Whisky and Words Number 55: Talisker 57° North

The 57 Degrees North. A fine whisky.

Normally, I review whiskies one can find at a reasonably well stocked liquor store. But now and then I cover something a bit harder to get. In this case, my wife had the Talisker 57° N shipped from Scotland for my (57th) birthday. I can imagine the cost of shipping rivaled that of the whisky. I have searched about 10 online liquor shops in the US and none of them had this expression. But if my wife can get it, so can you. It just takes will…and some extra cash.

Talisker intended this whisky to be a tribute to their remote location on the isle of Skye, 57° North latitude. What do they say about it? On their website, Talisker 57° is said to be “an untamed, natural expression of the Talisker’s full power: a volcanic, intensely appealing flavour that most drinkers will have only experienced in a cask strength bottling.” Indeed, 57% alcohol is pretty strong, a true 100 proof. True cask strength whiskies (except for the oldest) are typically higher than that, but 57% is on the cusp. Their flavor map has it dead center in weight, and pretty high on the smoky range. It’s not far from where they put their 10-year expression. I also find the label appealingly similar, the classic off-white label with Talisker in an embossed-style font.

Diageo kept the classic design for this expression.

There is a bit more on the carton, telling us they’ve aged the spirit in American oak refill casks, and it is “Sweet to start, and explodes with smoke and volcanic pepper.” Wow, I did not know volcanoes made pepper, got to get me some of that. I like pepper.

So, where’s the there, you wonder? On the pour, it doesn’t assault the room like a Laphroaig, but that’s not the Talisker way with peat. (Talisker tends to be medicinal in its phenolic content, not oily and ashy like the Islay peat monsters.) I find the nose very similar to the 10, but richer in the top end, where the grassier aromas from the oak are found and lighter on the bottom end, where the 10 brings more fruit to the nose. It’s nice – we probably have younger whiskies in this dram (it’s a NAS after all) but the malt master has done a great job selecting casks to bring out the best in young whiskies. There is no sting from the alcohol: they’ve really nailed the heart on this dram. There are 43% whiskies that sting far more than you’ll get from the 57.

The Talisker 10 (l) and 57 North (r) are very close in color. Sad day for lighting though.

So, on to the taste. I expected..well, it’s a NAS of which I am always dubious and the tasting notes were a bit over the top but yowee, they deliver on this whisky. At first, straight, no water needed, you notice the very nice caramel sweetness and then moments later, the ‘volcanic’ pepper does indeed explode. Holy cow. And then it gets smoky, in a less oily way than an Islay whisky. As I say in my tasting notes, a sip of this is like a drag on a truly good cigar. This is a roller coaster of flavor. Where the 10 is smooth, medical and subtle in its smokiness and spice, the 57 makes no bones about its flavor profile. It’s a big, but precise, flavor delivery engine.

Talisker 57° North, Island (Skye) Single Malt, NAS, 57% ABV

Nose: Very maritime: seaweed, earthy peat, like the 10 but more so. Sweet red apple, celery, fresh cut grass. Smoke is persistent but not overwhelming or oily. Surprisingly gentle on the nose for a near-cask-strength whisky.
Palate: Big toffee and caramel lead, and I get a bit of apple and strawberries. The sweet is quickly balanced by the traditional Talisker medicinal phenols (a bit Listerine, in a good way). Wow, yes it does explode in the peppery spice on the sides of the tongue, transitioning to a hefty serving of ashy smoke near the end, like a drag on a really good cigar. Remarkably smooth for a strong whisky; there is no harshness on the throat.
Finish: The ash stays with you once the pepper finishes its beat-down of the caramel and toffee; those spicy notes continue to balance as the smoke lingers.

Bottom Line: An exceedingly well done NAS whisky. And for a change, the tasting notes from the malt master are dead on. I have to say, the 57, along with the very solid standard ’10’ and the awesome 25-year-old I tried in New York really cements my appreciation for the brand. I am not letting my friends have any more of this. I’m totally going to hog this whisky. Kudos to the best-of-all-wives for ordering this from the Home Country!

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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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