2016 Diageo Special Releases

For anyone who’s entered the single malt whisky scene in recent years, the choice and array of bottlings, brands and releases can be overwhelming.  Almost 30 years ago now, the situation was very different when Diageo launched “The Classic Malts” – first into travel retail in 1988, and then into the domestic market in 1989.   Those six whiskies (Glenkinchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Dalwhinnie, Talisker, and Lagavulin) became the vehicle through which hundreds of thousands of people were introduced to malt whisky.  For close to a decade they were almost the definitive collection and – notwithstanding the omnipresence of the likes of Glenfiddich and Glenlivet – it was only by the late 1990’s that other brands and recognisable labels started to consistently appear in regular retail outlets.

Never one to rest on their laurels, Diageo continued (and continues) to expand their range.  The so-called Rare Malts range ran from 1995-2005, and the Managers Choice range also kept hardcore fans happy with its single cask, cask-strength releases.  The original Classic Malts range was also expanded in 2006, adding the likes of Clynelish and Caol Ila, in addition to others that were custom selected for individual markets (e.g. Cardhu for the USA).

One of the longer-term and more interesting projects has been the Diageo Special Releases range, consisting of a specially selected and crafted series of bottlings released annually each year since 2001.  As the name inherently suggests, the releases are “special” and typically include Diageo’s rarest stock, such as whiskies from closed distilleries – Port Ellen, Brora, and Cambus being three examples.

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Whisky cocktails – are we doing the flavour a favour?

Have you ever tried a whisky cocktail?  I’m referring to something a bit more exotic than a Rusty Nail or a Manhattan.  The former – simply equal parts of whisky and Drambuie together – and the latter, a concoction of rye whiskey, vermouth, and bitters, are both time-honoured classics, but it would be wrong to compare them with the more complex, complicated, and dare I say, fashionable whisky cocktails doing the rounds in today’s bars.

 

Whisk(e)y cocktails currently carry the buzz in the industry at present, and it’s been the case now for at least the last four to five years.   Cocktails are seen as the introduction or stepping stone into whisky drinking.  “Don’t like whisky?  Here, have a sip of this colourful Highland Fling!”  The marketing guys have been working furiously in recent years to shed the industry’s image of whisky being an older man’s drink, and so the bar and cocktail scene is where they’re targeting their message to attract a younger and more gender-balanced demographic to the category.

 

I concede there is a logic to it.  We are in the latter (ending?) phase of the cult of the celebrity chef, and not everyone is hanging off every word and activity that the Gordon Ramsays and Marco Pierre Whites of the world get up to.  In their place – at least in certain circles – we are seeing the rise of the celebrity cocktail expert.  Or, to use the preferred parlance:  The Mixologist.

 

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