Last Week I had the great fortune to be invited to a Malt Nuts meeting, organized by the gregarious Barry Kaye, here in the city of Angels. We Ate, we drank, we talked, we drank, we discussed, we drank, we listened to Diageo’s Master of Whisky Steve Beal regale us with fantastic whisky tales and then we drank some more. Did I mention the part where we drank a whole lot of Talisker?
It was a beautiful evening and our host, who wishes to remain nameless, put out a delicious kosher dish called Yapchik which I’ve never even heard of let alone tasted. Growing up in Utah I never had the opportunity to eat a lot of jewish food, but then I guess they could probably say the same about funeral potatoes, fry sauce and jello with fruit and vegetables in it. So I guess on that plane we’re even, but let’s just say I would take that tasty meat and potato dish I had that night over my great aunt’s green jello with shaved carrots and Cool Whip anyday.
Enough about the food, let’s talk about whisky. Namely, let’s talk about Talisker. A distillery that was built on the Isle of Skye in 1830 in an effort to not quite evade tax collection on their product, but to make it incredibly difficult on the poor sod whose job it was to trek out there and get it. Since then Talisker has been pumping out the sweet, smoky and briny malt we all know and love today. Once a heavy component in Johnny Walker, this peaty gem has become a favorite single malt of malt nerds everywhere which has helped it’s single malt offering grow and flourish over the last 30ish years.
Being such a large tasting the Malt Nut in charge divided it up into 6 flights that all has a specific theme, but those themes, except the first one, weren’t revealed until after we had drank through them and had a chance to talk amongst ourselves. We tasted all of them blind to add to the fun, but since the fun of a blind tasting is kind of lost on a blog post I’m going to go ahead and lay out the layout for you right here:
- 5 different expressions of the Talisker 10 year.
- 3 expressions of the Distiller’s Edition (aged in Amoroso sherry casks)
- “Highly Aged” Taliskers
- The Storms
- Young Taliskers
- 3rd party bottlings of Talisker (which are rather rare)
That’s quite a list and this is going to be a long post so I guess I should just get on with it ‘eh?
Talisker 10 – distilled around ’83 and bottled around ’93
- Nose – Honey, malt, a sherry like sweetness, malt, smoke and a touch of salt.
- Palate – Sweet and smoky malt with hints of honey, dark dried fruit, char and wood.
- Finish – Malt, sweetness, smoke, dark fruit, brine and honey with a touch of wood.
- Overall – Spolier alert, I pegged this one as being my favorite of this round. I really enjoyed it.
Talisker 10 – distilled on or before Jan 8, 2003 and bottled on Jan 8, 2013
- Nose – This one has a slightly sweeter nose than the first one with bigger notes of honey and strawberry like dark fruit. Some sweet citrus, malt and very little smoke.
- Palate – Dark and fresh with lots of fruit, smoke, char, malt, a slight bit of earthy, peat, honey and caramel.
- Finish – Warm and crisp with some fruit, malt, smoke, wood and honey.
- Overall – Lovely stuff, but I ranked it 3rd of this flight.
Talisker 10 – distilled on or before June 23, 2003 and bottled on June 23, 2013
- Nose – Sweetness is more mild and light here than the other two, but still prominent. Malt, vanilla, honey, gram cracker, fruit, smoke a bit of salt and something that reminded me of root beer popsicles. The kind you had as a kid with the two sticks in it that you would break in half so you could “share with your brother”, but really eat both and not let him know that you even got a popsicle. Weird.
- Palate – Sweet malt, fruit, honey, char, smoke and salt. Nice stuff, but not blowing me away.
- Finish – Soft and easy sweetness fueled by honey, fruit, malt, char and a bit of wood.
- Overall – My least favorite of the 5. I’ve never tasted a root beer like quality in a whisky before, but that’s not why I didn’t like it. It just didn’t fully come together for me.
