We begin our journey to Talisker with what is undoubtedly the flagship expression, the 10 Year Old. Many of you know it, many of you don’t and either way, it’s worth revisiting this unique, complex single malt. The Talisker 10 Year Old is one of the Classic Malts of Scotland, Diageo’s collection of iconic whiskies including Lagavulin 16 Year Old, Oban 14 Year Old, and Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old to name a few. It was most recently named Best Single Malt up to 12 Years at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2015. Quite an achievement when you consider the sheer volume and quality of whisky in that category. It’s chill filtered, yes, it’s slightly colored but unlike the other Classic Malts, the ABV is increased from 43% to 45.8%. This is known as simply, “Talisker Strength”.
Now, before we get into this I would like to remind you that Talisker is not for the faint of heart. Admittedly, I was not a fan of this whisky when I first tried it years ago. I feel much differently today. It is known for it’s bold, peppery punch and it has an ability to intimidate newcomers like a wolf in sheap’s clothing. It’s not as peat-heavy as your typical Islay malt but it’s unmistakable earthiness can take some used to. If you are new to peat smoke or to single malts in general, my advice is this: try this for the first time but please do not make any final judgements until you’ve gone through a bottle of your own. Let’s get to it…
On the nose, wow! A strong, peppery aroma of thick peat smoke, seaweed and damp wood. The peat is not the medicinal, iodine peat of Islay. This is more like dancing around a beach bonfire with your best friend who happens to be a grizzly bear. It’s big and bold but also very warming. Fragrant oils and tannic spices come together with a nice veil of toffee and lemongrass. Above all, it is unmistakably coastal. It’s packed with freshly smoked salmon and brine and this musky aroma of saltwater-dampened oak continues to reappear. An aroma unlike anything out there. Seemingly powerful but approachable.
On the palate, the whisky starts off surprisingly sweet. Some fresh vanilla, a warm oakiness, some bittersweet chocolate. Not so powerful after all. Well just when I’m beginning to put my guard down, BAM! A rush of cracked pepper and salt water smacks the palate like a whale crashing into the sea after a prolonged breath of air. All of the coastal elements are in full effect; dampened smoke, salt water, seaweed, oh the glory! The effect is immediately drying as the alcohol surges toward the tip of the tongue and captures every last taste buds. This is every bit of 45.8% ABV.
If we add a dash of water and bring it down to say 40% ABV, the commotion is put to rest. The coastal flavors, including the peat, have now passed making way for more prominent notes of citrus and toasted marshmallow along with a hint of, well, I can’t quite discern what it is I’m tasting here. This is undoubtedly one of the more complex drams to be had and I think I’m still coming down from that initial tidal wave experienced earlier. The evolution from neat to “opened up” is remarkable. Most whisky is intended to be enjoyed with a drop of water or two but with this one I don’t know. There is an experience to be had either way. A mouth watering finish lasts quite a while as the coastal flavors linger for several minutes.
In conclusion, it’s big, it’s edgy, it’s unforgettable. It knocks you over and picks you up a moment later. It may not be an every day dram but there are certain moments when there is no substitute. Cold weather, heavy wind, violent rain. This the moment when Talisker comes to life. So next time you come across a rainy day, grab the Talisker, put on your rain jacket, step outside and embrace the elements. You won’t regret it.