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

  37 Responses to “Talisker 57° North Review”

  1. Curt, I believe Glenfarclas Cask Strength is an actual cask strength. They select barrels and vat them in such a way that the strength is always 60%. This is partly what made their 40 year old edition of the Cask Strength so remarkable…

    • You think so? I don’t see how they could possibly consistently nail 60% DEAD ON over year upon year and batch upon batch.

      • Man…I stand corrected. George Grant has confirmed manipulation to 60% for each edition. Wow. Labour of love. We already loved Glenfarclas. Now even moreso. Review corrected above.

        Andrew…thanks for the ‘heads up’.

        • Glenfarclas fills their barrels at the strength the spirit comes off the stills. Starting at a higher level means they can maintain a higher level over time!

          • Cool stuff. Didn’t know that. Makes sense when you recognize the surreality of a 20 and 40 year old 60%er.

        • I think it’s really cool that Glenfarclas does that.

          That said, I imagine the challenge of “blending to 60% ABV” isn’t that different from “diluting to 57% ABV.” It’s just an algebra problem.

          • The difference is that to dilute you just add water. To blend together to 60% you need to know the ABV and precise volume of each cask you’re using. A little more complicated.

          • David, either way, it’s the same problem from 8th grade algebra. You start with a volume of something over 60% ABV, and you have to solve for the volume of stuff at a lower ABV (0%, in the case of water) it will take to hit your target ABV.

          • Except with casks it’s not easy to determine the exact volume without dumping the whole cask into another container, so determining exactly how much to mix together AND maintain a proper profile is a lot different than diluting to 57% with a known amount of water.

            Not that this is in any way some rationalization for ‘farclas dropping the 10 from the 105 expression, just a commentary on the complexity of mixing various casks to get just the right flavour and just the right ABV. It could very well be as complex with casks that are all over 10 YO.

          • Not to mention that 8th graders don’t have the same understanding of the issue that we do. in fact I would say it’s downright discouraged in school.

            Why, when I was in grade 8 we did a history lesson on the early European pioneers and we were supposed to bring in food that represented what the “coureurs de bois” would have eaten. My buddy and I got the idea that they would have eaten dried fruits and nuts (easy to bring in) and whisky. The whisky didn’t go over very well and was confiscated. It didn’t matter how much we truthfully protested that it was only (very well) coloured water in an old bottle. And we didn’t even use e150a…

          • David, I thought maybe you had me there for a second with the “maintain a proper profile” thing. But then I realized the same problem applies to diluting a batch of whisky with water.

            I’m still not convinced “blending to 60% ABV” is any harder than “diluting to 57% ABV.”

            Maybe physically it’s trickier because you’re pouring from a cask instead of the faucet*, but the rest seems the same. Especially the math.

            *Yes, I have no idea what “diluting a batch of whisky” actually looks like! 🙂

  2. “Anyway…something for you to mull over.”

    Quite the play on words!
    Isle of Mull, Tobermory 15 Year aged on the Scottish mainland (I think in the Highlands at owners Deanston warehouses) for 14 years, transferred into Sherry casks, and transported to the Isle of Mull for its last year of maturation. So what is the terroir or provenance of the spirit? (Is terroir dead?)

    • I don’t think terroir is dead, but it could well be in the industry’s crosshairs. Given recent Diageo’s campaign against the importance of age and regionalism, declaration of the unimportance of terroir seems a logical next step. After all, how important CAN where a whisky comes from possibly be when it supposedly doesn’t matter how long it resides there and its neighbourhood was never anything special to begin with?

      There’d be no basis to even pose the question about Tobermory 15 if the expression went NAS. What is the point of discussion about the quality of casks, their influence, or where they are stored when the duration of these influences and the concentration of product content which actually experiences them are impossible to say? “You know, they say that some part of this was stored in some of those kind of casks and then kept over there for so long before it was taken over there, moved to some other casks and kept for a while longer. Nobody really knows how much or for how long (except the people hiding it), but they say you can see a rock formation that looks like a sea monster from the top of the warehouse.”

      If not opposed by consumer action, by the time the industry’s done its brainwashing, the only “officially” important feature of whisky will be its Return on Investment – and, no, they won’t be sharing that information with you either.

      • So bitter….

      • Jeff, if you don’t think the provenance of the spirit is dead, but think the industry is gunning to kill it, you are really saying the same thing.
        Mark my words: If you remove the unique qualities from Single Malt from Scotland, then the spirit becomes just another commercial product.
        Why on earth would anyone pay over 50 bucks for a bottle of something from just another country, when we have local distilleries working to enhance the provenance of their spirit at far lower prices?

