Jan 122015
 

Talisker 25 y.o. (2012)025

45.8% abv

Score: 89/100

 

Let’s have a go at another of the great old Talisker 25s.  This one a little less great than the earlier editions that bounced around at more natural cask strengths, but well worth discussing anyway.  For whatever reason (read: profit margins and stretching of mature stocks) Diageo opted to bring this one (and I think the 2011 edition) down to their standard Talisker strength of 45.8%.  Still respectable compared to a lot of the standard industry bottling strengths, but such a shame to hobble a malt like this in its prime.

Talisker is one of the most iconic of Scotch whiskies.  A peppery, moderately peaty malt from the Isle Of Skye.  Its character is immediately recognizable in youth, but becomes a little more chameleonic in its twilight years.  As with most peated (or peppery)whiskies in their 20s and 30s, you’ll see an emergence of fruits at this age that serves to slightly outshine some of the more phenolic notes.  To me, Talisker is Talisker at any age, but it definitely gets better as the years move on.

I’ve seen some of the less than enthusiastic reviews of this one online and, while I know where they’re coming from, I’ll go somewhat contrarily here.  Not because I don’t agree with the gist of their beef (the lower bottling strength, in relation to previous iterations), but because the whisky has to stand and fall on its own merits.  The malt is really good, and at the end of the day this was a $220CA bottle of 25 Talisker.  Hard to believe, in this age of seriously skyrocketing pricing structures.  That sort of value for dollar may NEVER be seen again from this distillery.

I did put aside a couple bottles of this one, but may actually scoop one or two more before they’re gone for good.

Nose:  Old book and a little bit of dust.  Faint smoke and light earthy peat.  Nice soft white fruits in syrup (green grapes and pears, maybe).  A note of blanched almond.  Salt and pepper.  Wet beach.  Faint waxiness.  A little bit of leather.  And…some more sweet fruit notes.  There is an odd tangy note here too (coming from sherry maybe?).

Palate:  Yep.  Talisker with age: delish.  A sweet candy, gum-like fruitiness.  Mouthwatering.  Mature, waxy and beautiful.  Lemon juice over oyster.  Pepper.  Might be some bittersweet chocolate too.  Tastes like there’s some sherry at play here, but its influence is minimal.

Thoughts:  Not the glorious old Talisker 25 of days gone by, but great nevertheless.  Definitely still a ~90 pointer.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:00 am
Aug 122014
 

Talisker 30 y.o. (2009)barry's place pics 065

53.1% abv

Score:  92/100

 

One more old Talisker for the books before we move on into something else.  This is the 2009 special release of 30 year old from the only distillery on the Isle of Skye.  Not a lot of lead-in required here (especially after the amount of older Talisker we’ve covered in the last while).  It’s a great malt from a great distillery at a great age.  As you can imagine, this one is a killer.

Peat, pepper and soft fruits work together here in one of those inexplicably awesome combinations like chocolate and chili…Plant and Krauss…sex and…well…pretty much anything goes with that one, but you get what I’m saying.  A little bit of heat paired with a little bit of sweet is magic. 

And for any out there that want to contest that older isn’t usually* better…well…try this against the 10 year old and let me know how that works out for ya.

Nose:  Peaches.  Buckets of peaches.  Smoke, but very soft.  Chocolate of three kinds: white, dark and milk.  Pepper, of course…this is Talisker, after all.  Salt.  This is very soft and restrained on the peat notes.  Great fruits here.  Kinda like canned fruit cocktail, cherries n’ all.

Palate:  Starts off creamy, but dries out fairly quickly.  Never hits the depths of tannic dry-mouth, but definitely leaves the sides of the mouth a little puckered.  Much salt and pepper.  The fruits are still here.  Melon and some borderline tropical notes.  The peach is less prevalent, but still there and very pleasant.

Thoughts:  A beautiful old salty dog of a Talisker.  Not quite as great as the 2010 edition, but hey…we’re talking single point differences.  In short…exceptional.

