Here’s a whisky that’s been languishing in a box for months, what was I thinking? Talisker is an excellent warm-you-up whisky for winter and here we have sunshine, daffodils and buds in Portland. However, there is rain coming, so it’s a good time to taste a Talisker. This bottle is only $10 more ($80) than the standard 10-year Talisker, and thus gives the Talisker lover a new twist on their favorite without having to break the bank.
The Distiller’s Edition is a range from Diageo they do yearly. In each case, there’s a core whisky which is aged as per the brand’s standard then aged further in some other cask. The Talisker DE is aged for 10 years in ex-bourbon and then finished in Amoroso (medium-dry sherry) casks. I have the 2018 edition, as you can see from the photo above (click on the photo for a closer look; the date of distillation and bottling is in the lower label). However, they have followed the same pattern since the mid 2000’s and the 2020 release is of the same formula.
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.
This bottle of Talisker 18 was a gift from my wife who knows I am a huge fan of Talisker’s 10-year-old, and knows I was blown away by the Talisker 25 I had in a New York restaurant. (That was Aureole, a great combination of superb food and service without pretension. A Michelin starred restaurant, and there were folks eating there in jeans and t-shirts…) But I digress. When I woke up Christmas morning and found this bottle stuffed in my stocking I broke out in a broad grin. Santa sure knows my taste.
This is a whisky with a serious price (about $165 around here) so I’m going to give it a detailed analysis. I’ll be comparing it to the Talisker 10 of course and the Caol Isla 18, which is comparable in some ways (age, Island flavor profile) though the Caol Isla is unpeated. (I have to find a peated Caol 18!)
This is the first of three straight NAS whisky reviews. I relented on Talisker’s Storm when the price came down, from over $55 locally (Oregon) to just under $50. The original price was not so obnoxious as some NAS whiskies — I tried a Dalmore King Alexander III recently, for example, which runs $305, and Ardbeg’s Corryveckan is about $90. But still, $55 is the range where you can get a nice 12-year-old.
The standard Talisker 10, one of my favorites, isn’t cheap of course, at about $65 locally, so the opportunity to fill the Talisker-sized hole in my liquor cabinet for fifty bucks was too good to pass up. So, how does the Storm compare? After all, it is a Talisker, and we have expectations: of light peat smoke, a unique medicinal nose, shades of wrack and seaweed, citrus and fruit.
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).