Diageo Special Releases: A brief history of collection and releases

It is the time of the year again where the whisky world is anticipating the launch of the Special Releases collection by Diageo. For decades, Diageo has released a collection of very rare, special, unusual and very limited whiskies in the autumn, often from distilleries which have closed their doors many years ago. Praised by experts all over the world for outstanding quality and deeply rooted in the connoisseur’s mind, it is time to look back at how it all started. This article will give an insight into the Special Releases and will close with an overview of all whiskies released so far in the series.

The early years – The 1980s and 1990s

During the late 1980s, United Distillers launched a series of benchmark expressions of single malt Scotch whiskies from six distilleries across Scotland. The distilleries chosen by UD represented the different styles and regions of Scotland to highlight the variation of flavours available. They were Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Oban, Talisker and Lagavulin. Today, the collection is still well known under the name “Classic Malts of Scotland”. The programme was extended in recent years with other distilleries, and today all of Diageo’s distilleries form “The Classic Malts Selection”.

In 1995, with interest rising in single malt whiskies, and probably also due to the success of the Classic Malts of Scotland, came the Rare Malts. The Rare Malts Collection was designed to showcase more obscure distilleries and the impressive portfolio of aged and maturing casks from United Distillers. All bottlings came with rather simple packaging, a standard bottle and a carton. All releases came at cask strength, and were chosen to address the rising demand by whisky enthusiasts for special and unusual whiskies. The whiskies released were predominantly from closed distilleries, were distilled in the late-60s, 70s or 80s, and ranged in age from 18 to 35 years. Interestingly, both the youngest and oldest bottlings were from Millburn distillery.

Each of the first four releases came from closed distilleries: Dallas Dhu 1970, St Magdalene 1971, Millburn 1975 and Brora 1974. Many of the later releases came from equally spectacular distilleries such as Port Ellen, Glenlochy, Coleburn, Glenury Royal, Rosebank, North Port, Glen Albyn, Convalmore and Glen Mhor. From a connoisseur perspective, the range offered an unparalleled look into an important and historic era of single malt Scotch whisky production. Over the years, the Rare Malts collection has gained a legendary reputation and some of the very rare bottlings, if you can still find them, regularly command high prices at auctions.

The beginning of the Special Releases collection

A rising demand for unusual, distinctive, special, and, frankly, unrepeatable cask-strength whiskies from the Classic Malts of Scotland range required a new platform. None of the six Classic Malts were ever available in the original Rare Malts series. To satisfy this, the first Special Releases hit the market in 2001 – the last set of Rare Malts was released in 2005. A 28-year-old Talisker at 43.3% ABV marked the start of this new programme. Only 100 bottles were available and it was released through Oddbins. They sold out within hours, even at a price of £495 per bottle. A 22-year-old Port Ellen and a 25-year-old Talisker followed very quickly and sold out too. A single bottle of this first Port Ellen release, then priced £110, can nowadays be found at prices of up to £4000.

In 2002, Diageo launched seven new releases, with a 20-year-old Talisker, the second release of Port Ellen, and new additions of a 30-year-old Brora, and a 12- and 25-year-old Lagavulin. Until today, this pattern has not changed and every year we see Port Ellen, Brora and a 12-year-old Lagavulin released in the collection. Port Ellen and Brora became the world’s pinnacle of single malt Scotch whisky by connoisseurs, collectors and, for a few years now, investors.

With the massive boom in Scotch whisky in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, we saw a few experiments in the Special Releases range. In 2008, three Linkwood whiskies were part of the range: ex-port, ex-rum and ex-sweet red wine, all three bottled in an unusual 50cl format. They are still available to buy today, so we can conclude that this experiment failed or, to be more optimistic, that the market was not ready yet. It took until 2011 before the first single grain Scotch whisky, from the now-closed Port Dundas distillery, had its debut. Only three years later, in 2014, Diageo surprised the whisky world with a no-age-statement whisky from Clynelish. A rather tasty bottling, which, in my opinion, was topped by the next Clynelish no-age-statement Special Release in 2015. Many think Clynelish was the beginning of no-age-statement whiskies in the collection, but the very first was Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve in the 2007 collection, also the first not released at cask strength.

