The first taste of Diageo’s new £20,000 set of single malt whiskies

The brand owner’s inaugural ‘Prima & Ultima’ collection is curated from special casks of some of its most celebrated distilleries

Words by Colin Hampden-White

Diageo's Prima & Ultima

Prima & Ultima – the first and the last. This new, ultra-premium collection is the first – but, one hopes, not the last – in a new series of releases of incredibly rare Single Malt Scotch Whisky from brand owner Diageo. Each bottling is the first and last of its kind; drawn from a tiny number of highly sought-after casks from such celebrated distilleries as Lagavulin, Caol Ila and Talisker.

The eight single vintage malts chosen for this inaugural series were selected by one of the world’s most respected whisky makers, Dr Jim Beveridge OBE. All are natural cask strength, non-chill filtered, with no added colour, in an effort to allow all the flavours to emerge as if being tasted directly from the cask.

‘Each of the eight whiskies I’ve selected tells a tale of heritage and craftsmanship – I’ve chosen them from distillers of great personal importance to me,’ said Beveridge.

Jim Beveridge
Dr Jim Beveridge OBE selected the eight single vintage malts for this inaugural series

The series will sit separately from Diageo’s annual special release; there will also be releases of Port Ellen and Brora from time to time, separate to this series.

Only 238 sets are available at a suggested retail price of £20,000. A global registration at www.exceptionalwhisky.com opened on 22nd July to register your interest to purchase. The first set of the series will be auctioned for charity as part of a partnership with Sotheby’s, in an online auction from 26th August – 2nd September in London, with all proceeds donated to Diageo’s charity partner WaterAid.

Tasting notes by Becky Paskin

Singleton of Dufftown 1988
30-Year-Old | 48.8% ABV

Bottled: 12.12.19 | Refill American Oak Casks
Number Bottled: 469 | Dufftown, Speyside
From three of the last remaining casks filled in 1988, at a time when grassy, fruity flavours were uncovered from a new, slow-craft technique, this is the first 30 year old whisky released of this type.
Nose: Aromatic and fruity. Up front there’s poached pears studded with clove with vanilla, dried orange peel and fresh lime zest. Then currant-invaded bread and butter pudding slathered in runny custard and topped with crunchy caramel shards. Over time there’s a retro sweetie flashback of Flying Saucers and Sherbet Dip Dabs.
Palate: Surprisingly spicy and bitter, like chilli-flavoured dark chocolate. Tingly across the tongue with some baked apple and vanilla, and a hint of zesty orange. Water tempers the spice and allows the baked fruitiness to emerge.
Finish: Cloves and Szechuan pepper-spiked dark chocolate.
Conclusion: The light Speyside fruity distillate meets spice-driven casks in a jostle for power.

Clynelish 1993
26-Year-Old | 49.8% ABV

Bottled: 9.12.19 | Refill American Oak Casks
Number Bottled: 941 | Brora, Sutherland
One of the first casks filled after the mysterious waxiness of Clynelish was understood and perfected, this particular quality is created by the build-up of gunk in the process and is removed and replaced after cleaning. This 1993 small-batch release is aromatic and intense, with a waxy, creamy, smooth quality that has become the distillery’s hallmark.
Nose: Waxy and farmy, like ash-coated goat’s cheese served alongside waxed red apples. There’s a distinct jamminess – strawberry and apple purée providing some light sweetness amid piles of dusty leather-bound books.
Palate: Fruity and indulgent, that strawberry jam hits the spot. Mouth-coating in that oily way for which Clynelish is renowned, there’s grilled nectarines and figs with creamy goat’s cheese drizzled in honey.
Finish: Ash-covered waxy red apples.
Conclusion: A classically sumptuous rendition of Clynelish.

Mortlach 1994
25-Year-Old | 55.1% ABV

Bottled: 10.12.19 | Cask #2652 – First-fill Pedro Ximenez/Oloroso seasoned European Oak Butt
Number Bottled: 389 | Dufftown, Speyside
One of the last remaining first-fill Pedro Ximenez/Oloroso seasoned oak butt casks from 1994. The result is a 25-year-old with robust character – the deep, rich style of mature Mortlach that earned its name as ‘The Beast of Dufftown’.
Nose: First come the savoury notes: rich, meaty beef stock, walnuts and soft leather. Then almost seamlessly things veer into decadent dark chocolate and morello cherries in rich syrup, with notes of sticky blood orange juice and dusty old sherry.
Palate: Thick and rich, with a softly spiced sherry sweetness. This evolves into bitter leather, some toasted oak, then back to beef, the flavours intensifying as the spice builds.
Finish: Rum-soaked raisins, Christmas pudding and a tot of Sherry.
Conclusion: Bold and beguiling, this is a hearty malt from the Beast of Dufftown.

