Every year, whisky lovers from around the world await the highly anticipated release of Diageo’s Special Release collection. With millions of possible casks to choose from, the Special Release represents the most collectible and interesting whiskies from distilleries that are loved worldwide.
“Diageo has the world’s largest Scotch whisky collection. We’re one of the few companies that can actually do a limited edition annual release from multi distilleries,” explains Katie Nagar, Diageo’s luxury whisky expert.
“The collection launched in 2001, and I think at the time they were trying to gauge the interest of collectible whisky and see if people are really going to take up on it and it just flew off the shelf. We’re now over 20 years in.”
Since that first release, the collection has become a favorite of avid collectors and drinkers around the world. With its latest collection, Elusive Expressions, Diageo is reaching beyond its usual target audience, changing perceptions of what a whisky drinker looks like and who can engage with this release.
“The collection is transitioning in that we want break down barriers around whisky. In particular, single malt Scotch whisky has, for lack of better words, a lot of pretentiousness around it. And it’s a category that people feel intimidated to approach and try,” Nagar says.
Opening up whisky to all
A part of this approach has been collaborating with illustrators Kevin Tong and Ken Taylor to craft cohesive but unique labels for each of the bottles within the collection.
Inspired by mythological and mysterious creatures, the striking colors and eye-catching illustrations help to capture new audiences by reimagining what the world of whisky has to offer.
“By doing collaborations with artists, we’ve managed to create a theme that blends all of them together. And you can see that it is, again, one family of releases.”
“In the past, we had this multi-distillery release, but unless you were a massive whisky nerd, people probably didn’t know what it was or they didn’t see that it was a unified family,” she says. “By doing collaborations with artists, we’ve managed to create a theme that blends all of them together. And you can see that it is, again, one family of releases.”
Nagar explains that this is all in an effort to shake things up and target demographics that are usually ignored when it comes to marketing whisky.
“I love whisky. I definitely probably don’t look like the demographic that would love whisky, and I think that’s a real shame because the reality is that lots of different people love whisky and they just are not marketed that way,” she says,
“So that’s the idea, let’s create something that’s vibrant, that’s different, that shakes it up, that makes it more appealable to the everyday drinker.”
New ways to enjoy
Another way in which the collection is attempting to bridge the gap is an illustrated cocktail book that gives suggestions for new ways for new and old whisky fans to try the spirit.
“At the end of the day, it’s still cast-strength whisky, which is quite intense. It’s a high alcohol content and is sometimes a bit intimidating on the palate for new drinkers. So we’re just trying to get people to actually drink whisky how they like it,” she says.
“Make it how you want to enjoy it, because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do.”
“I do encourage people to try neat to begin with because you want to understand the whisky in its purest form. And then if you find it to be a bit hot and spicy, put an ice cube in it. Put some water in it. Put it in a cocktail.
“Make it how you want to enjoy it, because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do. It’s meant to be social, it’s meant to be fun. So you shouldn’t just be painfully going through a neat service of a spirit if you’re not having a good time with that.”
Mortlach ‘The Lure of the Blood Moon’
Cask: Refill American oak, virgin tawny port and red muscat-seasoned casks
ABV: 57.8 percent
Talisker 11-Year-Old ‘The Lustrous Creature of the Depths’
Region: Isle of Skye
Cask: American oak ex-bourbon first fill, refill and wine-seasoned casks
ABV: 55.1 percent
Lagavulin 12-Year-Old ‘The Flames of the Phoenix’
Cask: Heavily peated American oak refilled and virgin oak casks
ABV: 57.3 percent
The Singleton of Glen Ord 15-Year-Old ‘The Enchantress of the Ruby Solstice’
Cask: Refill American & European oak and wine-seasoned casks
ABV: 54.2 percent
Cardhu 16-Year-Old ‘The Hidden Paradise of Black Rock’
Casks: Refill and re-charred American Oak, Jamaican pot still rum-seasoned casks
ABV: 58 percent
Oban 10-Year-Old ‘The Celestial Blaze’
Region: Coastal Highland
Cask: Refill and new American oak and Amontillado-seasoned casks
ABV: 57.1 percent
Cameron Bridge 26-Year-Old ‘The Knight’s Golden Triumph’
Cask: Refill American oak casks
ABV: 56.2 percent
Clynelish 12-Year-Old ‘The Wild Cat’s Golden Gaze’
Region: Coastal Highland
Cask: Refill American oak and Pedro Ximinez/Oloroso seasoned casks
ABV: 58.5 percent