look first at the prices and know you’re not in this game at all, as it’s a series aimed at collectors or the very, very rich. With an average price of £670, a median price of £349, and an average age of 28, these are the obvious reactions reactions. However I’m willing to bet that amongst all the other word associations that come to mind the word companionship doesn’t appear on your list. But it really should. No it really it should.
When I am alone I will drink whiskies you find on supermarket shelves – stock drinks if you will. When I have friends around I want to share something more interesting from my shelf, because I want the appreciation to be active and the conversation stimulating. It actually enhances everything, your senses are heightened and you just get so much more from every sip. If I suddenly fell into money and could afford one of the bottles from the Special Release, there is no way I would want to drink it by myself. I would want to gather people round so we could talk, laugh, compare notes and support each other in the knowledge that we were experiencing something special.
The next best thing to your own party with your own bottle is an organised tasting with companionable strangers. So last week I went to Birmingham for a tasting of all 10 whiskies organised by Nickolls & Perks. It was led by Colin Dunn who was, as usual, vivacious and full of stories. Most were jokey, like the barman who tried to convince him that the Auchentoshan Three Wood was named after the golf club, but the one that I thought most on-point (given my opening paragraph) was about the companionship that comes from sharing great whisky. Way back, when he worked for Suntory he suggested they should import Japanese whisky into this country. The idea was met with scepticism but some bottles of Hibiki 17 were sent over. Scroll forward a number of years and Colin met the Suntory Chief Blender at The Whisky Show when he found out that all those years ago the company had been uncertain about the chances of braking into the UK market so they slightly rigged the game. Instead of the 17 year old they sent the 35 Hibiki under a false label. Fantastic! But even better Colin had a couple of bottles left in his own collection so he bought in one in to share at the Suntory stand so they could relive the story. In return, the following day, he was presented with a very rare and expensive bottling. Instead of taking it home he immediately opened and again shared. That is what whisky is about – the moment and the people. If he had taken it home, to add to his cellar, the experience it would have given would not have been so meaningful. Companionship enhances any great whisky.
As for the2016 Special Release my overall impression was how good they all were, as each in their own way had great depth of character. We may be all programmed to try and make distinctions, show our judgement and rank things; but we shouldn’t, by going into too much detail, get picky. We shouldn’t lose sight of how high the standard is. In fact any ranking we make would be more about the style of whisky we prefer rather than the quality of any individual bottle.
The samples I most looked forward most were the Port Ellen and Brora (not just because they were the most expensive and I might not have the chance to taste them again but because I am curios about things now gone). They did not disappoint, they were magnificent and lingered in the mouth most pleasingly. The big lesson of the night though was that price is not an accurate measure of appreciation. For example, even compared to all the other bottles, I really liked the Caol Ila. Not only that the big revelation of the night was the Mannochmore, sweet, rich and round but with enough underlying dryness to stop it being cloying. I loved it and it was also the third cheapest (though cheap in this context is an extremely relative word).
We all though have different tastes and we all respond differently to different styles of whisky. On a night like this there can be no definitive winner, or even a loser. For myself I respond to surprise – either something unexpected or something that piques my interest. Perhaps that is why I rated the Monnachmore so highly. I have never paid any attention to the distillery before, it has passed completely under my radar, yet here on this night I found it could produce something quite wonderful.
P.S. The whiskies in this years Special Release are:
Lagavaulin 12 yr old – £79.00; Caol Ila 15 yr old – £89.95; Mannochmore 25 yr old – £249.95; Auchroish 25 yr old – £279.95; Glenkinchie 24 yr old – £299.00; Cragganmore Limited Release – £399.00; Linkwood 37 yr old – £599.00; Cambus 40 yr old – £749.95; Brora 38 yr old – £1,449.95; Port Ellen 37 yr old – £2,495.00
(I notice that some of them are priced with 95p obtenir du viagra sans ordonnance. I have no idea why. Usually it’s done to anchor the price downward in your mind so you think the Cambus is £749 rather than £750 but if you are paying so much does this really matter?)
P.P.S. I can always recommend Nickolls & Perks events. Usually they are in their 18th Century cellars where you have one glass that is refilled for each new drink. This is relaxed and atmospheric but doesn’t allow you to go back and forth to make a more considered comparison. This tasting this time was in The Studio in the centre of Birmingham, where all the drinks to be laid out (and a kitchen to produce half time snacks).
P.P.P.S. This tasting did, of course, completely undermine the theme of my post on Clynelish. But that only goes to show that all my opinions are provisional and open to be disproved.
P.P.P.P.S. The photo with this post was downloaded from Forbes but to fit in all 10 bottles they seemed to have elongated them so their proportions look a bit odd.