Whisky Advocate

Review: Diageo’s “The Manager’s Choice” whiskies

October 7th, 2009

ManagersChoice_Range_1_LoRes (2)In case you are new to my blog and missed my post a while back announcing these whiskies–and the whopping 174 comments about them–please go HERE first to get the background on these highly controversial whiskies.

The Manager’s Choice whiskies consist of one carefully chosen cask from each of Diageo’s 27 malt whisky distilleries, bottled at cask strength and not chill-filtered. This is a one-time deal. The whiskies are being released in groups through 2010. They will not be available in the U.S. Here are the first six.

My overall opinion of these six whiskies? Very high quality whiskies, especially for their relatively young age. I am impressed for the most part. However, I am not thrilled with the prices and the extremely limited number of bottles available. I’d like to see annual releases like this, at a more reasonable price, with whiskies from alternating years being imported to the U.S.

91 Oban, 2000 vintage, 58.7%, $£300
Matured in a sherry cask. Lush, with glazed citrus, caramelized peach, chewy toffee, roasted nuts and subtle pine needles. The sherry is a driving force throughout this whisky, but it’s obviously from a very clean, polished European oak cask. Very delicious, with a long, satiating finish. Quite impressive for such a young whisky. My favorite of the bunch. (534 bottles)

88 Cardhu, 1997 vintage, 57.3%, £250
Matured in a bourbon cask. Cardhu has always been a pleasant, but uninspiring, whisky to me. This is one of the best Cardhu whiskies I’ve tasted—richer and more distinctive.  (At this price, it better be!) It’s clean and tight, with orange, tangerine, lemon gum drops, ginger, delicate honey, butterscotch, and vanilla, with a dusting of powdered sugar. Straight-forward, pleasing finish. (252 bottles)

87 Linkwood, 1996 vintage, 58.2%, £200
Matured in a sherry cask. Chock full of ripe fruit, but still quite feminine in personality. Firm malt foundation and almost buttery in texture, with juicy oak, maple syrup, raspberry (red and black), strawberry, dates,  and peppered with gentle spice (cinnamon, ginger).  While this is a very enjoyable whisky, I have tasted some excellent Linkwood bottling, including the standard 12 year old from back in the early 1990s, which brandished less sherry, allowing more of Linkwood’s gentle nature to blossom. Still, the sherry influence here is pristine, and the sherry gives as much as it masks. (430 bottles)

87 Glen Elgin, 1998 vintage, 61.1%, £250
Matured in a “rejuvenated European oak” cask. Balance: that’s what I like best about this whisky. It’s not as individualistic or distinctive as the others. But that’s how I always think of Glen Elgin, so no surprise here.  Still, this is a very solid effort. Fruity and flowery, with notes of tangerine, marmalade, caramel apple, ginger, cut grass, cinnamon, almond paste, and underlying vanilla, which lingers on a satisfying finish. (534 bottles)

85 Mortlach, 1997 vintage, 57.1%, £250
Matured in a bourbon cask. Thick and creamy, with mouth-coating vanilla, ripe barley, toasted marshmallow, vanilla wafer, key lime pie, Golden Delicious apple, lemongrass and hay.  The vanilla sweetness lingers to the finish, mixing with dried herbs and hay. I was expecting more from a carefully chosen Mortlach, given its pedigree, but this is still nice.  (240 bottles)

83 Teaninich, 1996 vintage, 55.3%, $£200
Matured in a “rejuvenated American oak” cask. “ Tropical fruit” is the operative descriptor here. Bananas in cream, honey-kissed citrus (lime, Clementine), papaya, mango, hint of coconut, green tea, and gentle vanilla. Soft finish. Rather exotic. Almost tries too hard to be cool. Distinctive, but I could tire of it sooner than the others here. (246 bottles)

19 Responses to “Review: Diageo’s “The Manager’s Choice” whiskies”

  1. butephoto says:

    I think many will be very disappointed at the scores that the Mortlach is getting. Nobody is raving about it and that’s a damn shame.

  2. John Hansell says:

    Yeah,I think Cardhu really is on the high end of its potential here, but I feel that Mortlach didn’t get close to what it is capable of being.

