Diageo’s Prima & Ultima Series Captures A Moment in the History of Single Malt Scotch

Master blender Dr. Craig Wilson had the privileged task of selecting the rare casks—the first and last of their kind—for this third release of Diageo’s Prima & Ultima series. Acquiring one of the 317 full sets will set you back £36,500/$43,400, but for the first time, four of the individual bottles from the collection will be released for sale in the U.S. on their own.

Based on the theme of “A Moment in Time,” the collection comprises eight whiskies with a combined maturation of nearly 300 years. It marks the series debut of Royal Lochnagar, and it’s the first collection to feature both Brora and Port Ellen whiskies: That hasn’t happened since the 2017 Diageo Special Releases. To mark this year’s Platinum Jubilee, the Port Ellen was bottled from the last remaining cask filled in 1980, the year Queen Elizabeth II visited Port Ellen maltings on Islay.

The 2022 Prima & Ultima Series Reviewed

Prima & Ultima Port Ellen 41 year old 1980
96 points, 59.6%, £36,500/set

The oldest Port Ellen ever released is a classic: a mind-blowing dry, salty, coastal dram. Dense peat, almost meaty; smokiness abounds, with driftwood, brine, zested lime, greengages, and new chamois leather notes. Satin smooth, with saltiness and sweet citrus, it’s peppery at full strength though it takes water well. Dilutes to honey, barley, and baked lemon notes, developing a thick creaminess before finishing with banana candy, peat smoke, and chocolate. (555 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima Brora 40 year old 1981
95 points, 44.1%, £36,500/set

This last Brora release from 1981 has a nose of salty seaweed, toffee, ozone, ripe melon, canned pears, muted vanilla, beeswax candles, and well-integrated peppery smoke. Oily and mouth-drawing, with flavors of crème caramel, treacle, pepper, caramelized apple, and toffee, becoming waxy then velvety, with notes of cassis and dark chocolate. Smoke is a constant presence, while those oils lubricate the throat with dark vanilla and nutty flavors. (354 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima Royal Lochnagar 40 year old 1981
94 points, 52.5%, $6,000 (or £36,500/set)

This wraps up a whisky experiment designed to curb the angels’ share. An elegant nose of fresh florals, honeysuckle, linen, fine spices, clotted cream on scones, blossom honey, soft oak, and lemon zest. The balance of sweet fruitiness and Lochnagar’s spiciness is delicious, with flavors of crème caramel, creamy banana, and a final phase of honey, vanilla custard, and white chocolate. This rocks, but gently. (1,047 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima The Singleton of Glen Ord 34 year old 1987
94 points,49.4%, $1,200 (or £36,500/set)

The last Glen Ord stock of this vintage has a concentrated, layered nose of lemon bonbons, gooseberry custard, toffee, vanilla, ripe barley, honey, fruit pastilles, and gentle oak. The taste buds are smothered in the confectionary sweetness of lemon meringue pie, butterscotch, honey, creamed coconut, gingernut biscuits, and toffee apple, plus pepper and lively clove. Water adds richness and deeper citrus flavors. Stunning—like a summer’s evening you wish would never end. (1,047 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima Lagavulin 28 year old 1993
93 points, 50.1%, $3,000 (or £36,500/set)

Drawn from the last 1993 casks, there are notes of chocolate-covered cherries, crystallized ginger, seasoned oak, woodsmoke, salt and pepper potato chips, and black tea on the nose. Plenty of European oak influence on the palate, with rich toffee, dried vine fruit, praline, robust smoke, pepper, and clove, though water coaxes out brighter cherry jam flavors. Spectacularly good, even if it plays many familiar old Lagavulin tunes. (642 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima Talisker 37 year old 1984
93 points, 51.9%, $3,500 (or £36,500/set)

Dry smokiness, salt, pepper, dried chile flakes, seashells, flaky chocolate, and the old oak of empty bourbon barrels baking in the sun. On the palate, sweet concoctions of lemon curd, oranges, and chalky rock candy are bridged by peppery smoke to an oilier phase of nougat, almond, and seasoned oak, ending with creamy chocolate notes. Talisker has released older bottlings, but these are the last of the casks from 1984. (968 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima Mannochmore 31 year old 1990
92 points, 45.1%, £36,500/set

Initially matured in refill casks, this unconventional whisky developed rich chestnut hues after nearly three decades in virgin European oak. An intriguing nose of prune juice, sultana, halva, wood spice, After Eight mints, and caramelized sugar. The palate expresses orange marmalade, chocolate-covered Brazil nuts, cocoa, oak spice, black cherry, and black currant mousse to finish: Refrain from adding water. This is exactly what you want from a series like this. (317 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Prima & Ultima Cragganmore 48 year old 1973
88 points, 44.8%, £36,500/set

Drawn from the oldest casks from the distillery’s steam-driven stills era, the beguiling nose has a honeyed intensity of vanilla cream, Quaker Oats, ripe stone fruit, mango, fresh tropical fruits, ground almond, and candied orange. The tart bitter-orange flavors are mouth-drawing, with peppercorn, walnut, and a jungle of oaky tannins. It’s very dry, with a finish of slightly tough dried fruit, falling short of Diageo’s sublime 1973 original. (351 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

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