I mean, where the hell do you begin when sampling such genuine bottles of joy? Do you start with the fact that there are only six people on the call, including Ewan Gunn, Maureen Robinson (Diageo Master Blender) and Charles Maclean? Or do you start with the fact that we are trying four of the right bottles from the highly anticipated second release of Diageo’s Prima and Ultima bottlings? Or the fact you spent a few minutes working out the pro-rata’d cost of the samples from the £23,500 range? Or the fact that Prima & Ultima are latin words for First & Last?
Ah it doesn’t matter which, needless to say it was all phenomenal. Shall we indulge? I think so…
For those who don’t know, Maureen’s experience spans forty years in the whisky industry, she is one of Diageo’s Master Blenders and a joy to listen to. With a heightened knowledge of its Single Malt portfolio, Maureen curated this year’s edition to celebrate some of her most outstanding spirits that beckon a flavour and history rarely encountered.
Maureen said: “This is a selection of very special Single Malts – some that have never before seen the light of day and others that are the fleeting and final examples of their kind. Each bottling shares a glimpse into the history of Scotch and one that I am honoured to have witnessed in person. I remember choosing to hold back the cask filled at Auchroisk knowing it would be special for the future and the anticipation and excitement of the maturation trials we undertook with Linkwood and The Singleton, now realised in these releases. Some of these casks I helped to lay down, and have taken great pleasure in tending to them since, so I chose them with rich memories in mind. Each has its own unique style, which you can now explore for yourself”.
Honouring the sunrise and sunset in whisky history of some of Scotland’s most prestigious distilleries, this year’s gathering represents a wide breadth of single vintage malts from Diageo. This year includes new appearances from ghost distillery Convalmore, a piece of history from Auchroisk, and a very rare Lagavulin.
Each full set of eight Prima & Ultima single vintage malts is accompanied by eight unique glasses, each engraved with a bespoke design that reflects the story behind each cask, created in collaboration with two glass artists. Individual 20ml samples of each whisky are also included with a booklet of personal stories told by Maureen.
Only 376 full sets of the Prima & Ultima Second Release are available for purchase, directly through appointed Prima & Ultima agents, at a recommended retail selling price of GBP23,500 (including tax and duty) in the UK. An online registration page is now open at www.theprimaandultimacollection.com for whisky collectors across the globe to register their interest.
Once registration ends on the 23rd August 2021, there will be an opportunity to own the elusive set #1 of the second release of Prima & Ultima, each signed personally by Maureen Robinson when it goes under the hammer in an online auction at Sotheby’s from 15th – 24th September 2021 in Hong Kong, with all proceeds of the sale going to leading humanitarian charity, CARE International. Funds from the auction will support CARE International UK’s work to empower women and their communities around the world through encouraging entrepreneurship, building livelihoods, improving access to education and healthcare, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When speaking with Maureen, we gleaned that she samples the casks every two to three years to ascertain when the time is right for the wider team to sample… Robinson also explained that finishes and finish lengths are not planned, the length of the finish is determined when sampling and some are left longer if they are heavier whiskies as they will take the second cask influence slower whereas the lighter whiskies need more monitoring as they will take the character of their finishing cask faster but could be overwhelmed by the second vessel if it has a very potent or dominant flavour profile. Interestingly, if the finish has not worked after a number of years they simply blend it away instead of using it as a single malt… adding character elsewhere instead of putting out a single malt for the sake of it.
On to the tasting… we tried four of the eight bottlings, each wonderful and wonderfully different in their own right…
The Singleton of Glendullan 1992
28-Year-Old | 60.1% ABV
Bottled: 19.01.21 | Double Matured in 2 Madeira Casks for 14 Years
Number Bottled: 420 | Glendullan, Speyside
One of the most extraordinary maturations from The Singleton, first kept in refill wood, before double-maturing in two small ex-Madeira barriques for another fourteen years. A part of a one-off trial at Singleton, a sweet richness complements the light and elegant distillery character.
