Talisker 18 year old

Dramming with Keith – Two malt mates, six Talisker expressions in a vertical tasting

It’s a few months after the 2016 Malt Maniacs awards. I’m sitting in Keith Wood’s den and we’re talking about the whiskies I’ve helped decant into sample bottles just a few months earlier. “You know, it would be interesting if we did a vertical tasting together and publish both our notes at the same time.” One of obvious candidates is Talisker, since there are no less than six expressions that were entered into the awards. A plan is hatched, samples are filled – and about a year (or so) later, the day is finally here: A vertical tasting of the following six Talisker Expressions: Skye, Storm, Dark Storm, Port Ruighe, 10 yo, 18 yo. Let’s do this!

Talisker Skye

Talisker Skye

45,8% ABV
No Age Statement

Keith
As always I’m using my Classic Malt glass for all of these Talisker reviews. Golden yellow in colour and with initial notes of gentle peat on the nose this really hints at what’s to come. With time the nose develops a fruitiness akin to green apple with mild undertones of banana skin. It also hints at maritime qualities with suggestions of Atlantic-ness. Well, the label does say “made by the sea”. The palate surprises me a little with a big, mouth-filling waxiness, suggestions of creamy toffee and a mild sweetness and continuing into a long, lightly smoky finish. Overall this is what I would call a good every-day dram that you can enjoy relaxing by an open fire of an evening. 85 Points from me.

Klaus
Faint red-gold-colour in the glass. It literally noses like a somewhat rougher, younger version of the 10yo which I’m tasting it against in parallel. The peat smoke is less obvious but there’s more alcohol – which tastes more new-make-ish. Lurking behind the peat and alcohol one can find citrus and a hint of vanilla, but they are quite subdued. On the palate, the arrival takes a second to get going but then it’s there in full force – signature pepper and chilli bite. There is a bit more underlying sweetness than in the 10 – let’s call it maltiness – while the peatiness is reduced, but accompanied with a toasty cask note and vanilla. The finish is quite big on the pepper and chilli, again, with mild-ish peat smoke trailing behind – this time accompanied by toasted notes and lasting vanilla-oak-sweetness. In all, a younger, “rougher” and less pronounced sibling to the Talisker 10 on the nose, which it has replaced in most supermarket-type outlets around the world, but with a bit more balance on the palate and finish. I guess that’s a tie then. Score: 83


Talisker Storm

Talisker Storm

45,8% ABV
No Age Statement

Keith
Another golden glowing dram in my Classic Malt glass, this time like a shiny new 9ct gold ring. The nose once again surprises me with an initial blast of custard-iness, but not for long as it soon develops into aromas of matches being struck with a maritime undertone. In fact we’re maybe talking fireworks on an Atlantic beach, light the blue touch-paper and stand back. As the nose further develops with time in the glass that custard-iness returns with accompanying hints of a fruitiness akin to stewed apple. The palate once again has a waxiness but lightly so and not as mouth-filling as the previous Skye. It also has a freshness which reminds me of a pine forest and again an apple-y fruitiness but alongside some oak-iness and nutty (Hazelnut) smokiness. The finish is medium length and syrup-y with flavours of oak and a mild suggestion of bonfire embers. Overall I’m again pleasantly surprised by this dram, ideal for bonfire night or by an open log fire, somewhere cosy. 85 Points from me.

Klaus
Light gold liquid in the glass. There’s quite a lot of alcohol on the nose with a whiff of peat smoke, vanilla, pepper, wet pebbles and smoked salt. It goes “boom” on the palate – chili kick and fresh pepper burn with alcohol, a whiff of peat smoke, a pinch of salt and a slight malty vanilla sweetness. Rather dry. The finish is quite dry upon swallowing with a pepper and chili kick. Slight peat smoke kicks in afterwards and lingers for a while, paired with a dry malt note. Positioning-wise this is in the same league as Skye but less expressive and more singular on the alcohol/pepper/chili burn signature notes. Not my preferred expression, but far from bad, it works well if you need warmth in the midst of a raging storm! Score: 81


Talisker Dark Storm

Talisker Dark Storm

45,8% ABV
No Age Statement

Keith
A rather darker golden colour this time, in fact very dark golden. Smoky bacon crisps? No, not smoky bacon itself but that distinctive aroma of the crisp variety, followed soon after by fruitiness, apples, pears but also a bitterness, perhaps star fruitiness? This is nice, unusual but nice. The palate initially offers mouth-filling oakiness but there’s still a suggestion of smoky bacon in the background. Unlike the previous 2 Taliskers the smokiness here isn’t reminiscent of peat or even bonfire embers, it’s amazingly just smoky bacon crisps. The finish holds a fruitiness but this time more like redcurrants with a suggestion of black pepper right at the end. My overall impression is a very good one where I recall Taliskers from the past having a distinctive pepperiness so I’m delighted to experience that once again here. 86 Points from me.

