By Richard Thomas
Talisker is so esteemed a single malt that it’s name it’s not one of those distilleries known only among scotch enthusiasts, but instead is one of a handful that is known to casual whisky drinkers after the big pair of Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Part of the reason lies in the quality of Talisker’s whiskies, but part also stems from Talisker being the only distillery located on the fabled Isle of Skye.
After a number of false starts at other sites, Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill found its current home in Talisker House in 1830. The site was leased from the chieftan of Clan MacLeod, and has been in business more or less ever since. The current distillery mostly dates to the 1960, when it was rebuilt after a fire. The current stills are exact reconstructions of the old ones and the system still uses worm tubs instead of modern condensers, since these are believed to deliver a fuller flavor. On top of that, the pipes are looped so the alcohol vapor is already in the midst of condensing before reaching the worm tubs. Throw in that it’s a middlingly peated malt made with water that flows over peat for good measure.
It’s touches like these that make a place stand out in the eyes of experts and geeks, but it’s whether it makes a difference to what goes in the bottle that matters to everyone else.
“Made by the sea,” Talisker comes in a clear glass bottle, topped with foil and a cork stopper, and with that classic label inked with a map of the Isle of Skye. The whisky is bottled, not at 46% abv, but at 45.8%.
In the glass, this single malt has the lustrous, deep golden coloring of apple juice. The nose is a classic, practically the benchmark for a fragrantly oily, smoke, spicy whisky scent. Whiffs of green apple and sea spray add some complexity, giving you something to sniff at each time you bring the glass up for a sip.
The flavor is richly sweet at first, before a wall of smoke blows in. On the back, the flavor takes a turn to pepper and minerals, and this is what gets blended into a handful of ash and thrown into the aftertaste. For a whisky with such a big personality, the finish is suprisingly light, delivering only moderate warmth. Even so, that warmth just goes on and on.
What has long set Talisker 10 Year Old apart in my mind is how it balances having big flavors not necessarily against themselves, but against it’s complexity. The single malt is easily among the most interesting and pleasurable in its youthful class.
Addendum by Kurt Maitland
Talisker 10 Year Old is bottled at a very particular 45.8% abv. As for its other characteristics:
Nose – Sweet peaty smoke with a whiff of iodine
Color – Golden
Taste – Neat, Talisker tastes sweeter than it smells. It has a heavy mouthfeel, full of smoke and iodine, with a peppery finish. It tastes better than it may sound. If you like peat this expression of Talisker will reward you.
With a few drops of water, the flavor opens up in new ways, with the Talisker becoming almost milky and sweeter with the pepper and peat flavors becoming more rounded.
Talisker is a great pour. It is peaty but not a peat monster like some of its brethren (i.e. Ardbeg) and while it is generally the youngest of Talisker’s offerings, it is probably the most representative of what the distillery has to offer.
Another point for Talisker 10 Year Old is that it’s a big bang for your buck single malt if you are in the UK or Europe. The British price hovers around £35. In the U.S., however, I have seen priced range from a reasonable and comparable $50 to an exorbitant $75.