With the first Prima & Ultima pack now available in a Sotheby’s online auction for charity (in this case, Diageo’s charity partner WaterAid) until September 1st, I thought I’d weigh in on what the collection actually tastes like and if it’s worth the hefty price tag. If the below reviews sound tempting, keep an eye out for the packs when they go on sale soon as well as individual bottles in the collection that will eventually be released as well outside of the packs themselves.
Here’s a guide to my scoring system. I grade whiskies out of 10 to the nearest half-point:
0-4 – Avoid this bottle
7/7.5 – Good
8/8.5 – Extremely good
9-10 – Absolutely superb
Here are the whiskies, in alphabetical order:
Caol Ila 35 Year Old, 1984, 50.8% ABV, 499 bottles
Description: Caol Ila once sold a single refill butt to a private customer that it then eventually bought back as Diageo looked to find Caol Ila casks from spirit originally distilled in the 80s.
Nose: A seaside mineral tang brings together saffron and black pepper, with gentle fruit reminiscent of pears. Going deeper, the smoke evokes cooked prawns in peanut satay sauce.
Taste: Caol Ila for me almost always combines a pine forest with bacon, and that is certainly the case here, with a healthy additional helping of fennel, banana, and vanilla to smooth it out beautifully.
Overall: A gorgeous balance between bacon and herbal notes. 8.5
Clynelish 26 Year Old, 1995, 49.8% ABV, 941 bottles
Description: A few refill American oak casks were used for this whisky, with the goal of showcasing the Clynelish’s waxy profile.
Nose: Yep, that wax is there alright and it’s lovely. There’s also apples, toffee, and guava. I’d happily take this over a scented candle.
Taste: It’s bursting with flavor. The wax remains, but there’s plenty of leather too and a heavy element of black tea. It’s a dark profile overall, with a wonderfully bitter finish.
Overall: The dark bitter profile is unexpected from the nose, but absolutely delightful. 8
Cragganmore 48 Year Old, 1971, 43.7% ABV, 352 bottles
Description: This is the last cask of Cragganmore, a first fill sherry butt, featuring liquid made under coal-fired stills before the distillery switched to oil-fired steam heating in 1972.
Nose: Tannic and meaty. Smoked ham with plenty of oregano, with rooibos tea representing the tannins. Papaya and melons help round out this big nose.
Taste: Big glorious chaos. Peaches, milk chocolate, oranges and custard are all smashed together, along with a thick custard texture. Hickory-like smoke pervades throughout.
Overall: This is probably one of the best whiskies I’ve ever tried, and the first in my reviews to ever get a 10
Lagavulin 28 Year Old, 1991, 50.1% ABV, 1013 bottles
Description: A group of refill American oak casks were brought together here to showcase the smoky character of Lagavulin.
Nose: Sweet potatoes, hay, basil and honey provide a sweet, robust, but gentle profile while tar and ashtray smoke creeps in.
Taste: A fruity party begins with mandarins and blueberries, descends into tootsie roll-style caramel depths, and continues with a smoke combining bonfires and a hint of antiseptic.
Overall: A summer barbecue of a whisky. 8
Mortlach 25 Year Old, 1994, 55.1% ABV, 389 bottles
Description: A single sherry seasoned cask has been chosen to represent the Beast from Dufftown in the pack.
Nose: Strong chorizo combines nicely with raspberries, but I’m very hesitant about the strong whiff of sulfur coming through (I can’t stand it in whisky).
Taste: Charcuterie and jerk barbecue sauce carries the sweetness and meatiness here, but overall the sulfur is too overwhelming.
Overall: I can feel it’s a classy whisky but the sulfur is too much, unfortunately. 6
Port Ellen 40 Year Old, 1979, 51.2% ABV, 436 bottles
Description: 40 year old Port Ellen from a single European oak butt? I’m excited.
Nose: The characteristic peaches and Port Ellen dirt shines through. In this particular case, it’s also backed up by roasted peanuts, a mineral seaside hint, and a dry sweet meatiness that makes me think of turkey with cranberry sauce.
Taste: The peaches remain, and the smoke turns more into tar and petrichor, though beetroot and coriander account for a new herbal note that wasn’t really coming through on the nose.
Overall: This is Port Ellen doing what it does best, combining peaches and tar-like smoke in all kinds of delightful ways. 9
Singleton 30 Year Old, 1988, 48.8% ABV, 469 bottles
Description: Singleton’s a weird one in that it’s a single malt brand produced by three different distilleries. This particular release comes from the Dufftown distillery, using three refill American oak casks.
Nose: Fresh and zingy while featuring floral notes. A freshly baked lemon tart sits on a window sill with some fragrant roses growing nearby.
Taste: The sweetness really pops out while retaining pleasant softness. Dried apricots and marzipan lead to a lavender-like finish with a touch of rosemary.
Overall: This is soft and playful. 7.5
Talisker 31 Year Old, 1988, 51.4% ABV, 721 bottles
Description: According to the official description, the six refill American oak casks that have been blended together here showed less intense peat and more rounded flavors.
Nose: Apples and cranberries provide an initial hit before herbal elements including green tea, avocado, and freshly cut grass shine through. The bonfire smoke is indeed soft and not intense at all.
Taste: Definitely more intensity. Oak, black tea, brisket and leather are delivered with thick goulash-like consistency.
Overall: Thick, meaty, and leathery. 8.5