Talisker 10 – pre-bottle coding. Likely distilled in the mid 90’s and bottled mid 00’s
- Nose – The fruit runs a bit higher here in comparison and read a bit dark. Honey, malt, a slight nutty character and a touch of smoke.
- Palate – Smoke and char came up faster here than in the last 2 followed by malt, cinnamon, a sherry like sweetness, honey, peat and something I can only describe as baklava like.
- Finish – Sweet with notes of smoke, char, wood, honey and a touch of vanilla.
- Overall – My 2nd favorite of the group. It was a tasty era for Talisker.
Talisker 10 – pre-bottle coding. Likely distilled in the mid 90’s and bottled mid 00’s
- Nose – Fruit, honey, baking spices, salt and that weird root beer popsicle note is back. Very little smoke or char on this one and only a hint of brine.
- Palate – Caramel, malt, spice, honey and an ambiguous smooth sweetness dominate. Only hints of smoke or brine appear.
- Finish – Warm and sweet with lots of the previously mentioned dessert notes with the smoke, peat and wood picking up at the end.
- Overall – My second to least favorite of the bunch. Still good in general, but not as good as 20 years ago…
Talisker Distiller’s Edition
Talisker Distiller’s Edition – Distilled 1996, bottled 2008
- Nose – Big dark fruit with a sweet and smoky char moving through. Loving it.
- Palate – The fruit gets even darker here and some sherry like sweetness (turns out it was) moving through with hints of malt, smoke, char and a meaty like quality.
- Finish – Smoke, peat, char, wood, and a rich dark fruit sweetness.
- Overall – This was my favorite of the three. It was simply stunning stuff.
Talisker Distiller’s Edition – Distilled 1998, bottled 2010
- Nose – Like the previous one it’s sweet with looks of dark fruit, dark honey, burnt sugar, sherry and smoke.
- Palate – The dark fruit moves behind a dollop of caramel and the smoke is less powerful on the palate than on the nose.
- Finish – Very sweet and the peat and smoke has almost faded out completely. It’s kind of a lackluster finish when you look at where the nose started out.
- Overall – My least favorite of the three.
Talisker Distiller’s Edition – Distilled 2001, bottled 2013
- Nose – Oooh buddy this is good. Big notes of dark fruit, sherry, malt smoke and brine.
- Palate – Big dark sweet notes of fruit, honey and sherry mixed with smoke, wood and a bit of earthy peat.
- Finish – The sweetness again takes over in the finish with the smoke and peat being more of a whisker than a major player.
- Overall – My second favorite of the group. Loved it.
Highly Aged Talisker
- Nose – Sweet candy like nose with a sherry like sweetness and a nice whiff of smoke.
- Palate – Dark fruit, a heavier spice than any of the others so far with a good amount of smoke, char and malt.
- Finish – Dry and sweet with a bit of smoke hanging around.
- Overall – This one didn’t wow me, but when polling the group it sounded like it was a 50/50 split between this one and the last one (30 yr) for the favorite of this flight.
Talisker 25 yr
- Nose – Sweet with heavy dark fruit notes like cherry and overripe strawberry. Notes of sherry like sweetness, char, smoke and a bit of vanilla.
- Palate – Spicy and sweet. Baking spices, sweet dessert notes, smoke and a bit of brine and wood.
- Finish – Sweet and spicy wood with notes of fruit, honey, burnt sugar and smoke.
- Overall – This was my second favorite of the set and seemed to be that way for the group. It was the common middle ground here.
Talisker 30 yr
- Nose – Super sweet with fruit and dessert notes that butted up against a parallel amount of smoke and wood.
- Palate – The spice here was fantastic and blended well with the wood, earthy peat and deep smoky character. Sweet dark fruity, honey and sherry like notes added balance and complexity.
- Finish – Dip a piece of wood that was burned in a peat fire into a vat of honey and dark fruit preserves and you’ll get the idea.
