Philip Day provides a fascinating overview of Talisker – Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
The distillery is operated by United Distillers and Vintners for Diageo.
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|Capacity (Litres of finished whisky per annum)||3,500,000 litres per annum|
Among single malt aficionados, particularly those who have a preference for peaty tasting single malts, Talisker holds an almost iconic status. This alluring, sweet, full-bodied single malt whisky is so easy to enjoy, and like Skye itself, once visited it is so hard to leave.
The only distillery on the Isle of Skye is the Talisker Distillery, situated at Carbost on the shores of Loch Harport, with dramatic views of the Cuillins. It was officially established by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, sons of the local doctor, in 1830 on the acquisition of the lease of Talisker House from the MacLeod of MacLeod. Messers Roderick Kemp and Alexander Grigor Allan purchased the distillery in 1880, and completely rebuilt it. Then, in 1916 the ownership of Talisker changed again when a consortium lead by John Walker & sons and John Dewar & Sons took control of the business. Subsequently it, together with several other distilleries, was acquired by Distillers Company in 1925.
Following a still-house fire on November 22nd 1960, which completely destroyed the distillery, it was rebuilt and they meticulously followed the original designs to reconstruct five exact replicas of their unique wash and spirit stills, in order to preserve the original Talisker flavour.
In 1972 the stills were converted to steam heating and the maltings floor was demolished.
Today the distillery is managed by United Distillers & Vintners (Diageo) Ltd. who have been busy building up their stock of quality consistent spirit. In 1988 Talisker was launched as a premium brand by UDV as one of the single malts of the collection “Classic Malts™”
For over 175 years, the distillation process at Talisker has remained virtually unchanged.
Talisker’s soft water, which flows over peat adding additional peaty notes to the final whisky is drawn from 14 underground springs that rise from Hawk Hill (Cnoc nan Speirag in Gaelic) (Hawk Hill) directly above the distillery via a network of pipes and wells.
The malted barley used in production originates from Muir of Ord. It is then peated to a phenol level of approximately 18-22 parts per million (ppm), which is relatively high for a non-Islay single malt.
Talisker Distillery has an unusual feature – swan neck lye pipes. A loop exists in the pipes taking the vapour from the stills to the worm tubs (condensing coils) so some of the alcohol condenses before it even reaches the cooler. It then runs back in to the stills and is distilled again. Worm tubs are used rather than modern condensers, as they are believed to lend a ‘fuller’ flavour to the whisky.
American oak casks previously used in the production of bourbon are used predominantly to mature Talisker, although they do also use a small percentage of European oak casks that once contained maturing sherry for some expressions. During the spirit’s maturation period in the cask, the spirit is exposed to many flavours and aromas derived from its interaction with the wood. All these influences will determine the final character of the matured whisky.
In 1987, Talisker 10 year old earned the accolade of becoming one of only 6 ‘classic’ malts.
Special bottlings of Talisker whisky for connoisseurs began to be produced in the early 2000s, with the addition of a 20 and 25 year bottling (where previously only a 10 year and 18 year were available).
In 2007, Talisker 18 year old won ‘Best Single Malt In The World 2007’ at the World Whiskies Awards.
In London, at the 2013 World Whisky Awards, Talisker Distiller’s Edition won the award for ‘Best Islands Single Malt’.
Talisker now has an annual output of three and a half million litres of spirit. It was the favourite whisky of novelist Robert Louis Stevenson and the mercurial travel writer HV Morton.
The Talisker core portfolio includes
- 10 year old, distillery bottling (45.8% ABV)
- 12 year old (45.8% ABV), only available to Friends of the Classic Malts members, or at the distillery.
- 18 year old(45.8% ABV), unavailable in some areas, a new bottling from 2004.
- 20 year old (62% ABV) , limited run of 9,000 bottles
- 25 year old (57.8% ABV), limited run of 21,000 bottles, a new bottling from 2004
- 30 year old (45.8% ABV), limited run of 2,958 bottles, first released in 2006
- Distiller’s edition (45.8% ABV), distilled in 1986 and finished in ex-Oloroso Sherry casks, first launched in 1998
- 57° North, a bottling with 57% alcohol (57.8% ABV), first released in 2008
- Talisker Storm (45.8%ABV), a new bottling from 2013
- Talisker Dark Storm (45.8% ABV), a new bottling from 2013 for travel markets
- Talisker Port Ruighe (45.8% ABV), a new bottling from 2013
- Special Release Talisker 35 year old (Talisker 1977, bottled in 2012, 54.6% ABV), available from the Distillery Visitor Centre
My Personal Selection
Talisker 10 Year Old
– 45.8% ABV
For peat-lovers, or those willing to try a peaty malt, Talisker 10 Year Old is probably one of the finest-quality ‘entry-level’ single malts available on the current market.
Peaty infused dark chocolate with zesty citrus notes, with a threat of salty sea water.
|Taste||Warming and intense, strong barley-malt flavours. Reminiscent of fruitcake spices and a touch of dried fruit richness activating an explosion of intense, while multi-layered, peppery peat smoke at the back of the mouth|
As the taste sensation deepens, waves of warming pepper and peaty smoke develop as a warming afterglow with a long lingering hint of sweetness of the malt.
Talisker 18 Year Old
– a 45.8% strength ABV ‘Distillery Bottled’ Single Malt Whisky.
Launched in 2004, this expression packs more punch across the board than the 10 year old.
Deeper amber in colour than its 10 year old younger brother
Everything you expect from the 10 year old bottling but magnified. More smoke, peat and sweet fruit.