*before the cannibals sharpen their teeth, note I said ‘usually’, not ‘always’.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:46 am
Aug 042014
 

Talisker 57° North 068

57.0% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Talisker 57° North.  Named for the northerly line of latitude at which the distillery is situated on the Isle of Skye.  Pretty fitting name and concept.  I can get behind this one.

57° North is a high-test no age statement single malt from Talisker.  Notice I’m not using the words ‘cask strength’ even though this one boasts a sky-high (pun intended) abv of 57%.  Based on a lot of reviews I’ve been reading lately, it would seem many folks out there are confusing high alcohol content single malts with ‘cask strength’ single malts.  ‘Cask strength’ is a natural occurrence, wherein the whisky is pulled from the barrel and not reduced in strength before hitting the bottle.  You often end up with decimal places behind the alcohol percentages on these bottlings.  It’s most likely this attribute, more than any other, that leads to the belief that a whisky is at natural barrel strength.  In some cases, the distilleries are opting for a higher abv simply as the best vehicle for delivering flavour to the taste buds…and we love ’em for it!  Cases in point: Ardbeg Uigeadail at 54.2%, Ardbeg Corryvreckan at 57.1% and Amrut Intermediate Sherry at 57.1%.  All manufactured strengths, and arguably a good part of the reason these whiskies are so universally adored.

Talisker 57° North has been carefully engineered to an even keel 57% abv.  I kinda think some of the other big producers could take a lesson from what Diageo has done here.  Higher abv equals greater flavour concentration.  If your whisky is good, wouldn’t you want the drinker to experience all of it’s subtleties and nuances?  And at the end of the day, if I’m in the mood for something a little lighter, I’ll add my own water, thank you very much.  But hey…this is Talisker we’re speaking of.  Who the hell wants less flavour?

Moving on…

Let’s talk about one other whisky geek subject here before we get into tasting notes.  Terroir.  The idea that ambient location adds to the character of the spirit (i.e. the soil, the barley strain, salty seaspray or oceanic breezes, etc).  A contestable subject, to be sure, and one that we’ll dedicate a much greater wordcount to at some point in the coming days, but it has a relevance here I want to quickly touch on.  I’m only going to use one particular talking point here to illustrate my case:  It’s very interesting to note how many of the coastal distilleries (Pulteney, Talisker, Scapa, Highland Park, the Islays, etc) boast a profoundly seaside-ish and briny character.  Even those that end up partially (or fully!) matured on the mainland.  Hmmmm.  Curious, I’d say.  Anyway…something for you to mull over.

Let’s get back to the malt at hand.  This is big and bold Talisker, redolent of all of the qualities that make Talisker special.  I love seeing it given a supercharged outlet for its exuberance.  This is a whisky that likes to be loud…and should be heard that way!

Nose:  Creamy.  Chocolate.  Pepper, peat and ash.  Smoke and a bit of over-heated rubber (have you ever blown a radiator hose?).  Chilis.  Lemon.  Wet hay and other farmyard aromas.  Brine.  Shoe polish on good leather.  Ginger.  There are also some sweeter fruit notes that develop over time.  Kissing cousins to Port Charlotte and Longrow.

Palate:  Big, beautiful arrival.  Pepper up front.  Immediately sweet, in a ju-jube kinda way.  Almost fruitcake-like too.  Peat comes next, on waves of salt water, smoke and lemon juice.  A bit more rubber now.  Surprisingly not a really long development or linger, but great throughout.

Thoughts:  This is like a concentrated variant on what Talisker 10 used to be a few years back.  NAS, but firing on all cylinders in its (assumed) relative youth.  Very well put together dram.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:16 pm
Aug 032014
 

Talisker Storm144

45.8% abv

Score:  87/100

 

The skies opened up tonight here in Calgary.  An ominous wall of bruised black and grey cloud built up in the Northwest and slowly rolled in across the sky like a surging army.  The thunder rumbled and lightning flashed from time to time.  And of course we were out on a family walk when this all developed.

