It is the first contribution to a new series of eight collectible releases of magnificent, incredibly rare single malts launched by Diageo.
Drawn from a tiny number of sought-after stocks from celebrated distilleries across Scotland including Mortlach, Talisker and Lagavulin, each cask-strength bottling is the first and last of its kind and represents distinct pivots in the recent history of Scotch.
To commemorate the remarkable inaugural collection, every single vintage malt was personally selected by one of the world’s – and Diageo’s – most distinguished whisky makers, Dr Jim Beveridge OBE, who says: “Over the past 40 years, I have worked intimately with our distilleries across Scotland and I’ve been fortunate enough to witness great change in the whisky industry. Each of the eight whiskies I’ve selected for Prima & Ultima tells a tale of heritage and craftsmanship, and I’ve chosen them from distillers of great personal importance to me.”
For enthusiasts, this is an opportunity to build a collection of rare, historic Scotch based on Dr Beveridge’s expertise. For the connoisseur, it is a gathering of one-time-only single malts into an anthology of spirited tales as these, along with future releases, will ultimately form the narrative of the evolution of Scotch.
Every single malt is a piece of distilling history, with some of the bottlings drawn from individual casks, while others are from a mere handful. Dr Beveridge marks the moment coal-firing of stills ended in 1971 at Cragganmore by including in the collection the last cask to be filled with whisky made this way at the distillery. The inclusion of three casks of The Singleton of Dufftown from 1988 marks a time when the grassy, fruit flavours were uncovered in The Singleton character from a new slow-craft technique. The complex, rich whisky is the first 30-year-old release of its kind. Prized 1979 whisky from a silenced Port Ellen, stoically maturing for 40 years, also speaks of the end of an era, and is a nod to the spirit of invention that will return when the distillery opens its doors again soon.
During his illustrious career in Diageo, the master blender spent considerable time at Lagavulin learning what gives the Islay malt its purest expression. It is captured here for the first time from a handful of refill American oak hogshead casks in a 28-year-old filled in 1991. Next, a 26-year-old Clynelish from 1993 represents a triumph of his enquiry into how this distillery character reveals its hallmark waxy, creamy smooth quality.
Dr Beveridge’s taste for the exceptional also informs this collection: Six standout casks of Talisker – the last of their kind – with a more rounded and gently peated style to the distillery’s smoky signature have been safeguarded since 1988 for a moment like this. Meanwhile, a 1984 cask of Caol Ila, also known as number #5773, was the first of a new style, and this bottling tells the story of a decade-long chase for this cask’s recovery. Finally, a robust and muscular 25-year-old Mortlach takes its place as one of the last remaining first-fill Pedro Ximénez seasoned oak butt casks from 1994.
The very first full set of the series, one of just 238, will go under the hammer for charity at Sotheby’s online auction from Aug 26 to Sep 2, 2020 in London. Bottle No. 1 of each of the eight bottlings has been signed by Dr Beveridge and all proceeds will be donated to Diageo’s charity partner, WaterAid.
A limited-edition book of personal stories from Dr Beveridge and 20ml samples of each whisky accompany each of the 238 full sets of cask strength bottlings. The first release of the Prima & Ultima collection will be available for purchase at $33,000 from the Diageo Private Client Team in Singapore.
Here’s a closer look at the extraordinary Prima & Ultima series: