Totally Talisker Tasting
On May 23rd of 1905 a young right fielder by the name of Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham was called up from the minors to report to the New York Giants. He rode the bench watching the action until the 29th of June in the same year when, in the bottom of the 8th inning, he was sent out to play deep right, replacing outfielder George Browne. He closed out the game without having touched the ball or swung a bat, and sadly…that 1 1/2 innings would be the entire extent of Graham’s baseball career.
If this story sounds suspiciously familiar, it’s because it is the very tale that W.P. Kinsella immortalized in his beautiful pastoral ‘Shoeless Joe’ and later became the basis for the blockbuster film ‘Field Of Dreams’.
As the story goes (and this is truth; a great tale of life being better than fiction), Graham went on to become a small town doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota, ultimately affecting the lives of countless people and in the process ultimately becoming a much beloved figure.
Graham never regretted his chosen path in life, but it’s important to note that before the fates stepped in and gently nudged him in this direction, he did step up to the plate when his chance came. And he did make the most of what was offered.
On the 8th of March, 2014 the major league ‘Gang Of Four’ organized a home run tasting of rare and beautiful Talisker OBs. Unfortunately the team were down one man, effectively making them a ‘Gang Of Three’. With their own missing ‘George Browne’, if you will, they had to call up another ‘Moonlight Graham’ of sorts. That ‘Moonlight Graham’ was yours truly.
My inning and a half in the majors was as memorable as you can imagine. The company was great…the malts were unforgettable…and the laughs came easy. All in all, a great event with the G4 (minus one, plus a half).
The tasting notes below are primarily my own, but when you’re in a roomful of educated whisky enthusiasts nosing and tasting together, with everyone chipping in their notes and suggestions, you’re bound to be influenced. Not only influenced, but helped along. So let’s just say that these notes are very healthily propped up by the noses and palates of my three unnamed compadres.
For those interested in a little more detail, I’ll be posting proper individual reviews, with scores, of each of these whiskies in the coming days. With no further ado…
Talisker 20 y.o. 2003
1982/2003 58.8% abv 12,000 bottles Refill bourbon casks
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. 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 ok with this kind of blemish. Way better nose than palate, I should add.
Talisker 25 y.o. 2005
57.2% abv 15,600 bottles Refill American and European oak
Nose: Very creamy. 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. 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. Exceptional ‘young’ old Talisker.
Talisker 25 y.o. 2008
54.2% abv 6,708 bottles Refill American and European oak
Nose: Pepper. 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…
Talisker 27 y.o. 1985
1985/2013 56.1% abv 3,000 bottles Refill American oak
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 gem. 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.
Talisker 30 y.o. 2009
53.1% abv 3,000 bottles Refill American and European oak
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.
Talisker 30 y.o. 2010
57.3% abv 2,958 bottles Ex-bourbon and ex-sherry refill casks
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.
Talisker 35 y.o. 2012
1977/2012 54.6% abv 3,090 bottles Refill ex-bourbon American oak and ex-sherry European oak casks
Nose: Absolutely redolent of fruit. Like Five Alive fruit juice. Citrus notes…almost tropical. Pears in syrup. A touch of pineapple. Mild pepper (that Talisker fingerprint is well-faded by this age though). The sexiest of restrained smoke. White chocolate. A beautiful ‘old whisky’ note that almost defies description. Some mild farmy notes. And yes…peat.
Palate: A lot of fruit again. Some melons this time as well. Citrus. The arrival is creamy, but vibrant and tangy with some orange and milk chocolate right up front. Ginger and pepper prickle and lead into the peat and pepper we expect. Smoother than silk though. Absolutely beautiful.
Thoughts: This is simply magic. The nose is absolutely ‘to die for’ and the palate is austere, refined and sublime. One of the all time great whiskies, not just from Talisker, but from any distillery.
Talisker 20 y.o. 2002
1981/2002 62% abv 9,000 bottles Sherry casks
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. This is a ‘wow’ whisky.
Talisker 57° North 2013
57% abv Refill American oak
Thoughts: This was thrown in at the end, simply because someone wanted to try it. Sadly, I can’t put scores or tasting notes here on this last one. We realized too late that it was grossly out of its league in this hall of fame company. I’m sure it was likely a good drink, but…until I taste it in relative stead, I simply can’t speak to it. I’ll come back to this one at some point in the future.
Sincere thanks to the G4 for the invite to this one. I know they prefer to maintain their anonymity, and I will repect that, but suffice it to say they are all true gentlemen. Cheers for a memorable occasion, gents!
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt