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Talisker – The Ageless Distillery

by Oliver Klimek on February 21, 2011

A Masterclass with Charlie Smith at Finest Spirits Munich 2011

Distillery manager Charlie Smith in person hosted this masterclass at the Munich festival. Talisker is one of the very few Diageo distilleries that offer older expressions on a regular basis. So I was delighted to see that their two top bottlings (25yo and 30yo) were to be poured, along with the 12yo FOCM bottling and the 18yo. The price charged for this impressive lineup was an amazing €10. Talk about value for money!

Actually this wasn’t so much a masterclass to learn about the whiskies but rather a presentation of Talisker in all of its facettes along with a few nice drams. Charlie Smith mastered this job with wit and routine, telling about the distillery itself and the whisky, all spiced up with amusing anecdotes.

Upon being asked, Charlie Smith also shed some light on the mysterious ABV of 45.8% that Talisker has traditionally been bottled with. Well, it’s not much of a secret that this is the conversion of the old 80 Imperial proof stength that was used in pre-metric ages. But the 57.15% that make up 100 proof will result in 45.7% for 80 proof when considering only a single decimal place. This question came up on Twitter and in a forum discussion, and the consensus was that 45.8% were chosen to guarantee 80 proof minimum because 45.7% flat would mean minimally less than 80 proof. And the distillery manager actually confirmed that this was indeed the reasoning behind selecting the 45.8%. Case closed.

But now let’s leave anorak land and move on to more important things – the drams:

Dram #1: Talisker 12 yo FOCM Bottling

45.8%

My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: A breath of sea air, dead campfire, a little rubber and hints of nutmeg.
Palate: Peat, liquorice, toasted bread, pepper and mixed dried herbs.
Finish: Very long, dry and smoky.
Overall: This special bottling is not quite as peppery as the regular 10 yo but it displays very interesting toasted and herbal notes.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

BuyTalisker 12 yo FOCM at The Whisky Exchange


Dram #2: Talisker 18 yo

 

45.8%

My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Toffee, a martime breeze, mixed citrus fruit, becoming fresher with water.
Palate: Mild peat, orange zest, honey glazed bacon with nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Long, spicy and sligthy smoky.
Overall: I did’t like this dram quite as much as the 18 yo that I had tried in 2009, it may well have been a different batch. But it still is a very fine and well-balanced Talisker.

Rating: 86/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

BuyTalisker 18 at The Whisky Exchange


Dram #3: Talisker 25 yo 2007 Bottling

 

58.1%

My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Prunes, honey, mild spices and only a minimal amount of smoke.
Palate: Gentle peat, caramel, honey, prunes, hints of banana, mild pepper and ginger.
Finish: Very long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: A very flavour intensive malt, complex and with a rather delicate character compared to other expressions of this distillery.

Rating: 89/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

BuyTalisker 25 at The Whisky Exchange


Dram #4: Talisker 30 yo 2009 Bottling

 

53.1%

My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Mixed tropical fruit cocktail with maritime freshness, honey, hints of cloves.
Palate: Pineapple, banana, honey, hints of herbs and pepper.
Finish: Very long, with a fruity whiff of smoke.
Overall: The oldest expression is unusually fruity and has only very little peat influence. There is a lot to explore in this malt.

Rating: 89/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

BuyTalisker 30 at The Whisky Exchange

Does Age Really Matter?

Firmly branded into the minds of many whisky lovers is the concept that in general older expressions of the same distillery are to be of higher quality than their younger counterparts. Only last year, Chivas launched their “The Age Matters” campaign to underline the importance of age statements.

Granted, for a lot of distilleries the age of their standard expressions is a least partly an indicator of quality. Macallan, Highland Park or Dalmore are just a few random examples. But there are also distilleries that seem to fiercly defy this rule of thumb.

Talisker is an amazing example of such a distillery. If you look at the scores I and others have given Talisker malts of all ages, you will notice an amazing non-trend. The bulk of the ratings seems to be confined in the narrow range of 85 to 90 points, just occasionally crossing these limits a few points up or down. It is virtually impossible to play the age card here.

Two things can be concluded from this. Obviously it shows that Talisker is a distillery that can produce excellent quality malts in an extremely consistent fashion. You really wonder if they could make bad whisky at all, even if they tried hard.

But there is also a consequence that in a way is less favourable for the distillery. The older and more expensive bottlings are not really better than the youngsters, they are just different. The peat and smoke of the 10 yo gives way to more fruity and sweet flavours in the older expressions. The 25 and 30 year olds are doubtlessly great whiskies, but from a marketing standpoint it is rather difficult to convince people to spend much more for a bottle only to have a Talisker that is not quite as peaty but fruitier instead, but also of comparable quality.

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