It has become something of an annual tradition for Diageo, the international drinks company, to release a selection of rare and sought-after malts from its vaults; not surprisingly, many of them tend to be older whiskies from the most cherished distilleries. This year, however, the company has come up with an unexpected, highly intriguing collection. As assumed, you get the thirty-year-old bottles of iconic whiskies from Lagavulin, Talisker and Brora, and they’re every bit as wonderful as in years past. But there is also a rare bottle from Caol Ila, just eight years old. The best of the bunch, though, is a twenty-year-old whisky from Dalwhinnie ($179, thewhiskyexchange .com), a Highland distillery that I have perhaps underestimated in the past.
Dalwhinnie is one of Scotland’s highest and coldest distilleries, and its standard offerings tend to be honeyed and subtle, gentler and more polite than its Diageo brethren. But wow, does this version change all that: This whisky is matured in Spanish sherry casks, so there are lots of atypical rich berry notes as well as sweet orange and sugar tones. Look for them and you’ll also find traces of smoke and spices. It’s all very complex, very nuanced and very, very elegant. The trademark oiliness is in there, but there’s surprisingly little woodiness for a whisky this old. Diageo chooses its special releases very carefully; many are snapped up by collectors of more famous names. This less-heralded single malt is a gem that’s well worth seeking out.