        • The upshot of the industry’s idea of “consumer re-education”, which IS being spearheaded by scotch producers, really boils down to “quality is whatever we say it is and factors contributing to that quality are whatever we say they are.” Although a bold attempt to rewrite both history and physics, it is, of course, a nonsensical house of cards which even industry leaders can’t make sense of. In the NAS context, age which intentionally goes without discussion is sometimes supposedly not as important as colour, yet colour isn’t even a consideration with expensive age-statement whiskies from the same company. The whole thing leaves even people like Nick Morgan, who was smart enough to avoid the colour nonsense, so confused that his fallback position is that NAS is a result of running out of numbers.

          Whether the scotch industry ever gets its story straight and succeeds in fooling itself with it or not, current trending with NAS IS making scotch increasingly vulnerable to other spirits in at least three respects:

          1. Honestly and principle – Some people have the funny notion that they deserve to know what they’re drinking by virtue of the fact they pay for it and transparent industry paradoxes about why they “can’t” know tend to insult them.

          2. Outright quality – Smoke and mirrors can’t disguise that, despite what the industry claims to have “discovered” about blending and wood, a lot of NAS-labeled product is far from exceptional or, to quote commentator Andrew (but I don’t think Ferguson), “NAS is usually a poor level of whisky”. This is particularly true if one puts aside cask strengths and huge peat and sherry bombs that might be sought out, and judged, mostly on that basis alone. Moreover, NAS shows little sign of getting better overall, with the marketing itself allowing the product to get younger without notice – and if young whisky is so great, and the industry is now so “evolved” on this issue, it needs to realize it’s wasting all its best product by sticking it in barrels for decades, with the only the traditional meager compensation of huge premium prices and the overwhelming majority of its most stellar product reviews to show for it.

          3. Quality/Price Ratio, or bang for your buck – If you’re a consumer who’s willing to accept that you don’t need to know what you’re drinking and even that it’s usually it’s only middle of the road, at best, in quality, it should at least be cheap, right? The scotch industry has other ideas. The writers and researchers of Gaelic legends and geography who provide the copy to fill those labels with something other than production information don’t come cheap, and the money to pay them can’t come out of the industry’s profits, and this is, of course, where that extra $50 from you comes in. With no interest in Gaelic legends and geography, and so no such writers to pay and so, less overhead, North American producers are in a great position to take advantage of this and undercut NAS scotch to the bone.

          But the de-emphasis of, or even simply lying about, the importance of age and provenance will only continue so long as consumers tolerate it – and I think people are waking up. They should join with those who have always known, in their hearts, that the industry was full of shit on this and together use their buying power to effect change through boycott, and I believe of boycott of NAS products in general – I like to know what I’m drinking when it comes to bourbon too.

      • Jeff, what was Diageo’s campaign against the importance of regionalism?

        • It’s a fair question, and one I would have been able to answer more directly, I’m fairly sure, if posed in 2014 – no harm, no foul, but I’m fairly confident that my comment was made in answer to something that Diageo had come out with, or that was referenced by someone else in another forum, in those days.

          Provenance and regionalism aren’t exactly the same thing, but I think that Nick Morgan takes aim at both here – https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/opinion-debate/the-debate/16456/does-it-matter-where-whisky-is-matured/ – albeit in 2017. The question’s still on my radar, and I’ll give a better answer if/when something clicks.

          Sláinte!

          • Thanks, Jeff.

            Yeah, that article MIGHT have fit the bill, but I’d be interested to see anything else that comes to your mind.

            It just seemed weird to me that Diageo would undercut the idea of regionalism—at least, the soft meaningless marketing-focused idea of regionalism—given their notion of the “Classic Malts” from various regions.

          • No, you’re right – it had to do with something else, back right around that time. I’m still trying to come up with it.

            Sláinte!

  3. Or maybe, Andrew, it’s just that you’re in retail.

    • I don’t think Mr.Ferguson is biased by being in retail. If anything, it’s his job to keep his customers happy, and his customers for whisky tend to see through the veneer of NAS and go for quality.

      I’ve purchased from his store in the past and I’ve liked every expression. Usually they were brought to my attention via newsletter forwarded to me (I guess in Ontario we’re not entitled to direct communication from the spiritual centre of Canada for spirits…) and I’ve used other sources to make my decisions…

      • Andrew and I have very different opinions on some things, but very similar opinions on others. At the end of the day, though, he’s one of the whisky people I have the most respect for. He backs up his opinions (even when he’s wrong…wink wink), has a shit ton of knowledge, has extremely good taste and most importantly…he’s a really good guy.

        And yes…Andrew may have to SELL it all but he WILL give it to you straight when you talk to him. Never doubt it.

        • Although I’m happy to read the testimonials, I took the actual comment for the dismissive cheap shot it was and responded to it accordingly, and for honest reasons; I’m suspicious at best of those who make personal jibes instead of addressing the points raised, particularly when the jibes come from people affiliated with the industry.

  4. Now Skeptic,

    As usual you have a keen observational skills, but your delivery leaves something to be desired.

    While I too have concerns about Jeff’s emotional investment in this topic, I’m not goingfor the cheap dig.

    If I were to provide him advice, I’d ask him if whisky was making him too frustrated, and if the answer is yes, perhaps choosing annother hobby is an answer.

    After all, it’s just a drink and not worth getting upset about.

    • Those who can write about whisky… do.
      And others seem to worry about… me.
      But I’m just a guy who writes about whisky, Dave, no one to get upset about.

      • Glad to hear it Jeff. It goes along with my line of work to worry about people I don’t know, sometimes have never met.

        I’ll take you at your word and not worry about you.

        But I think there are probably some who can write about whisky, and do, and also worry about people. There’s no exclusion requirement.

        So if you’re indeed in a good mood and in Toronto, I’d be happy to host you to try a few special AGE-stated drams. And then we can write about it.

        • No, not an exclusion requirement, just, as of late, an exclusion preference – which is even more… unsettling, and gives rise to my natural concern that any meeting between us wouldn’t really be about the drams in any case – and whisky is my interest. Anyway, if you do have something to say about whisky, please avail yourself of the opportunity to do so.

          • You misunderstood…I worry about people in my professional life ( I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, mind you), but I don’t mix business and alcohol. So if we were to meet for drams, it would be about the drams, not the drama…

  5. Good to know, David; given the drama of cheap shots, unsolicited personal advice and amateur psychological assessment a guy’s got to go through to make a comment about whisky lately, I WAS beginning to wonder what complications/scrutiny there might now be involved in actually drinking the stuff. No offense intended, but what you do or don’t do for a living, or whether you mix it with alcohol, never really entered into it for me anyway; if the implication is that I get too wrapped up in whisky for some people’s liking, I do distinguish, at least, between that which has a bearing on whisky and that which doesn’t. If I do need some further defense for actually writing about whisky, however, I can only say if I could read more criticism of the industry, I’d probably be less compelled to write it and, had I seen any actual demonstration of good taste, much less of a shit ton of whisky knowledge, my response, at least, would have been different. Anyway, if your invitation remains open, I’ll keep it in mind.

    To speak to a wider issue for a moment, I certainly make no claim of being a whisky expert, just a person who thinks and writes honestly about whisky. Even so, I firmly believe that knowledge OF whisky, no matter HOW extensive, quite often does not translate to publically telling the truth ABOUT whisky in any case; sometimes that’s left, if it happens at all, to private off-the-record conversations – “whisky politics” once again “in action”, or “inaction”, for the net benefit of the industry.

    Sure, it IS just a drink, but I only question why, if people ARE indeed going to write megabytes about it anyway, there can’t be more honest discussion about what they believe, and sometimes know, to be true. On the topic of worrying and caring about people, but admittedly not to any extreme personal level in this case, do the folks who gild the lily or hold their tongue for the industry’s benefit really care about producers so much, and about fellow whisky enthusiasts so little, or DOES it often just boil down to self interest?

  6. Oops. I may not have posted the truth “provenance” of Tobermory from the Isle of Mull correctly.

    It could be – that the Tobermory 15 Year is not just a Highland malt, but the spirit could actually include a wee bit of Islay provenance…….Mull, Highland, Islay……WTF is it?

    So I can only conclude: Provenance is dead. Scotland doesn’t care in 2014 about it’s heritage:

    “The warehouses of Bunnahabhain also contain casks of Tobermory and Ledaig malt whisky because there is insufficient storage capacity on the island of Mull itself. Illogistically enough, the freshly distilled whisky is first shipped from the Tobermory distillery to the Deanston distillery for filling, and then onwards to Bunnahabhain. ”

    http://www.maltmadness.com/whisky/bunnahabhain.html

    • I think there is a good point to be made there, in that the industry plays to logical assumption when it’s beneficial for it to do so. There is a lot of made of provenance, sense of place and time-honoured tradition as marketing points, but the devil’s in the details as to “just where is this cask from and where has it been”. The term “single cask” is another good illustration: without a legal definition, there is no guarantee that the contents were matured only in one cask before bottling.

      But while I think the above is certainly true (and age statements aside), I’m not sure that the provenance of many whiskies were any less obscure, or any more guaranteed, in the past than they are today – I just think that many consumers are more interested in that information (and it’s a valid pursuit) and are now finding out that many of the things they thought and hoped were true about what they’re drinking may not, in fact, be so.

  7. I passed on the 57 North last year traveling thru Heathrow. Had some regret but took advantage of another opportunity last week. Glad I did. I have not enjoyed Talisker 10 in years but I’m a big fan of this NAS offering.

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