Diageo Takes a Big Gulp

by Oliver Klimek on September 3, 2009

It is now an open secret that whisky industry giant Diageo will launch a new series called “Manager’s Choice” on September 4. News has been leaking for about a week, so Diageo has decided to make it official now.

The series will feature exclusive single cask bottlings from all 27 distilleries owned by Diageo, to be launched in batches over the next year. At first glance this is a brilliant idea, reminding a bit of the legendary “Rare Malts” series of the 1990s. But if you look closer, there are two fundamental differences:

1. The “Rare Malts” bottlings were specifially chosen for their rarity. Focus was on distilleries seldom seen on the shelves with an additional emphasis on silent stills. And most whiskies were over 20 years old.

The “Manager’s Choice” series spans all Diageo distilleries from the obscure like Teananich to the famous like Lagavulin. And it was the intention to seek the “most distinctive expression of that distillery’s single malts” as the press release states, resulting in a list of fairly young whiskies as compared to the “Rare Malts”

2. The “Rare Malts” were priced rather sensibly, and even today, years after discontinuation of the series, many bottles sell for around or somewhat above 100 Euros on the collector’s market.

The prices for the “Manager’s Choice” series will go far beyond that. Here is a list of prices for the fist released batch, taken from What Does John Know?:

Cardhu™ , distilled 1997, 252 bottles, £250
Glen Elgin™, distilled 1998, 534 bottles, £250
Linkwood™, distilled 1996, 480 bottles, £200
Mortlach™, distilled 1997, 240 bottles, £250
Oban™, distilled 2000, 534 bottles, £300
Teaninich™, distilled 1996, 246 bottles, £200

I strongly suspect that the £300 for the Oban will set a new price record for a newly released whisky that is less than 10 years old. It is not only my guess that most of the bottles will lead a sad life taking dust on collector’s shelves without ever being opened.

I am conviced that the “Manager’s Choice” bottles will be sold out almost immediately. But cranking up prices like this leaves a very bitter aftertaste in light of Diageo’s plans to close the Kilmarnock bottling plant beacuse of declining revenues.

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