- Overall – This was my favorite and due to the amount of smoke and peat I thought for sure this was the youngest of the group. Turns out I was wrong and I now need to figure out where I can find a bottle and come up with the $500 to get it.
- Nose – Orchard fruit, vanilla and other dessert notes. A touch of wood some smoke and a nice spice.
- Palate – Yum. Honey, malt, fruit, bit of smoke and char and brine.
- Finish – Smoke heavy finish with a touch of char, wood and a bevy of sweet dessert notes.
- Overall – This one felt familiar (for good reason) and I loved it. My favorite of the two in this round.
Talisker Darker Storm
- Nose – Lots of honey with notes of dark fruit, smoke, citrus and a nice layer of smoke.
- Palate – Malt, graham, grassy hay like notes, caramel, brine, smoke, wood and a very like earthy quality.
- Finish – Slight smoke and char with a lot of sweet dessert notes and a hint of salt.
- Overall – It was ok, but I liked the other one better.
I’m going to take a brief pause right here to bring up something interesting that Steve said at this point in the tasting (after we found out what they were). He said that the Storms are more like how whisky used to be made. That long ago, before age statements became the norm, that distilleries didn’t care if something was 9 years old or 20 years old, it just mattered how the end product tasted and they would blend together a wide variety of ages to get the right mix of flavors and aromas they were going for and then bottle it and sell it. NAS was more or less the norm back-in-the-day.
He also made some interesting points about how sometimes a whiskey that’s 9 years is absolutely perfect, but if it needs to be used in a 10 year they have to wait another year and it could become far less brilliant in that year. This means that some very flavorful juice gets over-aged when it could have gone into making something very tasty. I know this is currently a hot subject here on the internet, but I thought it would be good to bring up some interesting points from the side of the distiller since we had such a great conversation about it that night. Now back to the Taliskers.
Talisker 57 North
- Nose – Citrus, honey, malt, vanilla and a good dose of smoke.
- Palate – Alcohol is very apparent here as is a nutty quality with notes of orchard fruit and a lightly sweet honey, malt and smoke.
- Finish – Malt, spice, fruit and smoke.
- Overall – The whiplash of going from old to NAS to young made it really easy to peg this as a young Talisker. I liked it, but not as good as the next one.
- Nose – Vanilla, malt, citrus, spice, smoke, brine, honey and a not-unpleasant raw grain note.
- Palate – Malt, vanilla, brine, citrus, spice, smoke, earthy peat, and again a not-unpleasant rawness. Awesome perspective on Talisker.
- Finish – Sweet dessert notes fade to smoke and peat with a bit of wood.
- Overall – Really enjoyed this one. Makes me wish I had bought two from K&L when it was available.
3rd Party Talisker Bottlings
Old Malt Cask – 16 year old”Tactical” bottled by Douglas Laing (1990/2007)
- Nose – Orchard fruit, malt, vanilla, graham, wood, smoke and an ambiguous sweetness.
- Palate – Sherry like sweetness, malt, red licorice, fruit, caramel, wood, peat and smoke.
- Finish – Malt, honey, smoke, wood, fruit, graham crackers and peat.
- Overall – I enjoyed this one the most of the two. A good balance of flavors and aromas.
Dun Bheagan – 8 year old “Island” bottled by Ian MacLeod
- Nose – Vanilla, malt, fruit, salt and smoke. A bit flat on the nose.
- Palate – Malt, vanilla, smoke, salt and fruit.
- Finish – Malt, vanilla, smoke, fruit, salt and char.
- Overall – Felt like a skipping record. Repeating the same things over and over but in a slightly different order from the needle jumping out of out’s track. This was among my least favorite of the night and there was a lot of debate about if it was actually a Talisker or something that was just trying to sound like a Talisker by using the name Dun Bheagan (town & castle on the Isle of Skye).
It was an utterly fantastic night and I enjoyed every minute. It was amazing to get to try so many terrific Talisker’s and also to get to drink and chat with a group of fantastic and insightful Malt Nuts.