As consumer interest in whisky continues to grow around the world, distillers are becoming more experimental. That’s particularly the case in Scotland where producers are releasing more exclusive and limited-edition bottlings than ever to meet demand – and stave off increasing competition from the United States, Canada and Japan.
Global exports of scotch whisky grew to more than £6-billion (about $10-billion) for the first time in 2022, according to figures released by the Scotch Whisky Association. Despite economic uncertainty and serious supply chain issues, that growth came from increased value (up 37 per cent) and volume (up 21 per cent) in terms of the bottles exported. In 2022, Asia-Pacific markets surpassed Europe as the industry’s largest regional market. Exports to Canada continue to grow year over year.
The availability of rare and precious releases from many of Scotland’s top producers in provinces across this country is a major indicator of the value of the Canadian market. These exclusive bottlings are typically single malts, but there are also innovative blends that are being conjured up to pique the interest of collectors.
Diageo’s annual Special Releases collection of scotch whiskies is a prime example. The limited release program was launched in 2001 and has become a strong success with whisky lovers and collectors around the world. Its strength is in the depth of Diageo’s holdings, with more than 30 distilleries and an estimated 10 millions casks of maturing stocks to draw from.
For the 2022 collection, master blender Dr. Craig Wilson showcased some of the best and rarest whiskies available. The eight select whiskies include some of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and represent a dramatic array of flavours that exist within the company’s various properties – from elegantly fruited or smoky styles to powerful and viscous expressions. What’s exciting about the range is how it offers a stylistic overview of Scotch whisky at this period of time.
Having tasted through the range of Diageo’s 2022 exclusive releases, I’ve highlighted four of the selections – alongside a new release from Highland Park, which is owned by Edrington. Each stood out because they offered heightened versions of the distillery in which they were produced. If you wish to invest in a collectable bottle of whisky from Lagavulin, Talisker or another prized producer, you’re not looking for an offbeat spirit from out of left-field. You are looking to have an experience where the pristine aura of the distillery truly resonates in your glass. These five special whiskies manage that admirable feat.
Cardhu 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (United Kingdom), $269.95
A Speyside distillery known for its crowdpleasing and generous style, Cardu has produced a portfolio of popular single malt bottlings while playing a starring role in various Johnnie Walker blends. This 16-year-old whisky was finished in Jamiacan rum casks which enhances its peach, apple and brown sugar aromas and flavours. Its sweet and spicy character is easily enjoyed served neat. Bottled at 58.0 per cent. Available at the above price in Ontario, $280.99 in British Columbia.
Highland Park Cask Strength No. 3 (United Kingdom), $149.95
Located on the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland, Highland Park produced a range of whiskies defined by a rich and fragrant character. Peat smoke plays a significant role during the production as does aging in old sherry barrels, which results in a spirit with a compelling mix of smoky and fruity notes. The distillery’s third instalment of its Cask Strength series leans into the house style, with assertive ash and smoke notes overtop honey, vanilla and tropical fruit. It’s a peat-first, flavourful spirit that should delight fans of the style. A few drops of water, which it needs to my taste, helps to coax out more tropical and sherry notes. Bottled at 64.1 per cent. Available at the above price in Ontario, $136.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $139.99 in Manitoba, $150.29 in New Brunswick.
Lagavulin 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (United Kingdom), $229.95
Lagavulin is the most celebrated producer of peated single malt whisky in Islay. This 12-year-old special edition dials up that smoky character with the selection of casks that deliver an extra-peaty fragrance and flavour. The final blend gains texture and interest from whisky that was finished in new oak barrels, resulting in a flavourful whisky with spice and elegance. A splash of water helps to round out the fruit flavours, while smoke-derived notes leaving a lasting impression. Bottled at 57.3 per cent. Available at the above price in Ontario, $239.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $229.99 in Manitoba, $231 in Quebec.
Oban 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (United Kingdom), $179.95
Based in the western Highlands, Oban is a small but significant distillery, which dates to 1794. This is an impressive expression, with remarkable balance of spice, smoke and fruit notes. The silky and creamy texture is countered by the vibrant peppery spice notes that carry through to the lingering finish. A few drops of water will rein in the peppery aftertaste and add to the overall enjoyment. Bottled at 57.1 per cent. Available at the above price in Ontario, $158.99 in British Columbia, $179.99 in Manitoba, $180.75 in Quebec.
Talisker 11 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (United Kingdom), $189.95
Established in 1830, Talisker is the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye. It’s elegant style of whisky offers a satisfying mix of smoke and spicy notes with a seaweed and salty sea mist component said to come from its maritime location. This special edition is nicely layered with mild peat and pepper notes with a core of toffee, apricot and peach flavours from 11 years aging in bourbon barrels. It’s remarkably fruity and complex, which makes it one of the highlights of the 2022 special releases. Available at the above price in Ontario, $195.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $186.99 in Manitoba, $190.75 in Quebec.