This year, in 2017, the world is awaiting the next step from the Special Releases programme: for the first time a blended malt Scotch whisky will be released. It’s called Collectivum XXVIII and is a blend of all 28 Diageo malt whisky distilleries that are still in production.

Final thoughts

Over the years of the Special Releases programme’s existence we have seen many developments. In the early years, the malt whisky enthusiast was able to buy whisky of impeccable quality for very good prices. From today’s perspective, the releases were too cheap for too long for what they were, which was already the case in the Rare Malts collection. Some whisky bottles ended up in collections but most of them were put towards a good cause: consumption.

The market changed and so did the consumer. It was not enough to buy one bottle for consumption with friends or family to create long lasting memories, the consumer wanted more. The producer saw that the product offered to the consumer changed hands on the secondary market within hours or days for two, three or four times the original price, a very clear sign that some consumers were willing to pay much more. The producer can’t have been amused by this scenario. It did not take long, and price adjustments took place to reflect the true market value. Since that time, the excitement of the new releases comes with an annual moan about prices being too high and them not having the true value for quality, etc. So, who is it we have to blame? Producer, investor, speculator, flipper, collector, retailer, or the whole industry for being greedy? I leave that decision to you, but for me it is a mix of all of the above.

All in all, I conclude that despite how much people moan about the programme, whether about pricing, the releases themselves or the innovations, the programme is still high in demand by whisky connoisseurs all over the world.

Special Releases bottlings to date

Below is an overview of all releases to date with recommended retail price at time of release.

Special Releases in 2001

  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 28 years old, distilled 1973, 43.3% ABV,  £495
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 22 years old,  distilled 1978, 56.2% ABV, £110
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled 1975, 59.9% ABV, £95
Diageo Special Releases 2001 range
Diageo Special Releases 2001 range

Special Releases in 2002

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -,  52.4% ABV, £150
  • Dalwhinnie, Highland 36 years old, distilled 1966, 47.2% ABV, £300
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 58.0% ABV, £40
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 25 years old, distilled-, 57.2% ABV, £125
  • Oban, Western Highland, 32 years old, distilled 1969,  55.1% ABV, £175
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 24 years old, distilled 1978, 59.35% ABV, £110
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 20 years old, distilled 1981, 62.0% ABV, £80
Diageo Special Releases 2002 range
Diageo Special Releases 2002 range

Special Releases in 2003

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled-, 55.8% ABV, £175
  • Cragganmore, Speyside, 29 years old, distilled 1973, 52.5% ABV, £140
  • Dalwhinnie, Central Highland, 29 years old, distilled 1973, 57.8% ABV,  £150
  • Glen Elgin, Speyside, 32 years old, distilled 1971, 42.3% ABV, £310
  • Glen Ord, Northern Highland, 28 years old, distilled 1975, 58.3% ABV,  £180
  • Glenury Royal, Eastern Highland, 50 years old, distilled 1953, 42.8% ABV, £950
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 57.8% ABV, £40
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 24 years old, distilled 1979, 57.3% ABV, £110
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 20 years old, distilled 1981, 58.8% ABV, £90
Diageo Special Releases 2003 range
Diageo Special Releases 2003 range

Special Releases in 2004

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 56.6% ABV, £175
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 25 years old, distilled 1978, 59.4% ABV, £100
  • Cragganmore, Speyside, 10 years old, distilled 1993, 60.1% ABV, £40
  • Glen Ord, Northern Highland, 25 years old, distilled 1978, 58.3% ABV, £100
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 58.2% ABV, £40
  • Linlithgow, Lowland, 30 years old, distilled 1973, 59.6% ABV, £250
  • Mortlach, Speyside, 32 years old, distilled 1971, 50.1% ABV, £280
  • Oban, Western Highland, 20 years old, distilled 1984, 57.9% ABV, £150
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 25 years old, distilled 1978, 56.2% ABV, £110
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled -, 57.8% ABV, £105
Diageo Special Releases 2004 range
Diageo Special Releases 2004 range

