With the next tranche of bottlings due out in January 2010, the six – Blair Athol, Dalwhinnie, Glen Spey, Inchgower, Royal Lochnagar and Talisker – are from the second and third of four batches in total, due to be fully rolled out by the middle of next year.
In February 2009 Diageo initiated what turned out to be a complicated process of selecting a single representative cask from each of its 27 distilleries that have produced whisky (ie, not including the new plant at Roseisle).
A panel of 28 industry experts and distillery managers nosed, tasted and debated all the samples – initially three casks from each distillery – before selecting the cask agreed to be the best.
At the launch event held at London’s Quintessentially Soho club, Diageo’s scotch knowledge and heritage director Nick Morgan said: “There was huge debate over all of these. For a company the [large] size of Diageo, this is about the hardest thing we could do.”
The selected whiskies, added Morgan, had to show: “Evident distillery character, but something different from the bottlings people would normally be accustomed to.” In many cases, unusual cask woods have had significant influence on the resulting whisky.
Thanks to variations in the size of the casks involved, and their different rates of evaporation after filling, the availability of the Managers’ Choice range varies between as little as 200 up to 600 bottles. This rarity value clearly has an impact on the individual prices that collectors and connoisseurs will pay.
Stand-outs on launch night included the 17 year-old Dalwhinnie with its fragrantly malty, lemon curd and lactic smoothness; and the highly drinkable Glen Spey 13 year-old with its bright citrus and soft, elegant, floral style.
Royal Lochnagar, a 14 year-old bottling, had a great rasp of sherry cask on the nose, along with truffles, dates, baked apple and sultana and black pepper. This was expansive on the palate, with a beautiful balance of sweet fruit, burnt toffee notes and a smoky-truffly, marmalade infused finish.
And then there was the top-drawer Talisker, another 14 year bottling, with seaweed and liquorice, exotic pot pourri notes, spiced meats and deep layers of damp earth, brazil nuts and almonds on the nose. Its big, spicy-dark chocolate flavours unrolled slowly across the palate, revealing seaweed and iodine touches, followed by burnt orange and tobacco leaf balanced by a demerara sweetness through the finish. It was superbly weighted, with elegant styling underlying a powerful structure.
Details of the six whiskies tasted are as follows:
Blair Athol, Highland, cask 5989 (bodega sherry European oak) – filled 10/11/95, bottled 18/2/09 @ 54.7% abv. 570 bottles, UK rrp £200
Dalwhinnie, Highland, cask 431 (refill American oak) – filled 5/2/92, bottled 10/3/09 @ 51% abv. 270 bottles, £250
Glen Spey, Speyside, cask 240 (new American oak) – filled 18/2/96, bottled 2/3/09 @ 52% abv. 276 bottles, £200
Inchgower, Speyside, cask 7917 (bodega sherry European oak) – filled 7/10/93, bottled 14/5/09 @ 61.9% abv. 564 bottles, £200
Royal Lochnagar, Highland, cask 837 (bodega sherry European oak) – filled 27/7/94, bottled 26/3/09 @ 59.3% abv. 528 bottles, £250
Talisker, Isle of Skye, cask 9802 (bodega sherry European oak) – filled 7/12/94, bottled 2/3/09 @ 58.6% abv. 582 bottles, £300