Diageo Manager's Choice Series

I doubt we'll ever see any of these whiskies at K&L, but on top of the Distiller's Edition releases that have been so popular these last few years (i.e. 1991 Lagavulin, Royal Lochnagar, 1993 Oban, etc) Diageo is going to release 27 single barrel, cask strength expressions from all 27 of its distillery holdings - a crazy, but intriguing project that has been drawing both the awe and scorn of whisky fans around the world.  Awe from those collectors that seek out the most interesting and rare of luxury malts.  Scorn from those who have neither the funds (the malts will be priced between $350 and $1000 a bottle) nor the means (most have already been reserved) to taste, let alone acquire a bottle for themselves. 

Whisky Magazine has an article in their current issue that discusses the specs behind each bottle and the process of selecting which barrels to eventually bottle.  The most interesting part for me (as someone who has recently selected a single barrel to bottle for K&L) was when they asked Craig Wallace and Nick Morgan about the difference between their bottlings and say another independent bottler like Gordon & Macphail.  The main difference is that Diageo has access to about 7 million barrels - in essence, every single barrel sitting in every warehouse from all 27 distilleries from which they chose 27.  Those being:

-1997 Cardu, 1998 Glen Elgin, 1996 Linkwood, 1997 Mortlach, 2000 Oban, 1996 Teaninich, 1999 Auchroisk, 1996 Benrinnes, Blair Atholl, 1997 Caol Ila, 1997 Clynelish, 1997 Cragganmore, 1997 Dailuaine, 1992 Dalwhinnie, 1997 Dufftown, 1997 Glen Ord, 1996 Glen Spey, 1995 Glendullan, 1992 Glenkinchie, 1999 Glenlossie, 1993 Inchgower, 1996 Knockando, Lagavulin, 1994 Mannochmore, 1994 Royal Lochnagar, 1996 Strathmill, 1994 Talisker

They also said that age did not play a factor in decision or pricing, which I agree should be the case completely.  I have been an outspoken voice in the lack of consistency between age and quality, with the 2001 Bruichladdich Resurrection and McCarthy Oregon Single Malt being two of my prime examples of outstanding whisky at a young age.  However, while I'm sure that Diageo has access to better single barrels than Murray McDavid, G&M, and Signatory, they obviously didn't taste everything.  The exact quote is "I doubt that many independents could come out with 27 single casks in this way and 27 which were good."

While I will probably never taste these malts, Whisky Magazine did and they did not feel that all 27 were top notch.  Only 4 received the highest possible score and 3 of them are already the top whiskies from the Distiller's Edition series that already have top notch expressions available: Lagavulin, Talisker, and Royal Lochnagar.  The other 23 ranged from terrible to great.  To me, that sounds much like the independent bottlers' catalogs - some absolutely outstanding barrels, and a load of other casks of varying quality.  The difference, however, being that nothing from Murray McDavid or G&M comes in at $500-$1000 a bottle.

I don't really have a strong opinion about the other contraversial topic that was raised in both this article as well as John Hansell's editorial in the latest Malt Advocate concerning the outlandish prices being charged for these collectors editions.  Diageo likens them to electric guitars with some players happily settling for the simple Fender, while others have no problem shelling out for the Les Paul - it's still about making money, they say.  I agree. It's not like they're changing the price of the Lagavulin 16 to $300.  They're not forcing you to pay more for what you already love.  However, I do think they're shooting themselves in the foot because they're basically daring people to look elsewhere for their own product - and that's where we come in along with the independents.  If I can find a barrel of a Diageo whisky that compares in quality, but sell it for under $100 a bottle, then I'm going to pick up the Diageo cast offs and build from their disgruntled base.  Eventually the people will revolt when they feel like they're being priced out or taken advantage of. 

Oh, by the way, the fourth whisky that received a perfect score was the 1997 Clynelish, which should sell for close to $800 a bottle.  If you didn't know, we bought a single cask of 1998 Clynelish that freakin' rocks and you can have it for $49.99.


David Driscoll