Cragganmore 1971
48-Year-Old | 43.7% ABV

Bottled: 10.12.19 | Cask #2301 – First-fill ex-sherry butt
Number Bottled: 352 | Ballindalloch, Speyside
This is the last cask of whisky made at Cragganmore on stills which were coal-fired – cask #2301 – before the switch to oil-fired steam heating. From a single first fill ex-Sherry butt.
Nose: Intensely fruity, mouthwatering, with sweet dried apricots soaked in honey, rich orange marmalade (with bits) and juicy sultanas. A touch of milk-chocolate shavings, candied ginger and royal icing.
Palate: Silky, delicate and soft, with more of those decadent honeyed apricots, Brazil nuts, orange pith and zest, plus a touch of cinnamon spice.
Finish: Zesty and fruity with a touch of dry sherry and dark chocolate orange.
Conclusion: From the colour and age you’d imagine this to be overbearingly sweet but not so. This is a marvellous balance of spirit and oak, a true wonder.

Lagavulin 1991
28-Year-Old | 50.1% ABV

Bottled: 10.12.19 | Refill American Oak Casks
Number Bottled: 1013 | Port Ellen, Isle Of Islay
Distilled not long after Lagavulin’s true distillery character was refined and perfected, this whisky comes from a small number of refill American oak hogshead casks filled in 1991. For a 28-year-old whisky, there is a huge depth of flavour.
Nose: Like snacking on sugared almonds beside a log fire, this is vibrant yet refined. Baking spice and vanilla sponge lead to juicy apple cake with a slightly-burnt crust (with even a hint of soggy bottom).
Palate: More cooked apples and buttery shortcrust pastry with vanilla crème, warm caramel sauce and an ashy smoke that gradually builds. A crunchy maltiness provides some density.
Finish: Soot and a McDonald’s Apple Pie fresh from the oven (careful, they’re hot).
Conclusion: Simple, classic, refined. Lagavulin at its best.

Talisker 1988
31-Year-Old | 51.4% ABV

Bottled: 12.12.19 | Refill American Oak Casks
Number Bottled: 721 | Carbost, Isle Of Skye
A 31-year-old Talisker from the last six casks that showed an unusual less peaty character, and were put aside in 1988 for longer maturation. A Talisker full of vitality with sweet, smoky and peppery flavours.
Nose: Initially shy, but given a few moments it opens into toffee apples and salted caramel with a faint hint of salty pebbles and grilled fish.
Palate: More of that indulgent salted caramel, this time encased in creamy milk chocolate. There’s also some charred honeycomb and toasted hazelnut, brought together by a wisp of smoke.
Finish: Delicate bonfire smoke in the salty air.
Conclusion: If Talisker did chocolate bars, it would win all the prizes.

Caol Ila 1984
35-Year-Old | 50.8% ABV

Bottled: 9.12.19 | Cask #5773 – Refill European Oak Butt
Number Bottled: 499 | Port Askaig, Isle Of Islay
A 1984 Caol Ila from a single refill cask (#5773) – the first release of a new style at the time, this particular cask was bought back by Diageo after initially being sold. Mild in aroma, it’s rich in texture with a long smoky-spice finish.
Nose: Both dirty and fragrant, with motor oil, camphor and Deep Heat mingling with barley sugars and caramel chews. Like a mechanic sucking on sweets as they work.
Palate: Candied sweets, mostly lemon bon bons and chewy caramels. The oiliness is less motor and more lemon or olive oil, while a peat fire adds an earthy vegetal smoke.
Finish: Lemon drizzle cake, black treacle and sooty smoke.
Conclusion: Caol Ila’s delicate citrus fruitiness and dirty coastal smoke are captured with immaculate elegance.

Port Ellen 1979
40-Year-Old | 51.2% ABV

Bottled: 11.12.19 | Cask #6422 – Refill European Oak Butt
Number Bottled: 436 | Port Ellen, Isle Of Islay
There are very few casks of Port Ellen left from 1979 and this is one of them. Port Ellen closed in 1983 and these casks represent the distillery at its peak. Expressing a wonderful balance of sweetness, saltiness and smokiness, this is elegant and full of flavour after 40 years.
Nose: A gentle nose, though there’s a faint aroma of dried seaweed and beach pebbles drying in the sun, alongside sweet toffee chews and milk chocolate.
Palate: Deliciously chocolatey before things turn salty and oily, with an undercurrent of caramel, hazelnuts, dried fruits and black pepper spice intertwined with a delicate smoke.
Finish: Dry and gentle but long with flamed orange zest and salted chocolate.
Conclusion: Whisky doesn’t always have to smack you round the face to be a good drop. Sometimes sophistication and elegance speak volumes.