As we walked the last half kilometer or so back home it dawned on me how perfectly aligned the universe is sometimes.  Earlier today I’d pulled out a couple Taliskers for a little tasting session.  The 10 year old, just as a point of reference and to maybe update a rather sh*tty earlier review; the 57° North; and, of course, Storm, of which you’re reading now.  Serendipitous natural occurrences.  Love ’em.

First things first.  I like this whisky.  Quite a lot actually.  It’s not the best of Talisker, but it’s a solid addition to the range, and another worthy variation on a theme.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is a little less palatable for me.  At the end of the day, it’s simply a matter of principle.  Some may not take exception to this particular issue, but it’s sort of a topical subject for me at the moment, and this malt is a perfect tool to use in making a case.  Storm is yet another NAS whisky.  I doubt there are any of you out there not ‘in the know’ at this point, but if so…don’t sweat it.  NAS means ‘no age statement’.  In short it means that the distillery is best served by NOT telling us how old the whisky in the jar is.  In some cases the dram still comes together cohesively and age is a non-issue (but should still be declared, in my humble opinion).  In other cases, there are absolutely easily detectable nuances of overly young whisky in the mix.  Storm is a prime example of this less than flawless blending.  The whole is better than its individual parts (the individual casks), I assume, but the parts, unfortunately, are all visible.  And some seem young indeed.

Let’s not get too down though, or start flogging a dead horse.  At the end of the day…it’s still a good malt.  I like it.  And will happily continue to give my money to Diageo.  If the price is right, don’t feel bad about dropping a few bucks (Pounds.  Euro.  Whatever).

Nose:  A little more on the dry peats and wet rock notes than the standard Talisker.  Young barley sugar.  Supposedly a mix of old and young, but the youth rules.  Somewhat of a creamy, custard note.  Vanilla ice cream-ish.  With cracked pepper atop, that is.  Peat and seaspray.  Sour green candies.  Occasional waft of smoke.

Palate:  Peat and pepper.  Lemon juice on oyster shells.  Fairly active wood, faint licorice.  Cinnamon.  Slight fishiness (or smoked seafood of some sort).  Chewy fruit sweets.

Thoughts:  Smells young.  Still works, but could have been much more with a little more oomph and age.  Oh well.  Any Talisker is a good Talisker.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:51 pm
Aug 032014
 

Talisker 25 y.o. (2005)053

57.2% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Another very special old and rare Talisker 25 year old.  This was one of the earlier editions before the evil empire brought the abv down to their more standard (though still rather respectable) 45.8%.

While this particular 25 is a knockout dram (and anything over a 90 score should absolutely be considered as such, I’d argue), it’s pretty much running neck and neck with the 2008 25 year old in terms of scoring.  Maybe a slight notch higher.  Either way…these quarter century malts from Skye were absolute killers prior to the aforementioned emasculation (read: alcoholic reduction).  Now…at the new bottling strength…they’re just really, really good, instead of being really, really great.

Those familiar with Talisker in its younger incarnations can likely approximate what’s in this malt, as it’s pretty much blueprint Talisker, but one that’s been allowed to sleep in late.  And take my word for it; those extra years have been very kind.  All of the more subtle (and deeply buried) fruity notes begin to swim forward at this age.  Peat and pepper are loud and clear, of course, but are now a bit more egalitarian when it comes to sharing the spotlight, instead of just elbowing aside the bit players.  Works a treat, lemme tell ya.

If you get a chance to sample these older editions, don’t hesitate.  A beautiful bit of whisky history in a glass.

Nose:  Very creamy.  Surprisingly so, actually.  Whiffs of smoke and subdued peat.  Some neat ‘toasted’ notes as well.  Maybe peach.  Soft cream pie.  Pear and pepper.  Lemon and salt.  Mature notes of old books and such.

Palate:  The arrival and early delivery are creamy as hell too.  Crème brûlée-ish almost.  Pepper and peat.  Fruit syrup.  Salt and licorice.  Some seriously amped peppered pear and apple notes.  Very big and alive.