Klaus
Light amber in the glass, as the name suggests. Oh, this is dark indeed on the nose! Much less alcohol and nose hair burn initially than the Storm I’m pairing it with, with notes of peat smoke, cracked black pepper (left in the open for a few hours), soot, oak char, liquorice and roasted cocoa beans. The palate offers a continuation of the nose. Initially rather calm before a pepper and chili kick appears (not as … stormy as in “Storm”). Once these fade, well-integrated peat smoke appears, paired with a hard to define “dark” background layer that coats the entire mouth (on the dry side). Charred oak, liquorice, dark malt sweetness, burnt molasses (as in a dark rum). The finish offers a culmination of palate and nose. Dry, “big” upon swallowing with somewhat subdued alcohol, pepper and chili (but they are there, fear not!) followed by well-integrated peat smoke, traces of liquorice, molasses and charred casks leaving a burnt vanilla note, all of which lingers for a long time. Oh, this is really lovely stuff. I couldn’t care less that it’s a whisky without an age statement, it’s very well made. “Dark” is well suited to describe this whisky – a somewhat subdued, but still present, distillery character integrates well with very heavily charred casks without any of these elements being overpowering. Score: 87


Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker Port Ruighe

45,8% ABV
No Age Statement

Keith
So here we are with the last of the NAS samples; Port Ruighe (pronounced Ree) and as the name suggests it’s been finished in Port Casks. As such it’s a little darker in colour than the others, more like shiny oak than yellow gold. The nose offers initial maritime aromas (salty sea air) before opening up to include candle wax with something orange-like. It suggests bitterness, perhaps blood orange? The palate is initially peppery (good old Talisker) and then the orange-ness comes through alongside a suggestion of dark chocolate …… How I’m reminded of Terry’s dark chocolate orange at Christmas-time. The finish is very long with even more intense dark chocolate orange. Overall I generally love these characteristics in a whisky but for some reason this one leaves me a little short or underwhelmed, it’s good but rather restrained, 84 points from me.

Klaus
Dark red gold, almost amber liquid in the glass. On the (fresh and young-ish) nose the alcohol is back, paired with tingling grapefruit peel and subdued bonfire smoke, red grapes, grape peel and something slightly bitter… crushed grape seeds perhaps? Another light Talisker nose without much depth to it. The palate is rather light on the arrival, it takes a few seconds for the alcohol and slight chili bite to appear. Slightly syrupy (grape juice), with a dominating dry-ish note (sweet grape skins) and blood orange. Hints of smoke in the background. The finish is quite big and juicy with restrained alcohol and almost no chili/pepper bite, sweet notes of red grape juice and one bitter grape seed thrown in. Lasts quite long with lingering fading sweet/dry/slightly smoky notes. Overall this is a nice sipper, albeit a bit simple and young lacking depth. Score: 82


Talisker 10 year old

Talisker 10 yo

45,8% ABV
10 years

Keith
Now to the 10 year old; again slightly darker in colour than the earlier NAS offerings, but not quite as dark as the Ruighe, we’re talking light oak in colour. The nose has oodles of fruitiness and freshness, think along the lines of apple and pear mixed in with salty sea air. Yes, plenty of maritime elements, salty seaweed and a kind of fogginess reminding me of a misty autumn morning on an Atlantic beach where everything has just been shrouded in mist, slightly numbing the senses. The palate is different again with distinct barley, it’s malty and there’s that good old Talisker pepperiness back again. “Made by the sea”? Aye. The finish is very long with malty, peppery bonfire embers. Overall I’m delighted by the palate but the nose doesn’t quite live up to it. A thoroughly enjoyable winter dram and 85 points from me.

Klaus
Faint red-gold in the glass. The nose offers the classic Talisker 10 profile with quite a lot of (not too strong) peat influence up front, followed by freshly cracked pepper, a “fresh” whiff of citrus air freshener, light vanilla and maybe a trace of coconut. Rather spirit driven and not masked by loud oak. The palate is equally fresh on the arrival with a “loud” spirit influence. Moderate peat smoke, citrus, cracked pepper, chili burn and rather dry. Not much sweetness at all – just a hint of vanilla and sugar-reduced lemon cake. The finish is big on the pepper and chili upon swallowing, quickly followed by lasting medium-strong peat smoke. It’s been a couple of years since I last had a Talisker 10 so this took me by surprise by how spirit-driven it is. The signature chili catch and pepper burn are there but there’s not much more to it, especially the finish is rather short. Could use some additional elements to balance things out if you ask me. Has this always tasted that way? Score: 83


Talisker 18 year old

Talisker 18 yo

45,8% ABV
18 years

Talisker 18yo

Keith
Dark oak, almost to the point of a toffee colour this 18 year old initially offers a nose of smoky fruitiness. My first thought was raspberry but on a second nosing this changed my mind to something richer, perhaps dark cherries, certainly hints of plum and maybe raisins too. There’s also a suggestion of creamy toffee almost to the point of butterscotch-iness with a very faint orangey-ness in the background. This creamy toffee-ness is most definitely present on the palate and the fruitness too, with suggestions of plum and bramble. There’s also a very creamy mouth-feel and it’s very warming with that Talisker pepperiness. All of this pepperiness, warmth and toffee-ness continue into the medium length finish. Overall this is a fine and sophisticated whisky. Did I save the best until last? Aye, certainly, 87-88 points from me.

Klaus
Deep gold in colour. On the nose, it’s easily detectable as the oldest and most complex dram in this lineup (these two attributes don’t always have to align, but they do in this case). Well-integrated alcohol with a coexistence of subtle peat smoke, orange, pepper and lovely oakiness. Diving deeper we’ve got wax, grape skins and, dare I say it, a can of mixed tropical fruits. Lovely. The palate is subtle on the arrival with a slow buildup of slight alcohol, just a pinch of peat, pepper and chilli and a big, mouth-coating, waxy mix of fruits served on an oak platter enjoyed next to the salty sea. The finish has a quick burst of pepper upon swallowing before ending in a long, big mixture of sweet mixed fruits (yes, that cheap can of mixed tropical fruits again) with a mixture of wax, oak and a touch of smoke lingering for a long time. Well, this was obvious, wasn’t it? The oldest and most expensive dram just had to win… I kinda wish it didn’t because that would prove a point, but, nope, in this case, age wins hands-down without any doubt. Score: 89


Final thoughts

Klaus
That was fun! And Intriguing! And strange! I haven’t had a Talisker in quite a few years so for me it was getting reacquainted with this distillery. What surprised me most was how light and spirit-driven quite a few of the drams were, to a point where some lacked depth for my palate – including the signature 10 which I always held in high regard. Looking at the tasting from a NAS vs age statement perspective there is no clear conclusion. The 10yo and the NAS Skye expression are equally good in my book and have a clear place in the lineup. The two other NAS expressions, Port Ruighe and Storm fall behind and I don’t see myself reaching for them in a shop. I guess the surprise of the tasting was the (as it looks discontinued) Dark Storm expression, which was the most expressive dram except for the clear winner, the 18yo, which is, well, a delight.

Keith
I agree with Klaus that this was indeed very interesting from a couple of perspectives; firstly there’s the obvious Age vs NAS discussion and it’s no secret that I’ve generally been an advocate of age statements and sometimes quite vociferous about NAS. In some ways, this little Talisker exercise has opened my eyes a little, if not given me cause to change my mind, just a little bit, maybe. Perhaps expectation comes into play a little as I really didn’t expect much from the NAS offerings here. I awarded 85 points to each of Skye & Storm which was a little more than Klaus gave to each, was I being a little generous? Maybe by just a point but then this was how I felt on the evenings when I tried them and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I’m in full agreement with Klaus about the Dark Storm, a lovely dram which more than exceeded all expectations. As for the 10y, I enjoyed it and am glad to see some of that old Talisker pepperiness coming back as I recall it seemed to be lost in some of the bottlings I tried throughout the earlier 2000’s, but then again I still didn’t score it higher than the Skye or Storm. I’ve never been a fan of Port finishes and once again the Ruighe fell a little short for me, but it was considerably better than most Port finishes I’ve tried. Now for the final two, what can I say? Dark Storm was a treat but the 18y …. bloody fabby. Looks like I agree with Klaus here then.

Well, if you’ve made it to the end – thanks a lot for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Do you want to see more content like this? What are your thoughts on the various Talisker bottlings we’ve tried?

To read Keith’s version follow this link – including a concluding paragraph with his thoughts on the distillery and its bottlings through the times! Thanks a lot for making this happen, Keith!
Label pictures provided by Keith Wood.

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