Special Releases in 2005

  • Brechin, Highland, 28 years old, distilled 1977, 53.3% ABV, £125
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 56.3% ABV, £175
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 25 years old, distilled 1979, 58.4% ABV, £100
  • Cardhu*#, Speyside, 22 years old, distilled -, 57.8% ABV, €140
  • Convalmore, Speyside, 28 years old, distilled 1977, 57.9% ABV, £95
  • Glen Ord, Northern Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 58.7% ABV, £150
  • Glenury Royal, Eastern Highland, 36 years old, distilled 1968, 51.2% ABV,  £495
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 57.7% ABV, £40
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 25 years old, distilled 1979, 57.4% ABV, £120
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled -, 57.2% ABV, £105

*Not at cask strength
#Available in France and Spain only

Diageo Special Releases 2005 range
Diageo Special Releases 2005 range

Special Releases in 2006

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 55.7% ABV, £175
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 8 years old, distilled 1997, 59.8% ABV, £32
  • Cragganmore, Speyside, 17 years old, distilled 1988, 55.5% ABV, £55
  • Dalwhinnie, Central Highland, 20 years old, distilled 1986, 56.8% ABV, £90
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 57.5% ABV, £40
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 30 years old, distilled 1976, 52.6% ABV, £210
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 27 years old, distilled 1978, 54.2% ABV, £125
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled -, 56.9% ABV, £105
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 30 years old, distilled -, 51.9% ABV, £160
Diageo Special Releases 2006 range
Diageo Special Releases 2006 range

Special Releases in 2007

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 55.7% ABV, £190
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 8 years old, distilled 1998, 64.9% ABV, £33
  • Glenkinchie, Lowland, 20 years old, distilled -, 58.4% ABV, £70
  • Glenury Royal, Eastern Highland, 36 years old, distilled 1970, 57.9% ABV, £500
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 56.4% ABV, £42
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 21 years old, distilled 1985, 56.5% ABV, £110
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 28 years old, distilled 1979, 53.8% ABV, £140
  • Rosebank, Lowland, 25 years old, distilled 1981, 61.4% ABV, £130
  • Royal Lochnagar*, Eastern Highland, no age statement, distilled -, 43.0% ABV, £125
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled -, 58.1% ABV, £120
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 30 years old, distilled -, 50.7% ABV, £180

*Not at cask strength

Diageo Special Releases 2007 range
Diageo Special Releases 2007 range

Special Releases in 2008

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 56.3% ABV, £175
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 8 years old, distilled 1999, 64.2% ABV, £43
  • Glen Elgin, Speyside, 16 years old, distilled 1991, 58.5% ABV, £52
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 56.4% ABV, £50
  • Linkwood ex-Port, Speyside, 26 years old, distilled -, 56.9% ABV, £130
  • Linkwood ex-Rum, Speyside, 26 years old, distilled -, 54.5% ABV, £130
  • Linkwood ex-Sweet Red Wine, Speyside, 26 years old, distilled -, 55.5% ABV, £130
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 28 years old, distilled 1978, 55.3% ABV, £180
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled -, 54.2% ABV, £132
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 30 years old, distilled -, 49.5% ABV, £205

Special Releases in 2009

  • Benrinnes, Speyside, 23 years old, distilled 1985, 58.8% ABV, £150
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 53.2% ABV, £230
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 10 years old, distilled 1998, 65.8% ABV, £43
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 57.9% ABV, £57
  • Mannochmore, Speyside, 18 years old, distilled 1990, 54.9% ABV, £105
  • Pittyvaich, Speyside, 20 years old, distilled 1989, 57.5% ABV, £115
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 30 years old, distilled 1979, 57.7% ABV, £200
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 25 years old, distilled -, 54.8% ABV, £150
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 30 years old, distilled -, 53.1% ABV, £215
Diageo Special Releases 2009 range
Diageo Special Releases 2009 range

