Talisker Vertical Tasting

Long overdue at Whisky Rover, we are finally embarking on a Talisker vertical tasting as I’ve been stockpiling bottles from the distillery in anticipation of putting this piece together. Diageo have embraced the distillery over recent years with a series of new No Age Statement releases that have been received to varying reviews. The pundits rave about these releases whilst fans of the staple 10 year old criticise various elements with the latest being Talisker Skye.

I’m a supporter of the distillery and an even bigger fan of the Isle of Skye venturing up there at least twice a year. The distillery and Skye are interlinked and often when I’m enjoying a dram of Talisker I’ll think about fond memories that I have on Skye. Its no surprise therefore whenever I’m asked about staple drams on the shelf then an immediate response is the 10 year old and long may Diageo keep this example in production. It has been the topic of various rumours over the years yet remains thankfully intact and rightly so.

Talisker also offers a highly regarded 18 and a 25 year olds, both of which feature in this vertical tasting (I’ll splash out for the 30 year old one day). I’m also including the 57 North which is a cask strength no age statement and the 1999 Distillers Edition finished in Amoroso casks. Rounding off the selection is an old style Talisker bottled in the 1980's. So this vertical tasting is a decent assortment of old, the current range and Talisker’s future based on current trends.

10 year old
Strength 45.8% vol, Price £35
Colour: a fake gold which comes from adding artificial colouring
Nose: an elegant smoke, red berries, toffee and an ocean shore.
Taste: before the smoke arrival there an initial burst of sweetness with honey and vanilla. Then heather with freshly ground sea salt flakes. A long finish unfolds with black pepper combined with Lyles Golden Syrup and ash.

Overall: the Talisker 10 is one of my favourite core malts and one you can normally find without too much effort. It does seem variable depending on the batch. I've had smokier 10's and this one seems little muted; it does improve with a little bit of water and patience. Still, it is very drinkable and at this price point miles ahead of the NAS Taliskers.

18 year old
Strength 45.8% vol, Price £75
Colour: burnt copper
Nose: a more mellow smoke now like spent matches and depth with smoked back bacon. An ocean spray on a rusty pier. Vanilla, butterscotch and oak with foilage thrown in with lemon, brine and orange juice.
Taste: the smoke has moved onto the palate more now encasing the experience with the warmth of dying fire embers. A salty aspect much like soya sauce, vanilla pod, ginger and ginger marmalade.

Overall: still affordable and one of the greats. You can throw out lots of different NAS whiskies from this distillery but after tasting the 18 you suddenly realise just how inferior and pointless they are in comparison. So well rounded, detailed and full of character. I could just stop here and continue drinking this fella but lets press on! 

25 year old
Strength 58.2% vol, bottled 2004, Price £350 (the current 25 year old £230)
Colour: golden bamboo
Nose: really mossy with a generous portion of brine. Lemonade and salt with sage thrown in. Heather, cream from a can, a little note of iodine, salted peanuts and that seashore essence when the tide has just retreated.
Taste: a delightful voyage from sweet to salty to fennel and ending with a spent candle wick. Drinkable at 58.2% with apples, honey, saltbake and a chocolate pepper finish. With a touch of water more sweetness comes through but I prefer it neat.

Overall: its funny looking back of the 25 year old bottlings since this release which would have be bottled sometime in 1979 or prior, the ABV has reduced consistently with subsequent releases until today's 25 year old at 45.8%. At 58.2% this very drinkable which is often the sign of good maturation and patience. Compared to the 18 year old this is less in-your-face and more restrained but with huge stage presence.

57 North
Strength 57% vol, No Age Statement, Price £56
Colour: tablet
Nose: the powerful presence of smoke hits you first bringing back memories of Arbroath smokies on a Saturday morning in Kirkcaldy with oak chips and barrels mixing with the salty smoky aroma. Moss, a dash of iodine, thick balsamic, mulch and fudge.
Taste: very robust and rugged much like the distillery itself. Far too much salt, seaweed and a touch of diesel fuel. A threadbare palate. 

Overall: disappointing really as this no age statement whisky is overloaded with the smoke and salt to hide the lack of depth and limitations of a shorter maturation period. Those cunning bods at Diageo have upped the alcohol strength to try and hide its limitations but at this price they're having a laugh.

Distillers Edition double matured Amoroso casks
Strength 45.8% vol, distilled 2003, bottled 2014, price £56
Colour: a well worn penny
Nose: amazingly without water very little - its been nuked by the Amoroso cask - jacket, ginger, moss and oranges.
Taste: very mellow and smooth; whether that's good or bad I'll leave to you. The remnants of smoke on your clothing the morning after the night before and some sweetness, figs, chocolate and tobacco.

Overall: when is a Talisker not a Talisker? Clearly when its double matured and this clash of casks results in a stalemate and neutralisation. Quite disappointing really although it is very drinkable there's just something missing.

8 year old
Strength 45.8% vol, bottled in the 1980's
Colour: a less artificial golden sunrise than the 10 year old
Nose: less smoky than I was expecting, musty oak, grapefruit, ocean spray and vanilla. 
Palate: now that smoke arrives initially but soon dissipates before reviving for the finish. A real toffee, no butterscotch, golden syrup sweetness, lemon and sticky honey once again. That salty vibe is evident throughout and really goes on and on into the finish with pepper.  Joyous interplay between all the characteristics.  

Overall: well maybe 8 is the new 10 has anyone told Diageo? Forget all these NAS bottlings and just get back to the 80's. It's all a big wheel after all and what goes around, comes around.

A favourite? Well, current vogue in the industry says age doesn't matter but clearly here it does to some extent. Even the 8 year old Talisker wipes the floor with the 57 North and Distillers Editions. On this sitting I'd say the 18 year old is the best example of what the distillery can produce. I also note the price for this is excellent compared to an additional 7 years yet triple the outlay for the 25 expression.

I did really enjoy the 8 year old that had a freshness and vibrancy yet to acquire a full sized bottling of this with the Johnnie Walker striding man will set you back over £700! If you have the opportunity to try it then do so. In the meantime I'll turn my attention to preparing another Talisker Vertical Tasting but consisting of the remaining NAS examples and maybe some independent bottlings.

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