The initial sip gives earthy peat and wood notes mingles with butterscotch toffee. Tangy citrus fruitiness lend balance to the whole. It reminds me of good smoked bacon flavoured with sweet but tangy orange marmalade.
The trademark Talisker peppery kick after waves of warming flavour.
Talisker 57 Degrees North
– a 57.8% strength ABV ‘Distillery Bottled’ Single Malt Whisky.
If peaty whiskies are to your taste, you’ll be happy with this.
Talisker 57 Degrees North has achieved great acclaim since its launch in 2008, currently scoring 95 points out of 100 in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible 2014’.
Dark amber/full gold.
Heady, intense and powerful. Peaty and smoky with hints of the sea. Rising out of its depths you can smell the hint of tarry ropes, cutting through a briny gale.
A rich, luxuriant feeling in the mouth. Intense and multi-layered oily peat smoke, enveloped in a muscovado sugar syrup; sweet yet earthy
Smoky dominance of singed sweet vanilla and seaweed with hints of mocha.
– a 45.8% strength ABV ‘Distillery Bottled’ Single Malt Whisky.
The hard to pronounce Port Ruighe (pronounced ‘Portree’) is the Gaelic name of the port (the largest town on the Isle of Skye) which had a long history in the trade of port wine founded by brave Scottish traders on the Isle of Skye.
This expression of malt, an early 2013 addition to Talisker’s range, is double matured in old port casks, which lends the traditional maritime character of Talisker malt an intensely contrasting sweet taste of luscious berry fruits.
The marriage of Talisker’s traditional salty, smoky note spirits with luscious, fruity tones of old ex-port casks give a sweet and smoky finish to this malt.
Peaty with elusive hints of oloroso sherry and damp heather.
The taste of Port Ruighe is a provocative balance between sweet, spicy top notes and creamy, deep, smoky flavours.
Lingering waves of deep, dry peat-smoke tones and rich aromas develop pleasingly on the palate.
Other Talisker whiskies worthy of mention
- Talisker Aged 20 years – (62% ABV) launched in 2009 has a phenol level well in excess of 100 parts per million. Jim Murray, in his Whisky Bible 2014 calls this the best Talisker bottling, advising that it should not to be missed, if at all possible (scoring 95 points out of 100).
- Talisker 175th Anniversary – (45.8% ABV) Produced to commemorate 175 years of whisky making at the Talisker Distillery, this release of the Classic Malt is a complex mixture of Talisker taken from casks of various ages (many over 20 years old). A fitting celebratory bottling of this fabulous distillery’s wares.
- Talisker 30 Year Old / Bottled in 2008 – (49.5% ABV) released in a special box with a brass catch. This special release was awarded a Silver Medal in The Malt Maniacs Awards 2009.
- Talisker 25 Year Old / Bottled in 2008 – (54.2% ABV) A superb Special Release from Diageo’s is always a thing to cherish – and this Talisker 25 year old is no exception. This special bottling was also awarded a Silver Medal in The Malt Maniacs Awards 2009.
- Talisker Distillers Edition – (45.8% ABV) This special, multi-award winning expression of Talisker – Distillers Edition is double-matured in wood casks which were used to age amoroso sherry (an expensive dark sherry made from a mixture of 15 year-old Palomino (Oloroso) grapes with 5 year-old Pedro Ximenez). There’s near perfection as the familiar sweet smokiness of Talisker smooths out not to pepper, like many other expressions, but to rich, sweet, juicy fruit.
- Talisker Dark Storm – (45.85 ABV) a more powerful sibling of Talisker Storm, produced in the latter half of 2013 primarily for the duty free market. It is different in that it has been matured in heavily charred American oak casks.
Some harder to acquire bottles
Several of the special bottlings and releases achieve very high price tickets thanks to their rarity. Here is just a selection:
- Talisker 1975 34 year old (2011) – (45.1% ABV) Designed specially to appeal to the true premium whisky lover, Talisker crafted a beautiful wooden boat-shaped ensemble, containing a bottle of the unique 34 year old aged Talisker single cask strength whisky, together with two crystal rocking glasses. A gift for the ultra discerning, however, only 50 bottles were allocated to the UK market.
- Talisker 30 Year Old / Bottled in 2006 – (51.9% ABV)
- Talisker – Isle of Eigg – (60% ABV) A special release of Talisker whisky which was bottled at a fantastic 60% and released without an age statement or vintage. The bottling was specially released to celebrate the historic purchase of the Isle of Eigg by the Isle of Eigg Heritage in 1997.
- Talisker 1975 / 25 Year Old – (59.9% ABV)
- Talisker 8 Year Old / Bottled in the 1960s – (43% ABV)
- Talisker 1973 / 28 Year Old – (43.3% ABV) Just 100 bottles of this famous Talisker were released, yielded from what was at the time the oldest cask at the distillery. When released, this extremely rare bottling of one of Scotland’s best malts sold out in a matter of hours. As a result, it retains its cachet and desirability to this day.
- Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2014, Murray, J, 2013,Dram good books Limited, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK.
- Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012, Murray, J, 2011,Dram good books Limited, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK.
- Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ronde I, 9th Revised edition, 2013, MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, UK.
- 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, Buxton, I, 2010, Hachette Scotland, London, UK
- http://www.whiskycritic.com ?http://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk
About the author
Philip Day is an early-retired academic in linguistics who has published many articles.
A North-Midlander (The Potteries) by birth, he currently lives close to the Lancashire Pennines which he regularly explores with his Patterdale terrier, Max.
In particular he has a keen interest in European fine wines and good food and will be contributing further articles in the future for Escapement.uk.com.