During an intimate dinner on Nantucket, hosted by Tim and Elizabeth Sheeler (founder of Broadlawn Farm), Diageo unveiled the latest iteration of their extremely rare Prima & Ultima collection, composed of exclusive single malt scotch whiskies drawn from their illustrious portfolio. Though this is the multinational beverage company’s third volume in the Prima & Altima series, it’s the inaugural installment to arrive to the US and this particular event offered the first-ever taste stateside of Lagavulin 1993, Talisker 1984, The Singleton of Glen Ord 1987 and Royal Lochnagar 1981. Whisky aficionados will note the age statements here—with each single malt 28 years old and over—but of greater importance is the fact that these liquids were hand-selected by Diageo master blender Dr Craig Wilson and are one-off releases impossible to recreate again.
Prima & Ultima—a name that nods to the fact that some of these releases are the first and only from their respective brands, or the last of a particular cask or year—debuted as an invitation-only program for private clients. The first two iterations launched in Europe and Asia, with each expression comprised of only a few hundred bottles. Immediately, demand was competitive and buzz escalated. Tremendous scarcity remains for these new limited edition releases which will hit the market in October or November through select retailers and the private client team in the US.
“These are some of the rarest whiskies on planet earth,” says Ewan Morgan, head of education and national ambassador for Diageo’s luxury division (a position that requires him to taste and decipher some of the most exclusive releases from the global powerhouse). “But these aren’t just liquids with ages attached to them; these are liquids that have been made by generations of families working in the same distilleries, passing along information.” Morgan himself is a third-generation member of the whisky world.
All four liquids, perhaps expectedly, taste very different and (despite the time they’ve spent in barrels where the influence of wood intensifies) they maintain the signature profiles of their distilleries. Each is bottled at cask strength, as well. The 34-year-old 1987 The Singleton of Glen Ord vintage is limited to 1,047 bottles. A fruit-forward creaminess defines its luscious flavors. In contrast, sea salt, peat smoke and baking spices bring the profile of the Lagavulin 1993 to life; this is owed to time spent aging in an ex-Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry seasoned cask. An undeniable highlight from the collection, this particularly rich 28-year-old liquid is limited to 642 bottles.
Though not yet a household name, the storied Royal Lochnagar distillery produces single malt scotch that’s blended into Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label as a heart note. This extraordinary 1981 release for Prima & Ultima, carrying a 40-year-old age statement and limited to 1,047 bottles, is actually the result of a successful experiment where the brand captured and bottle their “angel’s share,” a whisky term for the percentage of spirit that evaporates during the aging process. It’s the only batch in existence—and with notes of honeycomb and tropical fruits, it’s pleasing on the palate, too.
Our personal favorite (a small bias might be present as the liquid originates in this author’s birth year) is the 37-year-old Talisker 1984, limited to 968 bottles and derived from the brand’s last remaining casks from 1984. There’s a nose of gentle peat smoke that carries over onto the tongue and into one complex coalescence of flavor reminiscent of the carmelized surface of crème brulée. If the Talisker 1984 were looked at as an embodiment of the entire Prima & Ultima collection, it’s surprising, but also satisfying to those interested in collecting whisky and those who simply want to enjoy drinking it.
Images courtesy of Shelby Ito