Thoughts:  Great dialogue between the nose and palate on this one.  A master class in balance.  Exceptional ‘young’ and vibrant older Talisker.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Jun 122014
 

Talisker 27 y.o. (1985)086

56.1% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Last year’s sassy special release from Diageo’s Classic Malt pepper monster, Talisker.

This was a hell of a dram coming out of the Isle Of Skye, and I can only laud Diageo for recognizing it as such and releasing it at the perfect state of maturity.  It takes some foresight to properly assess and hold onto these great casks as they develop.  More importantly though, it takes the right nose to know when it’s time to pull the spirit from the barrel and let it meet the bottle.  27 years turned out to be just that magic number here.

A great cask strength whisky firing on all cylinders.  A rare gem well worth trying if the opportunity presents, though I imagine it is fairly difficult to come by in most markets and at this late date.

Nose:  Creamy caramel, with some beautiful fruits.  Primarily of the orange-ish tropical variety.  Roman Nougat candy.  Pepper.  Brine and shellfish.  Those beautiful old wax/paint/latex notes that define great old whiskies.  Orange and other citrus notes.  Wood smoke.  Mild peat.  A faint touch of rubber at the back end as it develops.

Palate:  Some rather farmy notes.  Coffee with dark chocolate.  Orange and lemon.  Salt and pepper, as we’d expect.  Not just pepper though, but some chili as well.  Peat.  Not quite as fruity as the nose promises, but

Thoughts:  A beautiful old whisky.  A mate couldn’t get over how ‘Maritime’ this was, and indeed it says so right on the bottle.  I can’t help but agree.  This is a great age for Talisker.

Thanks to the fine fellow (whose anonymity I will respect here) for sharing this one.  Cheers!

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:41 am
May 222014
 

Talisker 20 y.o. (2003)004

58.8% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

This may be a review not worth reading, in some senses.  Not because the whisky isn’t worth reading about, but because I can’t guarantee that the whisky I’m writing about was pristine at the time of sampling.  This Talisker 20 year old was tasted as part of a brilliant stratospheric range of Talisker limited releases.  I think it was the first malt of the night, and it definitely stood out from the rest in some rather conspicuous ways. 

This one had a slightly more aggressively peaty and farmy side to it than any of the other Taliskers we tried (or that I’ve tried before or since).  In and of itself?  No big deal.  Let’s face it, there are many malts out there that have a presto change-o kind of personality.  But here’s the rub…even as this bottle was opened, the fellow who owned it voiced immediate concern about the condition of the cork.  It looked dark, sodden throughout and…let’s just say ‘less than immaculate’.  If this was a ‘nowadays’ bottle, it likely could have been returned to the shop and spelled out for another.  As it stands though, this was a bottle from about a decade back, long gone and probably sourced intercontinentally to boot.  All you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best in these sorts of situations.

So…if this was indeed a compromised bottle there’s not a lot of value in sharing notes on it.  On that I’m quite sure we agree.  But the question lingers…was it a faulty cork or is this simply a very different Talisker release with a cork that only looked like it had been through the wringer?  Without a second bottle to compare to, there’s no way to be sure.  Here’s my opinion though:  The cork was certainly ugly, but the whisky was proably pure.  I say this because the malt was exceptionally bright and vibrant in terms of nose and taste (no ‘dead bottle’ dullness to it), and because it was a damn good drink, showing no signs of off-notes.  Unique in the portfolio, yes, but not ‘off’.  And all the more special for it. 

Think about how ‘Revolution 9’ stood out from the the rest of ‘The White Album’.  It may not be everyone’s favorite track, but it certainly struck a dissonant chord that resonated and lingered long beyond the final fade.  Here’s my reaching analogy for the day: This Talisker 20 = Revolution 9. 

Whether what I drank that night was the whisky that was originally bottled is now incidental in my mind.  What matters is that I enjoyed the hell out of it.  This indifference is the reason I suggested in the first line of this review that it may not be worth reading.  I leave that up to you.

