The annual circus that is Diageo’s Special Releases always gets people talking. Now into its 16th year, whisky enthusiasts are greeted with a Brora and Port Ellen that both cost the price of a second hand car, a selection of other expressions from Diageo-owned distilleries often at higher ages and therefore eye-watering prices, and a slightly more affordable Caol Ila and Lagavulin. There’s also oft-times something a little bit left-field included in the selection. 2017’s oddball bottling is Collectivum XXVIII, the first time a blended malt has appeared in the Special Releases and composed from whisky taken from each of Diageo’s 28 currently active distilleries.
Diageo’s Special Releases started in 2001 - if you’re looking for some background on them, Billy Abbott from Whisky Exchange has produced a quick guide that’s worth reading. Collectivum as a blend draws from all 28 active Diageo Distilleries – those are: Auchroisk, Benrinnes, Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Dailuane, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, Glen Ord, Glen Spey, Inchgower, Knockando, Lagavulin, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Mortlach, Oban, Roseisla, Royal Lochnager, Strathmill, Talisker and Teaninich <big intake of breath>. Unsurprisingly, the exact proportions of malts from these distilleries is not revealed, so we should expect that some will be more prominent and discernible than others.
Like all of the annual Special Releases, it’s bottled at cask strength - a fairly whacking 57.3% ABV in this instance. The Interwebs indicates that it has been matured (or a least its constituent parts have) in a combination of refill American oak hogsheads, refill European oak butts, ex-bodega European oak and first-fill Bourbon casks.
Nose: Pronounced, fruity and quite elegant. Sweet honey, fudge and chocolate are joined by fresh apples, pears and a smattering of berries. A little time in the glass brings out deeper notes of leather, polish, cask char, spent coffee grounds and tobacco. Adding water really helps open this one up and brings with some earthy and spicy aromas – hay and ginger. There’s an underlying waxiness here – I can only presume that this comes from the Clynelish component of the blend, but there may be other distilleries in the blend that also contribute to that.
Taste: Zingy, sweet, but initially quite boozy. Tart apples, pears and other orchard fruits are still in play alongside a nice burst of citrus, but now cask influence is much more intense – cedarwood, cinnamon, ginger and a fair pang of pepper and chilli. There’s a slight dusty, musty and earthiness here – wet soils, old moist wood, polish, leather and smoke. Water feels almost essential here – not only does it remove the initial aggressive arrival, but it also helps balance the fruits, spices and wood influence. Watered, this is pretty excellent.
Finish: Spicy, nutty, but incredibly short. But wait….dilution has not just helped the palate, it’s also really transformed the finish too, lengthening it and making it more precise – earthy spices and almonds.
Collectivum XXVII has quite a lot going on – as you might expect from its 28 distillery-wide provenance – but once its been treated with the proper respect in terms of resting and dilution it holds up extremely well. All of the Diageo Special Releases are bottled at cask strength – it’s simply part of the brand proposition - but this is one where the high proof does the liquid few favours. Once the ABV is reduced it’s a very well composed whisky offering depth of flavour, complexity and balance. At £150 it’s one of the cheaper Special Releases from 2017, but that in itself is not saying much about a range that mainly appeals to collectors and the ultra-rich. Nevertheless, this is a very solid release and one worth looking out for.