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Talisker (pronounced: TAA-liss-ker) is rightly one of the most famous distilleries in Scotland, a reputation it well deserves considering the truly unique flavour profile it offers. The lone distillery on the Isle of Skye, it personifies perhaps better than any other non Islay distillery a traditional 'Island' profile.
Water Source: Cnoc-nan-Speireag
Stills: 2 Wash. 2 Spirit.
Capacity: 2 Million litres.
1950-1972: Big Fruit. Big Peat and Big Old School Character.
Realistically 'tasteable' expressions of Talisker begin around the early 1950's with a few from the late 1940's also. There are a few notorious bottlings from the early half of the 20th century but they are understandably scarce/mega expensive/ highly dubious. If you can find a genuine expression of Talisker distilled prior to 1928 then you can taste what the whisky was like in the days when Talisker was still triple distilled. You will also probably be very wealthy and unlikely to appreciate such a rare opportunity properly.
Talisker was a large distillery with 5 stills that operated in classical old school fashion for many decades up until the 1970s. The house style of these old Taliskers is one with a thicker and more directly apparent peat quality. This goes hand in hand with lots of gentle but rich fruitiness and peppery dry coastal notes. Old Talisker can be a whisky of great maritime complexity and power but also with a stunning elegance that few malts these days can hold a candle to.
In 1960 the distillery suffered extensive damage due to a fire and was subsequently closed for two years during which time the stills were replaced by exact replicates of the old ones. Production restarted again in 1962 and continued uninterrupted till 1972 when floor malting at the distillery was discontinued.
The greatest bottling from this era at Talisker are almost certainly those by Gordon & MacPhail. They bottled a selection of aged vintages stretching from the forties right through the fifties into the early seventies. The majority of these bottlings are utterly stunning, although the 100 proof 1957, 1953's and any cask strength editions are particularly mind blowing. There are also some fantastic Cadenhead bottlings that are well worth seeking out. There are also many old official bottlings of Talisker, old white label 8yo expressions from the 60s are particularly worth seeking out as they are often well sherried, dry, coastal, peaty stunners.
1973-Modern Day: Maritime, and Zingy with Pepper, Peat and Lemons.
Since the early seventies Talisker has evolved like most Scottish distillates although it still bears much more resemblance to its old self than many of the more 'modernised' distilleries. The peating level has been set around 22ppm since the malt started to arrive from Glen Ord Maltings in 1972. Lower than many other peated malts but Talisker still seems to manage to wear its phenols on its sleeve. It is also one of the few distilleries to use a purifier which affords the distillate some valuable extra reflux and fruity precursors.
The modern day 10yo was launched along with all the other classic malts in 1988 and has managed to remain a fairly consistent must have bottling ever since. Modern Talisker is filled with dry maritime notes offset by some sweet, distinctively peppery peat and little flecks of citrus and oil. It ages well up to and probably beyond 30 years of age as is apparent in the official 18, 20, 25 and 30yo expressions that have emerged over the past decade. Most of these official Taliskers these days are phenomenal, potent and flavoursome whiskies that speak of their Island origins loud and clear. There is a distiller's edition available as a 'vintage' each year, which is finished in amontillado sherry casks. Although this is regularly a fine bottling Talisker is often at its best when not being too interfered with by excessive wood influence. There are also some excellent bottlings by Douglas Laing under the name 'Tactical'. Hopefully Talisker will continue to produce consistent and truly distinctive distillate in this fashion for a long time to come. As it stands it remains one of the true originals of Scotch Whisky.