Nose:  Whoa!  What have we here?  Brora?  Longrow?  Nope.  It is indeed Talisker, but wow, what a variant.  Peppery and farmy.  Some smoke and peat, to be sure.  Notes of eucalyptus and spruce.  Damp hay.  Crabapple tartness.  Salt black licorice.  Lots of spice.  Salted caramel.

Palate:  Earthy and peaty.  Pepper and licorice.  Very salty.  Notes of damp hay and sour apple.  Almost a wine-like note towards the back end as well.  Finishes with long and pleasant oak overtones.

Thoughts:  Very Brora-like.  Surprising as hell.  Yes, there was some concern about the quality of cork that came out of this one, but if this is a flawed bottle (and I’m not sayin’ it is), I’m more than ok with this kind of blemish.  Way better nose than palate, I should add.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:11 pm
May 202014
 

Talisker 25 y.o. (2008)055

54.2% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Let’s get back to some of these wonderful older Talisker releases, shall we?  This is another of those limited Diageo runs, but from back in 2008 this time.  As I’ve already mentioned here a couple of times, whenever these do hit the shelves they’re few and far between and rather pricey.  Having now tried a bunch of ’em, I can swear that they’re definitely worth both the effort to track them down and the hefty outlay of cash.

Talisker has a profile that serves just like a barbed lure.  Once it’s passed the lips, you’re hooked.  The 10 year old is a gateway for so many, but the distillery doesn’t truly show it’s brilliance till you hit the 18 year expression.  That’s where the magic begins.  But it certainly doesn’t end there.  By the quarter century mark, as expected, all of those softer fruit notes begin marching forward to center stage and the smoky, peaty and peppery edges become less the stars and more just solid character actors in this incredible production.   Makes for one hell of a cohesive whole, I must say.

Nose:  Coastal and maritime meets peppered peat.  All downwind from a beachside campfire.  Briny seaside notes.  Smoked oysters in oil.  And a touch of smoke, in general.  Grassy and herbal.  Chocolate and honey…kinda like a Toblerone, I guess.  Honeydew melon and cantaloupe.  Citrus.  Graham cracker crust.  Paint/latex.

Palate:  Great arrival.  Peaty, peppery and perfectly Talisker.  Granny smith apple and lemon juice.  Some licorice.  Nice firm oak notes.  This one is a stayer.  Hangs around for eons.

Thoughts:  Another absolutely great Talisker, but I prefer the ’05 edition to this ’08.  Now just need to try any in between…

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:33 am
Apr 112014
 

Talisker 30 y.o. (2010)041

57.3% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Let’s look at another sexy old Talisker.  Right up front, this is a beautiful, beefy 30 year old dram from a great distillery, and is one of the best Talisker I’ve ever met.  If you’d prefer not to read a paragraph or two of my felating this whisky, move along and wait for me to eviscerate a cheap blend in the near future.  Otherwise…let’s talk Talisker.

All malts, as they mature, will carry on a bit of a dialogue with the cask in which they sleep.  They’ll interact with the oak, mellowing and shedding their feistier notes, while inheriting a depth of complexity and definition.  I’d argue it’s not so much what they lose, though, as what they gain from the process that is at the forefront.  Let’s face it…much of the volatility of the spirit has already been stripped away by the interaction with the copper in the stills and the careful cut of the spirit run.  After this, it should just be a mellowing process over the years.

But the maturation of peated spirits is a bit of a different story.  It’s not just simply what is gained from the time in oak, but also what is lost.  The distillate that hits the barrel, generally at about 63.5%, is already inbued with that smoky, earthy and sometimes medicinal (depending on locale) flavour we know and love.  As you likely know, in order to be legally labelled as a Scotch whisky, the spirit must mature for a minimum of three years.  With a peated whisky, that three year old would be fiery and smoky as hell.  But leave that juice to percolate for a couple decades and that big smokiness begins to fade off, take a backseat, and let the estery side of the whisky come forward again.  This loss of character, in a way, is paramount to the subtle beauty of mature peated whisky.

