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The 2020 Diageo Special Releases Reviewed [SCORES]

The 2020 Diageo Special Releases Reviewed [SCORES]

February 11, 2021 –––––– Whisky Advocate, , , ,

While limited-edition bourbons and ryes like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch get lots of hype these days, scotch lovers aren't left out of the action, as each fall brings the Diageo Special Releases. These whiskies hail from the spirits company's 27 malt distilleries across Scotland, and vary in age, price, and availability from year to year—but there are a few things that never change:

  • The whiskies are bottled at cask strength without chill-filtration or added coloring.

  • The offerings are usually targeted at collectors, but priced within reach of those who want to drink them.

  • There's always a Lagavulin 12 year old.


The 2020 collection, called “Rare by Nature,” was created by Diageo master blender Craig Wilson and features eight single malts matured in a variety of cask types. Some of the bottle counts are known, while Diageo left others deliberately vague. Read on for full reviews.

WHISKY ADVOCATE SCORES FOR THE 2020 DIAGEO SPECIAL RELEASES



Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

93 points, 56.4% ABV, $164

Sweet woodsmoke, peat embers, Jaffa oranges, new leather, sea salt, and cigarette smoke on the nose. Orange carries over onto the robust palate, with quite pronounced smokiness, black pepper, and dark chocolate. Long and peppery in the finish, with lingering smoke and brine. —Gavin Smith


Talisker 8 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Talisker 8 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

93 points, 57.9% ABV, $119

The youngest of the 2020 Special Releases. Warm tar, farmyard, charcuterie, and faint iodine on the fruity nose. Peppery stewed fruits and gentle woodsmoke on the voluptuous palate. Very prickly in the long finish, with fruit-and-nut dark chocolate and chile paste. An intriguing and attractive take on Talisker. —Gavin Smith


Pittyvaich 30 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Pittyvaich 30 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

92 points, 50.8% ABV, $525

The oily nose yields intense tropical fruits, vanilla, nougat, and pine. Rich peach notes on the full palate, with a light sprinkling of white pepper, and hazelnuts dipped in milk chocolate. Spicy in the medium-length finish. Matured in first-fill bourbon barrels. (7,056 bottles) —Gavin Smith


Dalwhinnie 30 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Dalwhinnie 30 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

91 points, 51.9% ABV, $722

Pipe tobacco, white pepper, and a mildly herbal note on the nose, with emerging vanilla, green berries, and ginger. Full-bodied in the mouth, supple and creamy, with orchard fruits and more white pepper. Drying in the very long finish, with chile, light tannins, and dark chocolate. (6,978 bottles) —Gavin Smith


Mortlach 21 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Mortlach 21 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

91 points, 56.9% ABV, $755

Aged in a mix of Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry-seasoned casks, this has a peppery, slightly savory nose, offering boiled sweets and dried fruits. The palate is voluptuous, with sherry, dates, caramel, dark spices, and oak tannins. Licorice and a suggestion of chile in the ultimately drying, lengthy, slightly meaty finish. (7,692 bottles) —Gavin Smith


Cragganmore 20 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Cragganmore 20 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

89 points, 55.8% ABV, $171

Cream, vanilla, and fresh orange juice feature on the early nose, followed by a slightly herbal note. Ultimately sweet and floral, with nougat. Luscious sweet orange notes on the palate, with toasted cereal, before dry wood spices appear. The finish is relatively long and nutty, with a sprinkling of pepper. —Gavin Smith


Cardhu 11 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.Cardhu 11 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

88 points, 56% ABV, $111

The nose is lightly floral, with pears and ripe peaches, followed by red apple with a light sprinkling of white pepper. The palate is creamy and very sweet, with more orchard fruits and a little spice. The medium-length finish is slightly drying, with some lightly spiced oak. —Gavin Smith


The Singleton of Dufftown 17 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020) bottle.The Singleton of Dufftown 17 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2020)

88 points, 55.1% ABV, $145

This is the first release of Singleton of Dufftown to be matured solely in refill American oak hogsheads. The nose is slightly earthy, with developing barley sugar and green fruits. The supple palate offers honey, sweet orange, walnuts, and soft spice. The finish is peppery, with crystallized ginger and a hint of dark chocolate. —Gavin Smith