Ok, Ladies and Gents, you’ve digested round one, now its seconds out, Round Two! Connas is back with the second and final instalment of his journey through 2018’s Diageo Special Releases, featuring Talisker, Lagavulin and a pair of Caol Ila.

Caol Ila 2002, 15 Years Old, 59.1%, £100

Refill American Hogsheads & European Oak Butts

Background: The behemoth that is Caol Ila distillery comfortably produces more whisky than any other distillery on Islay. And frankly, I don’t recall anyone saying that they’ve had a bad one. This one is an unpeated example of the make, which has become a regular feature of Special Releases. Here we go…

Colour: Light Amber

Nose: Although this is unpeated, there is a slight wisp of lingering smoke in there, sea spray and floral forest notes mingle before fresh fruit and honey appear. Ginger biscuits and very faint suggestion of vanilla before lemon zest and dry fruits finish.

Palate: Salted butter initially surprises with midget gems and fruit cake slowly releasing its spices (clove, nutmeg, cinnamon) before honey and the classic ‘Caol Ila Lemon’ flavour makes a most welcome appearance. A continuation of saltiness underlies with tinned white fruits at the end.

Finish: A long and lasting pleasant walk through every flavour you’ve already encountered. Literally [No. Figuratively – Ed.] doubling your money on salt, fruit, spice, vanilla, fruit cake et al… Sticking for what seems an age, concentration can summon up all of the flavours that this whisky has already delivered, just on the finish.  

Overview: If you want peated Caol Ila, this isn’t it, nor is it supposed to be. What it is, is a great example of how a distillery unashamedly linked to production of consistent bulk malt production can turn its hand to new profiles and remain true to its base oiliness and citrus characteristics. I’ve STILL not had a bad Caol Ila!


Lagavulin, 2005, 12 Years Old, 57.8%, £110

Refill American Hogsheads

Background: Lagavulin 16yo, I would suggest, is a benchmark among ‘Supermarket’ whiskies. I’ve seen many a peat-hater converted by the dark smoky offerings of the Islay colossus. You’d also be hard-pushed to find an experienced whisky aficionado who would deny its quality. For the 17th year running Special Releases has showcased this malt as a 12-year-old and shunned the well-tested sherry maturation of its older sibling to great success. I’m looking forward to this one…

Colour: Pale Hay

Nose: Mmmmm, promising… smoking sheds in the winter being hit with briny breakers. Threatens a huge punch but opens up with fresh, zesty springs of lemon oil and orange peel. A very faint meaty note disperses and fresh pine fades to sweet woody peatiness…

Palate: Thick and luxurious, sweet peat smoke continues with a spring time leafiness. Familiar condiments and seasonings of salt, pepper and even vinegar, then thick honey sweetness and sweet herbs turn to bitter dark chocolate.

Finish: Dry and oily initially, heavy on the palate – citrus, then drying completely with coal smoke.

Overview: It’s bloody Lagavulin, of course it’s great. Was it ever going to be anything else?


Talisker 2009, 8 Years Old, 59.4%, £70

First-fill American Hogsheads

Background: Talisker 8yo was a common sight in the 70’s and 80’s. Unfortunately, it disappeared (Boooooo!) shortly before the Talisker 10yo arrived as part of the Classic Malts series, however bottles of the original have been known to sell for upwards of £600 at auction (Yaaaaaaaaaay! No, hold on, I can’t afford that!). So, when its return was announced (especially since it was at the ‘cheaper’ end of the range), that excitement was palpable, even in Gateshead! Let’s have a go…

Colour: Amber

Nose: It’s hospitals before the seaside with this one, TCP, Elastoplasts and sharp lime. Vanilla from the wood puts in a good showing before the inevitable barbecue smoke takes hold. There’s a slight herbal note to the smoke too, maybe charred bayleaf in the dying embers of a black forest fire.

Palate: Almost shockingly sharp and thin initially. A millisecond of cold lemon meringue vanishes almost instantly as if to mock you. Then a thick, salty, smoky bacon, chocolate-lime coating followed by unctuous sweet smoke with the sticky chard bits from over-baked French pastries and white pepper.

Finish: Long and slow, soft lime notes, salty menthol, buttery mint and the tingle of a whiff of that smoke to finish.

Overview: I’d love to be able to say that this is a great comeback. Alas I can’t. BECAUSE I’VE NOT HAD THE ORIGINAL BEFORE! What I can say is that this spirit, in these casks, over that period, is a winner as far as I’m concerned. The credit card is out…


Caol Ila 1982, 35 Years Old, 58.1%, £675

Refill American Hogsheads and Refill American and European Butts.

Background: So, we’re back to Caol Ila, folks! This time it’s a peated version distilled in 1982. Now, you’ve already heard me say “Its always been good”, but from experience I can tell it has evolved in to a slightly thinner spirit in the last three decades. My personal preference is for the older style Caol Ila’s, so I’m pretty excited right now. Deep Breath, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…

Colour: Gold

Nose: Waxy honey and autumnal orchard fruit, background of salty, sticky smokiness, wrapping up lemon drizzle cake and baked pineapple with caramelized sugar coating and soft fruit filling. Deep…

Palate: A cooling Port Askaig wave breaks in your palate to leave a heavy, thick fruitiness. Those pineapples are here to stay, sticky candied orange peel then toasted fennel seeds precede a rising of smoke direct from the Sound Of Islay, then a rising of smoke direct from the Sound Of Islay, followed by a rising of smoke direct from the Sound Of Islay, next a rising of smoke direct from the Sound Of Islay, which precedes a rising of smoke direct from the…….. I think I’ve made my point now.

Finish: Sweet white icing with some fruitcake still stuck to it, cold double cream and bitter dark chocolate moves to spice and a coating of honeyed smokiness fades.

Overview: Pick of the bunch. A brilliant example of the Caol Ila produced in the early 80’s. If only there was room left on my credit card…

That’s it for the Diageo Special Releases, folks! Come back soon, I’ve got more tasting notes lined up…

[Hold on, what’s that you say? Where’s the Carsebridge?! Well, sadly the sample didn’t arrive in time… and the blog schedule stands still for neither man nor beast nor £750 single grain that you weren’t going to buy anyway… Ed.]