Think of it like a set of scales or a see-saw, where in the early days the peat far outweighs the sweet.  Over time the peat loses some weight and the sweet gains a bit, resulting in a bit of a balancing act.  Neat stuff.

All of this is simply a lead-in to what makes this 30 year old Talisker so special.  Not only are we seeing a balancing off of peat against fruits, but also of peppery notes against fruits.  Talisker is reknowned for both its peat and pepper.  Both are bold influences that lose their pomp over time.  And this, my friends…is a great thing.  We love ’em young and full of attitude, but we love ’em even MORE as they gain some maturity.

This Talisker is an incredible old whisky.  One at arguably the apex of its charm.  Simply wonderful. 

Nose:  Soft white fruits.  A heaping helping of peaches.  Fruit cocktail.  Just a hint of strawberry.  Beyond the fruits there are notes of smoke, peat and pepper, of course.  Latex and wax and old book aromas show the age of this one.  More soft fruits.  Clean white fluor-y notes.  Beautiful light spices.  Rather soft and friendly.  Love it.

Palate:  Wow…what a delivery.  All the promises made by the nose are kept by the palate.  Dark cacao and white chocolate bring an initial softness.  Then we move into pepper, ginger and chili.  Citrus and mild licorice notes.  Salty toffee.  Oak and fresh hay.

Thoughts:  Incredible harmony.  One of the top three Talisker I’ve ever met.  It’s amazing that it maintained such a respectable abv after 30 long years. 

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:06 am
Apr 092014
 

Talisker 20 y.o. (2002)049

62% abv

Score:  94/100

 

I’m hard pressed to say whether this or 2012’s spectacular 35 year old is the absolute ‘best of the best’ Talisker I’ve tasted so far.  Either way, this big and bold 20 year old is simply incredible. 

Talisker, as you are likely well aware, is a Diageo distillery of much fame, and deservedly so.  It’s one of a handful of distilleries that boasts an almost immediately recognizable profile.  Its peaty salt and peppery edge allows it to stand out from the crowds, and to serve almost as a gateway malt to the big peated whiskies from fellow Hebridean island Islay. 

This rare and special 20 year old from the Isle of Skye’s one and only distillery is also a stand-out amongst its own Talisker brethren, due to having been matured in sherry casks.  The Talisker you’d expect is definitely captured here as well, but it’s been tweaked a bit to frightening success.  There is such a deep complexity of fruit notes knotted up with the smoke and pepper you’d expect in Talisker that the integrated whole is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.  For some reason I hearken back to the Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only bottling as the closest approximation of juicy sweetness and deep, dark smokiness.  Different malts, to be sure, but similar in their incredibly succesful marriage of disparate flavours. 

Saying this whisky is unique and compex is not enough, however.  This one is almost ethereally beautiful. 

Before anyone out there gets too excited and starts scouring the local shops, I should note that this is a long-gone dram.  Born in 1981.  Tragically left us in 2002.  Now…much mourned.  This is the kind of dram that comes along only a couple of times in a lifetime (if you’re lucky and have the resources).   

As I said in the first lines above, I can’t decide whether this or the 35 year old is better, so let’s not split hair on scores either.  Call it a draw. 

Nose:  Crème caramel.  Pepper and mocha.  Smoke.  Sweet and syrupy.  Salted caramel.  A neat barbecue note, from the sweetness of the sherry mingling with the peppery peat.  Touch of rubber.  Dark rich fruits (cherry, blackberry, etc) in dark chocolate.  Peaty and smoky.  Some lemon and salt too.

Palate:  Oily and viscous.  Barbecue notes again.  Red ju-jubes.  Charred honey ham skin.  Peat, pepper, smoke and salt.  A lot of vibrant red fruits.  The delivery is like velvet.  There is no way I’d ever peg this as boasting an abv of 62%.  Gorgeous drink with a looooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Amazing.  Stunning really.  Right in my wheelhouse.  If only this were still readily available.  I’d be doing my utmost to stock up (likely at the expense of my kids’ future university tuitions).  This is a ‘wow’ whisky.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:41 pm