  3. Texas says:

    John, a little OT, but I am really anxious to try the Bowmore Tempest, but it like this series won’t be available in the U.S. What is the exact problem with making whiskies available here?

  4. John Hansell says:

    It’s two main things Texas: The different bottles size (750 vs. 700 ml) and all the red tape involved for label approval with each state.

  5. Andre says:

    Very timely review ! I keep on reading thast well..taste is taste, but it seems to me that your scores are nearly identical to Serge’s (Whiskyfun), which is reassuring and shows that there is good taste and there is bad taste, it not so random.
    Indeed Cardhu is the only one that interests me, but still 88 is not such a high score consiodering the price ! The only good Cardhu I am familiar with is the 22 yo OB . Any idea how they compare ?

  6. John Hansell says:

    Andre, I have not tasted that one. Maybe Serge did? You might want to search his site for a review.

  7. Louis says:

    Hi John,

    There is one thing I don’t get about the Oban (aside from the price tag). The Managers Choice line is supposed to represent the true character of the distillery. But the standard Oban 14 year old is not sherry casked, while the Managers Choice is. Was any explanation provided about this?



  8. Texas says:

    Thanks, that does make sense. Too bad we miss out on some great stuff.

  9. Red_Arremer says:

    John, just last night, I had a detailed discussion with a retailer about the 700/750 ml bottle issue and it’s relation to the importating of scotch whisky.

    He showed me the bottom of a number of bottles. All of them had print pressed into the glass to the effect of “700 EU—–750 US.” He explained to me that this was because the bottles in the US are just filled about an inch higher. He told me that it’s almost unheard of for brands to get different bottles for the US.

    So then, the 750ml requirement is not an actual obstacle.

    He went on to say that the real trouble with importing to the U.S. is the lawas about registering labels etc…

  10. Thanks for the reviews. While I likely won’t be buying any of these myself, I’m attending a tasting in a couple weeks that I hope will feature a few. That 87 Linkwood sounds awesome.

  11. John Hansell says:

    Louis, I think they are intended to represent the true character of the distillery, but with a twist.

    Luke, the Linkwood came across initially rather simple, but it grew on me.

    Oh, and BTW, going back to my blog posting on how we review whiskies, I went through this line of whiskies three times before publishing my notes on them.

  12. John W says:

    It seems that Diageo’s “unique expressions and extraordinary characteristics” descriptor is not really matched by initial reviews/much less so by sales. Good to very good comes to mind, but with a totally unrealistic price-tag and hard-to-get attitude.

    The Oban does look interesting, but am I really going to spend £300 of my whisky budget when that will probably get me a Brora or PE 2009 release? I doubt it.

    Whatever the case, maybe the speculators are also actually eying what the pros and aficionados think before they buy…., or sitting on the fence until later releases. Even those bottlings fewest in number are STILL easily available as of now.

    The saga continues….

  13. Steffen Bräuner says:

    Now suggest 6 malts priced 30-70£ you’d rate higher as alternatives please :-).
    I’ll could give you 6 here, but I haven’t tried the above 6 so my opinion doesnt really count !

  14. Chap says:

    I really like Steffen’s suggestion!

  15. Davindek says:

    Hi John,

    I just tasted these as well and I think they are really quite exciting. I scored the Cardhu at 93 points and I am not an easy marker. It tastes so much older and richer than you would expect. It already has beautiful well-integrated resins.

    All of them are very good. The Mortlach is also really quite tasty, but it lacks those meaty sulphur notes that are characteristic of Mortlach. I think people might score it higher if they didn’t know what it was.


  16. John Hansell says:

    Davin, I was impressed by the Cardhu too! It was my second favorite. But perhaps I was not as impressed as you were.

    If anyone buys any of these bottles, I am sure they will be pleased with them. Will they be worth what they paid? Well, that’s a different story.

  17. Davindek says:

    Hi John,
    Yes, well, as you pointed out, the Oban totally rocked as well.

  18. […] will take a while, with all the red tape.) I’ll let you know my thoughts after I taste them. Here are my tasting notes from Round […]

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