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The Manager's Dram: How the Managers of the Scottish Malt Distillers Created Their Own Yearly Whisky Bottling of the Best Single Malt Scotch Whisky Not For the Public & What it Tastes Like Today

Updated: 7 days ago

The Manager's Dram Vintage Whisky Bottlings

Have you heard of this little-known concept called “The Manager’s Dram”?

In 1987, a group of distillery managers from Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD) met for a tasting session, with each manager bringing a sample of their favorite cask from their respective distilleries. As there were nearly thirty of them, the session was undoubtedly quite a bit of fun, but the outcome was deemed worthy of repeat. In early 1988, the winner of the first ever session became the first Manager's Dram bottling—a 15-year-old Glen Elgin sherry cask that weighed in at a hefty 60.2%.

The Manager’s Dram whiskies were never for sale to the general public - instead, they were a perk for the staff of SMD and its successors, United Distillers and Diageo. The bottles were sold to staff on condition that they could not be resold until after the employee had left the company. This is the only way that bottles exist today, some fetching monstrous price tags at auction for some of the renowned malts from the series.

The success of the first Manager’s Dram edition was such that another cask was selected and bottled before the end of 1988. Thereafter, two bottles appeared each year until 1992 when the Manager’s Dram became a single annual release, perhaps due to the burden that organising a tasting for so many well-calibrated palates entailed.

A great many all-time classic bottles have appeared in the Manager’s Dram range, particularly in the early pre-millennium period. The committee of distillery managers showed a particular fondness for sherry casks in these first few years, with the Caol Ila 15-year-old released in 1990, the 16-year-old Oban Bicentenary bottling released in 1994 at an enormous 64%, and 1998’s Clynelish 17-year-old all particularly highly prized among modern-day whisky fans. Other great sherry casks in the series include examples from Benrinnes, Cragganmore, Blair Athol and Aberfeldy, each of which rank among their distillery’s best ever official bottlings.

Sadly, the legendary Manager’s Dram tasting sessions are now long-discontinued, but their spirit lives on with Gregory Cloyd and the Whisky Legends who participated in a grand tasting of 11 of the most revered Manager's Dram bottlings you see below. Attendees of this tasting likely felt much like the luminaries of SMD did back in 1988. Both contributing writers for (Nick Anderson and Jes Smyth) were in attendance at this event, and as such, have the unique perspective of being able to offer two flash reviews in one for each of the bottles below. They are presented in descending order (the best bottling is down at the bottom) and links to deeper reviews are offered in each of the titles. Now let's dive in to find out which of the Manager's Dram bottlings were the top choice for the Amongst the Whiskey team!


The Manager's Dram Top Bottlings of All Time:

Oban Distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland, having been established in 1794. It actually predates the town in which it is situated, with the town really forming around the distillery. With notes of sink water and melon husks, this bottling was a completely different experience to what we are used to. While it didn't quite land high marks for either Nick or Jes, we were engaged with the unique flavor profile from start to finish.


1991 Aberfeldy 19 Year Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Relying on the freshwater stream Pitilie Burn, which runs alongside the distillery, Aberfeldy is the only distillery in Scotland to use these waters and is the notable workhorse of Dewar's blended whisky. Sipping this offered stewed apricots and plum pudding, ultimately a bit reserved. This was a good dram, but, again, like the Oban, leans out of a personal preference zone for both Nick and Jes. Your mileage may vary.


Known for mainly being a blending component for Johnnie Walker Red Label, this Manager’s Dram bottling is a rare opportunity to taste the unique character of Teaninich in peaceful solitude. One whisky enthusiast at the table, Jacob, who runs the Maryland chapter of Dead Malt Society, described this pour as the "punk rock younger sister to Clynelish." On this dram we found ginger, geranium, seaweed sushi wraps, and salted butter. It was a really fun opportunity to see one of the Johnnie Walker Red components stand on its own.


2002 Mortlach Distillery 19 Year Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Sometimes called the Beast of Dufftown, Mortlach is well known as a key component in several Johnnie Walker bottlings. This whisky is creamy with a sticks-in-your-nose goodness and the equally creamy palate won over the tasting team. We're getting into the 4/5 territory now!


A unique short and flat-top still (the spirit still) used in second distillation, in addition to the use of sherry casks, is likely responsible for the fruitier character of the whisky, resulting in a lovely exploration of this single malt expression. Nick & Jes really liked this fruity side of things.


1991 Ord Distillery 16 Year Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Also called Glen Ord, this is a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands, the only remaining single malt scotch whisky distillery on the Black Isle. Today, the distillery is part of Diageo, the same conglomerate we mentioned above, evolving from SMD to DCL to United Distillers. Glen Ord notably supports the Johnnie Walker blends. This beast of a dram commands your attention and makes you feel an array of emotions you were least expecting as waves of seawater crash overhead before a flash of shishito pepper dances in the finish. You're going to want to read this one all the way through.


1997 Mannochmore Distillery 18 Year Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

This is a Speyside distillery, running 6 traditional Speyside pot stills at its location near Elgin in Thomshill, Scotland, which does not produce a great deal of official bottlings, Mannochmore is used as a major component in many of Diageo’s blends, including (unsurprisingly) Johnnie Walker. This one stood out well for both tasters as a single malt. Nick loved the uniqueness of the green pepper notes and Jes enjoyed the decadently "fonky" flavor profile. These manager's really knew what they were doing...


1994 Oban Distillery 16 Year Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Oban's long history of using traditional methods, like the continued use of worm tubs and their relatively small size, ushers in a roaring sherry cask delight in 1994, their 200th anniversary of being an operating distillery. This pour was loud and proud. A blaring hit for Nick & Jes with notes of fig, jam, and other fruit reminiscent of Redbreast 27 year!


1988 Glen Elgin 15 Year Original Bottling of The Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Nestled in a stunning location in the heart of Speyside’s rolling hills, Glen Elgin is a relatively small distillery that produces 'just' 1.8 million liters of pure alcohol a year and is notable as the first-ever bottling of the Manager's Dram Series. Take a drink of this whisky and you'll surely find something to love: red grape, pear, kiwi water, toasted bread, and a velvety mouth coating. This whisky got all the claps from us!


1998 Clynelish Distillery 17 Year Manager's Dram Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Known for producing malts with a distinctive oily and waxy textured marine character displaying citric notes, Clynelish malts are mainly used for blending, notably as a core part of several Johnnie Walker expressions. However, official special releases and independent single malt bottlings are highly sought after for good reason. Nick & Jes waxed poetic about this Manager's Dram offering by one of the greatest honey-buttered Highland distilleries they have ever tasted. Check out the full write up for more on this gem of a distillery.


This distillery is known primarily for its blended whisky, which accounts for 95% of its production. Johnnie Walker lovers can thank Caol lla for much of its delicious taste. The Amongst the Whiskey team was honored to participate in such an epic lineup as we ventured into an age-old question in the final hours of this tasting: Is this kind of rarity worth chasing down? We certainly think so. This whisky is the screaming viking that comes in swinging an unwieldy, large axe at the end of the tasting; it towers over any whisky you put it next to and is well-deserving of the top spot in this tasting, and on your bar, if you can find it!


In Summary:

The Biggest Surprise: 1997's 18 year Mannochmore


What a lovely tasting this was, highlighting the nuance of distillery character that varies from region to region. Having all of these powerhouse distilleries under one roof with Diageo is testament to the success of their blends. Explored here as single malts was nothing short of a divine experience. If you have the chance to pick up some of these Manager's Dram bottlings, we would certainly recommend doing so!


Written by: The Amongst the Whiskey Team





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