Whisky and Words Number 21: Talisker 10

Onward with our Islands series. We jump from Islay to Skye, for Talisker 10.

A maritime whisky, smoky and smooth.
A maritime whisky, smoky and smooth.

Like Bunnahabhain, Talisker 10 and I go back a long way. But in the way-back, some twenty years ago, Talisker was a bit much for me. Perhaps they’ve tapered off on the phenols, but who knows, I may have changed too. At any rate, back when I was a Scotch noob, the smokiness and medicinal qualities of this whisky were a bit much for me.

The Talisker distillery is on Skye, an island far to the north of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. It’s the most northern of the inner Hebrides, and like Islay, there aren’t a lot of trees on Skye. Peat is the traditional fuel for malting here, and although Talisker distillery took out their malting floors in 1972, their flavor profile was established by then and Talisker is still produced with a fairly hefty dose of phenols for a “richly flavored maritime malt” (from the label) that flavor is a combination of the smoked malt (from the mainland) and a peaty water source (Hawk Hill).

On the Talisker web site, they don’t say much about their ’10’ — they focus most of the marketing muscle on the NAS offerings that are all the rage these days (newer whisky, more $$, WTF?). The 10 is “smooth, smoky, with a warm afterglow.” I’d agree, with a caveat — since the bottling strength is nearly 46%, a few drops of water are called for.

If you dig deep enough at the web site, you’ll find their story. The distillery was built in 1830, a hot time for distilleries in Scotland. By the turn of the century they were one of the best-selling single-malts in the country — though I suspect they sold far more to blenders. There are rumors it is used by Johnnie Walker. Rebuilt after a fire in 1960, the stills were reconstructed with the same unique swan-neck design of the originals, in which some of the spirit flows back for re-distillation.

Tasting Notes

Talisker 1o-year old Skye single malt, 45.8% ABV

Nose: Apples, apple cider, oranges, vanilla, gentle earth, a touch of smoke.
Palate: Sweet malt, orange Turkish delight, oak tannins, and a touch of medicinal oils (eucalyptus?)
Finish: Peppermint, anise, dry oak, nice peaty smoke, earth, burnt driftwood.
Bottom Line: I’ve come around to liking peated scotches a lot, and when I bought my second bottle of Talisker, 20 years after the first, I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a single malt that took the promise of Highland Park 12 (a solid, well-constructed single malt) and upped the game in flavor. Talisker 10 should be the measuring stick for a damn good peated whisky at a reasonable price. At about $60 locally, I think that’s a fair upcharge from the solid and interesting (but less peated), Highland Park.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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