The Manager's Dram and Managers' Choice series of whiskies are both highly collectible selections launched by Diageo and their predecessor, United Distillers. We are often asked about what really distinguishes these two whisky series' from one another and so have detailed the stories behind each of the collections below.
In 1987, United Distillers was formed from a merger of The Distillers Company and Arthur Bell & Sons, both owned by Guinness. Just shortly after the corporate merger, United Distillers launched The Manager’s Dram series of whiskies, an annual release bottled exclusively for employees of the company that is now known as Diageo. These whiskies were selected as part of an in-house competition by distillery managers within United Distillers.
The competition involved the group’s 27 distillery managers, who would annually determine the best cask of whisky for bottling. With the extensive stocks from Scotland’s biggest estate of single malt distilleries, the selections were taken very seriously by each distillery manager, a point of principle. Selections were chosen by blind nosing from over 100 samples in each of the categories – sherry cask and refill cask. The competition was also greatly important to United Distillers, who were making their best efforts to integrate culture and lift spirits after the merger.
First released in the 1980s, The Manager’s Dram has continued to be bottled annually under Diageo, only available to employees and friends of the distillery, with some remarkable entries over the years. The result has become a series of rare, sought after and highly regarded single malts bottled at natural cask strength.
Around twenty years after the original competition for The Manager’s Dram series of whiskies, Diageo announced the launch of its first single-cask collection of single malt Scotch whiskies - The Managers’ Choice. Although there had been rare appearances of single cask bottlings for occasions such as Islay’s Fèis Ìle, this was the first time that the company had issued a comprehensive series of single-cask bottlings to the public.
A selection of Diageo distillery managers and maturation experts were tasked to choose a single cask of whisky from each of the 27 malt whisky distilleries in the company’s portfolio at the time. The Managers’ Choice releases were quite controversial when initially released, being fairly young whiskies with quite high price tags aimed at connoisseurs and collectors. Official single cask releases from these distilleries are still rare however (as are official releases at all in some cases), so perhaps these would be considered quite reasonable now.
The 27-bottle strong collection (a showcase from each distillery) explored highly individual examples of each distillery expression, with atypical cask woods having the opportunity to shine. Each limited to the capacity of a single cask, the series was rare and limited in its nature, with the volume of bottles varying between approximately 600 and as little as 200