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Diageo's Special Release 2023 (Spirited Exchange): Exotic Casks and a Mysterious New Single Malt

 

 

Diageo has officially announced its 2023 Diageo Special Release whisky bottlings! This is a long-running series started 20 years ago, and showcases high quality and rare limited edition expressions from Diageo’s Classic Malts distilleries. The average bottle tends to be cask strength and about 10 to 16 years of age, although recent years have seen a bottle or two venerable 20+ year old expressions.

Each year's Special Release sees about 6 to 8 expressions from Diageo's stable of distilleries.

After the past two year's fantasy themed releases (see 2021see 2022), it seems that we have something quite tangible and special indeed for 2023.

This year's Special Release, titled Spirited Xchange is now available in limited quantities from Diageo's official online store Malts.com.

Spirited Xchange celebrates Scotch along with cultures around the world. We'll see a mix of expressions with greater emphasis on quality cask finishings that honour various cultures. Notably, there's also a never-before-seen single malt that would pique our curiosity, and some tried-and-tested expressions that have previously scored points with Scotch lovers. 

"For me, Spirited Xchange is about identifying and celebrating the ideas, flavours, and tastes that surround us each day and inspire our curiosity to create. This collection has given us the opportunity to roam freely through our vast portfolio and experiment with old and new cask types, including various wine and local spirits casks to create eight one-of-a-kind expressions that we've never imagined before."

Master Blender, Dr. Stuart Morrison

The bottlings come with elaborate label art illustrated by eight different artists. Here's a closer look at each label:

 

Lagavulin 'The Ink of Legends' 12 Years Old, Don Julio Añejo Tequila Cask finished, 56.4% ABV

 

Lagavulin is back with yet another agave spirit release after 2021's Islay Jazz Festival bottle. This is likely aged for close to a decade in ex-bourbon casks as Lagavulin's standard practice before spending time in casks that previously held Don Julio Añejo Tequila casks. 

Don Julio is one of Mexico's best known tequila distilleries, while their añejo tequila - a tequila that had been aged for about 18 months in oak - is a solid core range expression in the world of aged tequilas, with more sweetness and fruitiness.

This would pair Lagavulin's iconic smokiness with the bright herbs and juicy plums imparted by the Don Julio Añejo tequila casks. Notably, the 2021 ex-mezcal cask release had been well received by whisky lovers. Having the Don Julio name this year certainly adds some extra hype points to this release for tequila lovers. 

The illustration honours the ancient art of tattooing with bright colours.

 

Mortlach NAS ' The Katana’s Edge', ex-Kanosuke Japanese Whisky & ex-Pinot Noir finishing, 58% ABV 

 

It seems undeniable that Kanosuke-mania has really hit Scotland just as we've witnessed UK's first cask being released by the Thompson Bros of Dornoch Distillery.

Now, Kanosuke is a Kagoshima craft whisky distillery started by a 4th-generation aged shochu producer Yoshitsugu Komasa, which in recent years, has earned for itself a cult following that may begin to rival the likes of Japanese craft whisky maestro Chichibu Distillery (read more about Kanosuke here). Notable for its exceptional quality despite being a very young operation, Kanosuke had even attracted an investment from Diageo, which brings us back to this new Mortlach we have before us.

Single malt buffs are likely most curious about this Mortlach, which had been finished in a combination of ex-Kanosuke casks and ex-Pinot Noir casks. Besides whisky, Kanosuke's casks tend to be ex-shochu casks. 

The illustration is said to describe the flash of umami that would cut through the ripe fruity sweetness of the spirit.

Singleton of Glendullan 'The Silken Gown’ 14 Years Old, ex-Chardonnay de Bourgogne French Oak finishing, 55% ABV

 

This Glendullan single malt had been finished in French oak casks which previously kept Chardonnay white wine from the Burgundy region, a logical complement to Glendullan's typical house style of being smooth, sweet, fruity and vanilla-ish.

This is said to have warm toffee and layers of golden fruits said to mirror the texture of a billowy silk gown.   

Clynelish 'The Jazz Crescendo' 10 Years Old, First-Fill American Oak Casks, 57.5% ABV

 

Another tried-and-tested one. There are many fans of the Highland wild cat amongst us, whom are bound to notice that this was exclusively matured in first-fill bourbon American oak casks for 10 years.