My notes were all about those baked spicy apple notes, white pepper and caramel notes, for the ABV it is so easy drinking – if it were not so exclusive, expensive and extremely special I would suggest it is almost dangerously easy drinking…
47-Year-Old | 48.7% ABV
Bottled: 26.01.2121 | Single Refill European Oak Butt
Number Bottled: 382 | Mulben, Speyside
The very first cask to EVER be filled at Auchroisk when distilling began on 15th January 1974, this cask has been kept back for many years for its character and its rarity. Remarkably rich and spicy, with fruity aromas and smooth flavours.
This is the oldest in the collection, smooth and sweet, oldest ever bottle from the distillery, WOW to try the first cask from an old distillery is literally unheard of so this is a mega treat in itself.
39-Year-Old | 52.9% ABV
Bottled: 25.01.21 | 4 new American Oak casks, PX Oloroso seasoned
Number Bottled: 701 | Elgin | Speyside
Part of the first pioneering trial exploring different maturation processes at the distillery, this triple-rare expression gives it an incredible depth. The rich flavours and aromas of a PX/Oloroso-seasoned cask are deeply integrated with the creamy texture and spicy, toasted characters brought by the new American Oak.
A small batch release, initially filled into refill casks and subsequently filled into four new PX casks for a quarter of a century… rare to finish for that length of time… aromatic, floral, like drinking boozy Ribena, rum & raisin ice cream, so so smooth, silky, luxurious. Incredibly long secondary maturation, the flavours that have developed have intertwined, balanced, facilitated more of a mysterious flavour and aroma evolution but still balanced with that distinctive distillery character.
The Lagavulin 1992, matured entirely on Islay in freshly charred hogsheads to see if the overly active casks would subdue the smoke – and it did ! Still has the oily, Laga smoky flavour but the smoothness, sweetness and vanilla is coming through too. Layered smoke, coming at you one after another.
36-Year-Old | 48.6% ABV
Bottled: 25.01.21 | 3 Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Number Bottled: 647 | Dufftown, Speyside
Taken from three American Oak hogsheads filled on Thursday 22nd November 1984, a matter of months before the distillery closed forever. A fine farewell, very little of the malt remains, which harnesses the golden, smooth character and rich fruitiness of Convalmore.
A ghost distillery, so rare to get to try anything from this stunning old distillery… this is the very last of the 1984 stock left at the distillery which has barely any stock left regardless.
Maureen was in and around the distillery and industry at this time growing her nosing panel prowess, developing her language for nosing and tasting whilst winning tasting panel awards for her brilliance. This was a time when each company had different ways of communicating flavour, classifying whiskies and it was not until much later that a vaguely harmonised language was formed cross-industry.
For me this one had notes of marzipan, fresh tropical fruits, melons, grapes on the nose, the palate so tropical, coconuts, oily waxiness, so fruity, so bold, so incredible. So fresh, vibrant, lots going on – has a bit of everything going on.
40-Year-Old | 49.4% ABV
Bottled: 18.01.21 | 3 Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Number Bottled: 505 | Brora, Highlands
The very last of the 1980 casks, distilled during the golden age of peated Brora. Stored separately for safe keeping, reunited for this final 1980 release. A fitting tribute to a great legacy aged in American Oak for 40 years, its fragrant smokiness lingers in the long, warming finish.
This distillery was closed in 1983 and reawakened this year and I’m so glad… if they get back to making stunning whisky like this… will take 40 years obviously and I will probably be long gone but man alive this is special. Distilled during the golden age of more heavily peated Brora whiskies; three casks matured separately then brought together for this release.
The nose was not too heavily peated, quite fruity, big on the watermelon and sweetness, leather notes, honeycomb, salty, the pallet opens up the peated note with burnt caramel, quite dry, very smooth.
Peating at the same level of Talisker at Glen Ord but still one of the most highly peated whiskies int he Highlands at the time though it does not dominate, it comes, goes, comes back but does not overpower. Lingers like a welcome houseguest, not the uncle you long to say goodbye to.
What. An. Afternoon.
Thanks to Ewan, Maureen, Diageo and their teams for including me and inviting me to such an incredible tasting, this will live long in the memory.