Special Releases in 2010

  • Auchroisk, Speyside, 20 years old, distilled -, 58.1% ABV, £115
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 30 years old, distilled -, 54.3% ABV, £280
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 12 years old, distilled 1997, 57.6% ABV, £52
  • Cragganmore, Speyside, 21 years old, distilled 1989, 56.0% ABV, £135
  • Glenkinchie, Lowland, 20 years old, distilled 1990, 55.1% ABV, £125
  • Glen Spey, Speyside, 21 years old, distilled 1988, 50.4% ABV, £120
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 56.5% ABV, £59
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 31 years old, distilled 1978, 54.6% ABV, £250
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 30 years old, distilled -, 57.3% ABV, £230
Diageo Special Releases 2010 range
Diageo Special Releases 2010 range

Special Releases in 2011

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 32 years old, distilled -, 54.7% ABV, £300
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 12 years old, distilled 1998, 64.0% ABV, £55
  • Glenury Royal^, Eastern Highland, 40 years old, distilled 1970, 59.4% ABV, £525
  • Knockando*, Speyside, 25 years old, distilled 1985, 43.0% ABV, £135
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 57.5% ABV, £63
  • Port Dundas, Lowland, 20 years old, distilled 1990, 57.4% ABV, £110
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 32 years old, distilled 1978, 53.9% ABV, £300
  • Rosebank, Lowland, 21 years old, distilled 1989, 53.8% ABV, £160

*Not at cask strength
^Released early in 2012

Diageo Special Releases 2011 range
Diageo Special Releases 2011 range (Glenury Royal missing)

Special Releases in 2012

  • Auchroisk, Speyside, 30 years old, distilled 1981, 54.7% ABV, £230
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 35 years old, distilled 1976-77, 48.1% ABV, £400
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 14 years old, distilled 1997, 59.3% ABV, £66
  • Dalwhinnie, Central Highlands, 25 years old, distilled 1987, 52.1% ABV, £185
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 56.1% ABV, £71
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 21 years old, distilled 1991, 52.0% ABV, £350
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 32 years old, distilled 1979, 52.5% ABV, £600
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 35 years old, distilled 1977, 54.6% ABV, £525
Diageo Special Releases 2012 range
Diageo Special Releases 2012 range

Special Releases in 2013

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 35 years old, distilled 1977, 49.9% ABV, £750
  • Caol Ila, Islay, no age statement, distilled -, 59.6% ABV, £70
  • Cardhu, Speyside, 21 years old, distilled 1991, 54.2% ABV, £160
  • Convalmore, Speyside, 36 years old, distilled 1977, 58.0% ABV, £600
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 55.1% ABV, £80
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 37 years old, distilled 1976, 51.0% ABV, £1,950
  • Oban, Western Highland, 21 years old, distilled -, 58.5% ABV, £225
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 34 years old, distilled 1978, 55.0% ABV, £1,500
  • Singleton of Dufftown, Speyside, 28 years old, distilled 1985, 55.0% ABV, £235
  • Talisker, Isle of Skye, 27 years old, distilled 1985, 56.1% ABV, £475
Diageo Special Releases 2013 range
Diageo Special Releases 2013 range

Special Releases in 2014

  • Benrinnes, Speyside, 21 years old, distilled 1992, 57.1% ABV, £240
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 35 years old, distilled 1978, 48.9% ABV, £1,200
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 15 years old, distilled 1998, 61.5% ABV, £75
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 30 years old, distilled 1983, 56.7% ABV, £425
  • Clynelish, Coastal Highland, no age statement, distilled -, 58.9% ABV, £500
  • Cragganmore, Speyside, 25 years old, distilled 1988, 58.5% ABV, £299
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 56.2% ABV, £80
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 35 years old, distilled 1978, 58.6% ABV, £2,200
  • Rosebank, Lowland, 21 years old, distilled 1992, 54.6% ABV, £300
  • Singleton of Glendullan, Speyside, 38 years old, distilled 1975, 60.8% ABV, £750
  • Strathmill, Speyside, 25 years old, distilled 1988, 58.5% ABV, £275
Diageo Special Releases 2014 range
Diageo Special Releases 2014 range

