Talisker 10 year old is reviewed by Steve Crotty, because salty, kick-you-in-the-teeth whiskies are what you need to warm up and calm down during those cold, sometimes stressful, Christmas days.
Talisker 10 year old
Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Approximate price £30 – 35
A couple of things before we get to the business at hand, dear reader. Firstly, this review won’t encompass views on whether peaty whisky is to be rejoiced or reviled. Those of you who aren’t fans need read no further than this sentence, and would be advised to seek out some of the other fine whiskies reviewed that are on the site, along with your handbag (just kidding).
Secondly, this review of Talisker will be a favourable one. I’m not speaking out of bias to the distillery, nor am I being given free samples in order to ‘persuade’ me of its merits. The simple fact is that I love Talisker. It was the very first truly peaty whisky I had at the woefully unprepared age of sixteen. I was sat in a quaint village pub alongside the Ilkley River (the name of the pub escapes me) and I vividly remember physically recoiling in terror at what I had rather cockily ordered, at the time trying to sound knowledgeable to impress no one in particular. Ever since then I have had respect for the sheer intensity and bravado employed by all peaty whiskies (though I don’t always like them, some are peaty just for the sake of it). Talisker may have been my first love affair, but I won’t be going soft on it today. No faults will escape my critical attention.
Talisker’s 10 Year old single malt is the first and cheapest of all the distillery’s whiskies, and is one you’re probably familiar with. It has taken the mantle of most prolific peaty whisky and is regularly the only peaty expression you will see in pubs and supermarkets. There are two very good reasons for this. It has won more awards than a shot putter could throw, including the esteemed Malt Maniac’s ‘best natural cask’ award in 2010. The second, and more cynical, reason is the giant conglomerate that is Diageo have made it part of their ‘Classic Malt’ series, it being the Island representative. This has ensured its legacy and profitability for years to come. You get the feeling, however, that the whisky could have done this on its own.
Any of you read my colleague Chris Hall’s engaging piece on Pusser’s Rum? If not I suggest you do, it’s bloody good. Go on, I’m not going anywhere . . .
Right. You know how he describes Pusser’s as having a ‘raging pong’ about it? Talisker’s got it in abundance too. It’s not quite as forceful (i.e. you can actually do other things in the day without having to change clothes) but it is still a powerful snarling beast of an aroma. Lashings of sea salt and brine do battle with vengeful smoke akin to starting a tyre fire in the North Sea. Just when you thought it had relented, a jarring tang of overripe lemon punches its way through the other smells and straight to the back of your sinuses. For some this will be all too much or simply revolting. For me it’s bliss.
I’ve regularly heard the taste of Talisker described as being ‘coastal’ (so, of dead fish and rotting seaweed? See your Old Pulteney review. And you’re still fired – Editor). Whilst normally I would avoid something so contrived, it is an apt fit. At 45.8% ABV it is certainly not a shrinking violet either, the flavours are all the Ps; pronounced, plentiful and pummelling.
The presence of the oak belies the mere 10 years that this has spent in cask, but it never threatens to take over. It is entwined with the peat, salt, wood and smoke all juxtaposed in perfect harmony. If anything does take the role of alpha male then it is the peat, the smoke blowing through the back of your throat giving you the feeling you’ve just smoked a dozen earth-flavoured Cubans. Whereas some peat finishes are off-putting in their smoky obscenity, Talisker delivers a more refined peat with great clarity and a complex mouth-feel. It makes itself known persuasively but not by shouting; it doesn’t need to shout when it knows it’s this good. As the finish finally dies away (a good full minute after initial tasting) a hint of bitter dark chocolate threatens to encroach but never does, enigmatically dying away just as quickly as it appeared.
Water can be added for those who find the array and sheer strength of the spirit a little too jarring. While this does mute some flavours it also accentuates others, the peat is less pronounced but the sharp salty tang comes to the fore, while the oak drifts in and out of range. As a mixer it would be pointless, smoke and coke just don’t mix, and it is simply too powerful for anything else.
This is a winter drink, a drink of the night if you will. Pour yourself a large one on one of those endlessly cold days that are to follow, when the wind howls and the chill eats into your flesh. Even those who don’t like Talisker have a begrudging respect for the way it fills your senses. As for me, I’ve already made it clear that I love this whisky. Since I live by the coast, I don’t expect this to change any time soon. Coastal winters necessitate a drink this powerful, puissant and potent. Hmm. Must be a P theme today.
Overall Rating 9/10