Making history: introducing the fourth release of Prima & Ultima - the ultimate whisky library of firsts and lasts

Diageo’s latest hand-curated collection of rare and collectable vintage single malt scotch whiskies each tells a story of a first and a last of its kind, including the oldest ever single malt from Talisker Distillery

To truly understand the significance of a superlative rare collection of Scotch whiskies, looking at a curation of one-off masterpieces in an art gallery, or a set of first edition books in a library, is a good place to start.

This is why, for the launch of Diageo’s fourth Prima & Ultima collection, the grand and storied surrounds of the Royal Academy of Arts provided a suitably spectacular backdrop for the reveal of the eight rare and collectable vintage single malt scotch whiskies curated in the latest anthology, each of which is a first and a last of its kind.

Indeed, to set the scene for the tasting dinner, guests were first welcomed in an opulently gilded private room, where the individual bottles of whisky were displayed on white marble plinths, as art objects themselves, before we were given a privileged peek in the Royal Academy’s illustrious library, which acquired its first book in 1769.

Here, the original volume two (P-Z) of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language published in 1755, and Robert Adam’s meticulously illustrated Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (now Split, Croatia) published in 1764 were highlighted as extremely rare editions of incredible historical importance.

Continuing the theme of historical importance as we began the tasting, what makes the fourth Prima & Ultima collection particularly unique is that each of the eight remarkable bottlings holds a story of a first and a last creation – from the oldest ever whisky to be bottled from the Talisker Distillery, to the forgotten last casks from the Singleton of Dufftown in 1985, and the last ever 1997 Lagavulin.

Including pioneering experiments and diminishing remains from long lost ghost distilleries, the whiskies in this collection can never be recreated. Therefore, by adding further Prima & Ultima releases over time, collectors and connoisseurs have an unprecedented opportunity to not only build one of the rarest and most exceptional liquid libraries in the world, but also to be a part of the ever-unfolding story of Scotch themselves.

“It takes time to look at the stories and find the people, how it was created, where it was created, and to bring all those elements together,” explains Master Blender Dr Emma Walker, who personally hand-selected the whiskies in the fourth Prima & Ultima collection from some of the finest distilleries in Scotland, including legendary Brora and Port Ellen. “That’s what you get in the Prima & Ultima releases – historic liquid, people, and places. And it’s wonderful to be able to bring that to life.”

Celebrated as a true ‘master of malt’, Emma has been at the forefront of Diageo’s outstanding work in whisky since 2008. In curating this release, she has harnessed her passion, knowledge and first-hand experience to select mature Single Malt Scotch Whiskies that are noteworthy in whisky history, as well as having a personal connection to her, bringing a vivid flavour and heritage we seldom experience.

“The very first malt whisky I tried was a 1997 Lagavulin - a golden year for the Islay distillery - and its spectacular qualities enticed me to enter the whisky world,” she reminisces. “It has also been one of my dreams to craft a special 1977 Brora from the last ever 1977 American oak hogsheads from Brora Distillery, and I am so pleased this release has seen this realised.”

Exquisite paired with Lanark Blue cheese, the twenty-five-year-old Lagavulin 1997 bottled on 25th February 2022 is a standout of the collection. The final memory of a golden year at the distillery, when third generation distillery manager Mike Nicolson was custodian of the Lagavulin legacy, it is a mature, rich and beautifully-rounded example of the power and majesty of this Islay malt.

Another highlight is the vanishing forty-three-year-old Port Ellen 1978, which came from the last four American Oak Hogsheads from 1978, created by and tended to by Iain MacArthur, who filled the last cask at Port Ellen in 1983 and established the character of the distillery that is still celebrated today. With its smooth, oily texture and sweet then salty taste, finishing long with peppery spice and fragrant smoke, it is perfectly complemented by beetroot marinated salmon, samphire and cucumber jelly.

The 46-Year-Old Talisker 1976 - which stands as the distilleries oldest-ever release - takes us back to a once in a lifetime heatwave in Scotland, which made the stills run hot and increased copper contact to create this highly unusual whisky, which was rested in a single puncheon to gain further complexity. With top notes backed by a salty sea-breeze and a whiff of new hessian sacks, there is no better pairing than a freshly shucked Lindisfarne oyster.

As for the thirty-seven-year-old masterpiece from the last The Singleton of Dufftown 1985 casks, which was rediscovered following a change of ownership at the warehouse, slow crafting is the key to its depth of flavour, and this elegant expression with a fruity nose and lightly oily smooth texture is a match made in heaven savoured with a chocolate dessert.

“Each of these whiskies have been watched, influenced and marked as outstanding,” adds Emma. “As well as being exceptional, these rare whiskies were each distilled during a specific, unrepeatable moment of note or change at each of the eight iconic distilleries.”

So, not only will you be collecting unrepeatable blends, you’ll be treasuring time-capsules of history, too.

You can now register your interest in purchasing one of the 413 sets of Prima & Ultima at until next week Wednesday October 11th, at £45,580 per set. Individual bottles within the fourth release of Prima & Ultima are also available to purchase individually via registration.

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