Special Releases in 2015

  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 37 years old, distilled 1977, 50.4% ABV, £1,300
  • Caledonian, Lowland, 40 years old, distilled 1974, 53.3% ABV, £750
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 17 years old, distilled 1997, 55.9% ABV, £90
  • Clynelish, Coastal Highland, no age statement, distilled –, 56.1% ABV, £550
  • Dailuaine, Speyside, 34 years old, distilled 1980, 50.9% ABV, £380
  • Dalwhinnie, Central Highlands, 25 years old, distilled 1989, 48.8% ABV, £325
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled –, 48.8% ABV, £80
  • Pittyvaich, Speyside, 25 years old, distilled 1989, 49.9% ABV, £250
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 32 years old, distilled 1983, 53.9% ABV, £2,400
Diageo Special Releases 2015 range
Diageo Special Releases 2015 range

Special Releases in 2016

  • Auchroisk, Speyside, 25 years old, distilled 1990, 51.2% ABV, £280
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 38 years old, distilled 1977, 48.6% ABV, £1,450
  • Cambus, Lowland, 40 years old, distilled 1975, 52.7% ABV, £750
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 15 years old, distilled 2000, 61.5% ABV, £90
  • Cragganmore, Speyside, no age statement, distilled –, 55.7% ABV, £400
  • Glenkinchie, Lowland, 25 years old, distilled 1991, 57.2% ABV, £300
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled –, 57.7% ABV, £80
  • Linkwood, Speyside, 37 years old, distilled 1978, 50.3% ABV, £600
  • Mannochmore, Speyside, 25 years old, distilled 1990, 53.4% ABV, £250
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 37 years old, distilled 1979, 55.2% ABV, £2,500
Diageo Special Releases 2016 range
Diageo Special Releases 2016 range

Special Releases in 2017

  • Blair Athol, Highland, 23 years old, distilled 1993, 58.4% ABV, £400
  • Brora, Coastal Highland, 34 years old, distilled 1982, 51.9% ABV, £1,450
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 18 years old, distilled -, 59.8% ABV, £100
  • Convalmore, Speyside, 32 years old, distilled 1984, 48.2% ABV, £1,200
  • Collectivum XXVIII, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Highland, Island, Islay, Lowland and Speyside, no age statement, 57.3% ABV, £150
  • Glen Elgin, Speyside, 18 years old, distilled 1998, 54.8% ABV, £300
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled -, 56.5% ABV, £90
  • Port Dundas, Lowland, 52 years old, distilled 1964, 44.6% ABV, £775
  • Port Ellen, Islay, 37 years old, distilled 1979, 51.0% ABV, £2,625
  • Teaninich, Speyside, 17 years old, distilled 1999, 55.9% ABV, £275
Diageo Special Releases 2017 range
Diageo Special Releases 2017 range

Special Releases in 2018

  • Carsebridge, Lowlands, 48 years old, distilled 1970, 43.2% ABV, £750
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 35 years old, distilled 1982, 58.1% ABV, £675
  • Caol Ila, Islay, 15 years old, distilled 2002, 59.1% ABV, £100
  • Inchgower, Speyside, 27 years old, distilled 1990, 55.3% ABV, £300
  • Oban, Highland, 21 years old, distilled 1996, 57.9% ABV, £450
  • Pittyvaich, Speyside, 28 years old, distilled 1989, 52.1% ABV, £330
  • Lagavulin, Islay, 12 years old, distilled 2005, 57.8% ABV, £110
  • The Sigleton of Glen Ord , Highland, 14 years old, distilled 2002, 57.6% ABV, £100
  • Talisker, Islands, 8 years old, distilled 2009, 59.4% ABV, £70
  • Cladach, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Highland, Island, Islay and Speyside, no age statement, distilled -, 57.1% ABV, £155
Diageo Special Releases 2018 lineup
Diageo Special Releases 2018 range

 

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