June 2008

Diageo's Classic Malts Selection is a tour of Scotland in a glass

By: Anthony Dias Blue

Casks rest patiently in the Glenkinchie warehouse.

In 1988, six single malt distilleries were named as The Classic Malts. The idea was to select a top-quality representative example of malt from the different production regions of Scotland. Dalwhinnie would carry the banner for the Highlands, while Cragganmore represented Speyside. Glenkinchie was selected the standard bearer for the Lowlands, and Oban waved the flag for the western coastal flank of the Highlands. Talisker represented the island of Orkney, and Laguvulin displayed the unusual character of Islay.

In recent times Diageo, which owns twenty-seven malt distilleries in Scotland (a twenty-eighth at Roseisle is currently under construction) has, in recent years, added seven other labels to the collection, now named the Classic Malts Selection. Three of these, unfortunately, are not currently available in the U.S. market: Cardhu, Royal Lochnagar and (my favorite) Glen Elgin. The other new additions are Caol Ila (Islay), Clynelish (Northern Highlands, also incorporating the legendary Brora distillery), Knockando (Speyside) and, most recently, The Singleton of Dufftown (an entry-level malt from Speyside).

Tasting through these beautifully-made whiskies, as I did on a recent visit to Scotland, constitutes a brilliant, variegated tour of the complexities and flavors that make Scotch whisky the most remarkable of distilled spirits. Here are my tasting notes:

Caol Ila 12 Year Old ($50)
Sweet vanilla, spicy, smooth, elegant and classic with peat and brine; rich and balanced. 92 points

Caol Ila 18 Year Old ($65)
Smoky and spicy with fleshy, gamey, herbal flavors; rich, dry and briny with toasty oak and long, rich, complex flavors. 94

Clynelish (Brora) 30 Year Old Rare Edition ($400)
Dark amber and assertively peaty with smoke, spice and notes of seaweed and brine with flesh, spice and mustard, waxy, oily and masculine. 95

Cragganmore 12 Year Old ($50)
Amazingly complex nose of dried apricots, honey, grass and smoke; creamy, floral and bursting with sweet toffee and peat; long and luscious, elegant and superb. 93

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old ($65)
Toasty, aromatic and silky smooth with sweet heather, lovely and long with a peaty finish. 92

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old ($50)
Smoky nose; toasty and rich with sweet oak and ripe flavors; fleshy, dense and complex with lovely notes of tobacco and honey. 93

Lagavulin 16 Year Old ($90)
The funkiest of all malts; a smoke bomb with stunning richness and silky texture; seamless, intense and showing strong marine influence with notes of brine, iodine and salt; peaty, silky and quite amazing. 94

Oban 1992 Distiller’s Edition, Double Matured ($80)
Smooth, rich and toasty with honey, caramel, treacle and edgy dried fruits; light peat, vanilla and spice, really complex and very supple. 95

Oban 18 Year Old (not yet priced for the U.S. market)
Smoky and grassy nose; smooth fruit cake and spice with vanilla and creamy, ripe and intense flavors; nutty, elegant and superb. 94

Talisker 10 Year Old ($50)
Smoky nose, intense, toasty, spicy with mellow fruit and a slight saltiness; above all, peppery. 92

Talisker 18 Year Old ($65)
Smoky and rich aroma; silky, toasty and lush with spice, caramel, vanilla, oak and complex notes of peat, roasted meat, leather and pepper; smooth, rich and masculine. 93

Talisker 30 Year Old Rare Edition ($350)
Smoky, rich and intense with toasted oak, dried fruits and notes of caramel, pepper spice and lovely vanilla; roasted grain, sweet flavors and amazing, complex notes with mellow peat and flesh. 96

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