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 my palate. When I was a Scotch noob, the smokiness and medicinal qualities of this whisky were a bit much for me. These days, with uber-peat monsters coming out of Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Laphroaig, the moderate peat (20-ish ppm) of the Talisker feels like a well-balanced note than an overbearing chord.
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-year, assuming you can find it in the deluge of 25 different editions, tasting sets, bags etc. There are a few tasting notes and they state “The warm, subtle smokiness of Talisker 10 Year Old should be sampled neat.” 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. There are some interesting notes on the design and its effect on the spirit (such as the fruity elements noted below) at scotchwhisky.com.
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 very good peated whisky at a reasonable price. At about $70 locally, I think that’s a fair upcharge from the solid and interesting (but less peaty), Highland Park.