With this cask style at cask strength, the Jazz-inspired label tells us of the symphony we'll experience of vanilla spice and smooth caramel notes.   

Oban 'The Soul of Calypso' 11 Years Old, Caribbean Pot Still Rum Cask finished, 58% ABV

 

This one is an Oban finished in Caribbean Pot Still Rum Casks. 

As far back as we can remember, this is the first OB rum cask-finished Oban. We imagine it makes plenty of sense to imbue Oban's bright, fruity and oceanic profile with yet more brown sugar and ripe tropical influences. 

This is said to bring out vivid notes of tropical fruits, mangoes and sugar cane emerging from the Caribbean rum casks. 

Roseisle 'The Origami Kite' 12 Years Old, First Fill-Bourbon & Refill Casks, 56.5% ABV

 

Here's a Speyside single malt distillery we bet you haven't heard of. 

Once dubbed the Scotch "Death Star," capable of destroying planets or in our context, Scotch distilleries, Roseisle Distillery (pronounced "roh-zal") was the latest large distillery built by Diageo in 2009 which sparked concerns amongst Scotch buffs that Diageo would use Roseisle's opening as an excuse to shut down many of its smaller whisky distilleries. 

 

Diageo's modern giant, Roseisle, is a response to the increasing call for sustainability in whisky production (Source: Diageo)

 

The distillery produces 10 million litres of alcohol per annum, and is close to the fifth largest Scotch distillery in terms of production size. For comparison, the largest are Glenlivet and Glenfiddich at 21 million litres, but are owned by Pernod Ricard and William Grant & Sons respectively.

Rather than leading to more distillery closures and marking the end of an era, industry commentators eventually decided that Roseisle was on the good side of the Force, and that its completion heralded the dawn of a new era of sustainability in whisky production.

From an efficiency perspective, the distillery only generates less than 15% of carbon dioxide produced by a normal distillery. The distillery uses a biomass plant to generate most of its heat, and recycles hot water produced in the course of whisky production to heat the maltings facility. The staggering size of the distillery also helps it achieve sustainable economies of scale by producing on a larger scale using environmentally responsible production processes.

This is the first time Roseisle has been bottled as a single malt - this is said to have sweet vanilla notes and a touch of molasses.

Roseisle has previously made its appearance as part of a 28-distillery blended malt Scotch released by Diageo - the Collectivum XXVIII Blended Malt Scotch.

 

Glenkinchie 'The Floral Treasure' 27 Years Old, Refill American & European Oak Casks, 58.3% ABV

 

This would be one of the oldest original bottling Glenkinchies you could find in the market.  

As a Lowlands-based Diageo workhorse distillery built to support blends like Johnnie Walker, Glenkinchie single malts are difficult to come by, let alone old Glenkinchies in their late 20s or early 30s. 

This is said to have lush floral aromas and sweet flavours resembling a Spring morning - and is thus called 'The Floral Treasure.' 

Talisker 'The Wild Explorador' NAS, Ruby, White and Tawny Port cask finished, 59.7% ABV

 

Last but not least, it seems that Talisker would faithfully show up in this year's Special Release lineup. You should note that port-finished Taliskers have been a consistent hit amongst fans. 

 

Released exactly 10 years ago in 2013, the Talisker Port Ruighe was originally an experimental cask finishing release that turned out to be very well received as it compliments Talisker's signature maritime light peatiness with lovely notes of salted plum (umeshu), chocolate and other berries. 

So yes, this is a tried-and-tested finishing for Talisker. This is said to celebrate the sea with currents of spice and waves of dark fruit, sea salt, a maritime character embodied by a Portuguese ship.

Our Take

It seems that most of the hype this year would fall on the ex-Kanosuke Mortlach, the debuting Roseisle single malt, and the ex-Don Julio Tequila Lagavulin. 

The first two expressions are wildcards, bound to draw a ton of curiosity and in a small part, collector's value. Many in the whisky community have already encountered an ex-agave Lagavulin and enjoyed it - so this next iteration is a tried-and-tested sipping whisky. 

On another note, we also can't remember the last time we've gotten as intrigued about a NAS Mortlach though, so well-played, Diageo! 

   

Kanpai!

 

88 Bamboo Editorial Team