When most people think of “island spirits”, they think of rum and the Carribbean. But the Scottish islands also make some fantastic stuff, specifically when it comes to the Islay spirits like Laphroaig and Lagavulin. My own personal family tree tells me that my ancestors came from the Shetland Islands, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a spirit from the Isle of Skye. So today, I’m going to fix that with this reader recommendation of the Talisker 10 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Founded in 1830 on the Isle of Skye by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill in Carbost, the Talisker distillery is situated on a piece of land on the western coast of Great Britain that belongs to the MacLeod clan. The pair purchased the lease to some land there and created their distillery, which was moderately successful and produced about 700 gallons of whisky per week by the 1880’s. It was re-built in 1890 and expanded in the early 1900s, when the MacLeod clan re-negotiated the lease and started charging £23.12s per year (~$3,500 in 2023 money) and a ten gallon cask of their best whiskey for the property.
In 1925, the distillery was acquired by the Distillers Company, which was eventually acquired by the British spirits giant Diageo who continues to own it to this day. The original distillery was completely destroyed by a fire in 1960, with reproduction versions of the original stills created and installed to attempt to maintain that same flavor profile.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
Talisker whisky is produced as closely as they can to the original version that came rolling off the stills almost 200 years ago.
This single malt whisky starts off as a shipment of 100% malted barley from the town of Muir of Ord just west of Inverness in Scotland. The grain that comes to the facility already been malted, peated, and milled by a third party since Talisker no longer owns or operates their own malting floor.
That grain is then added to water and cooked, allowing the starch within the grain to be converted into sugar by the natural enzymes within the malted barley. That sugary liquid is then fermented to create the mildly alcoholic liquid that Talisker uses to start their distillation process.
Talisker had originally experimented with a more Irish-style triple distillation method, but after 1928 the company has fallen in line with the rest of the industry and uses a double distillation method instead. In this process, the mildly alcoholic liquid is added to a series of two copper pots. The first of these pots is a “wash still” that does a coarse distillation of the spirit and the second is a “spirit still” that performs the fine adjustments to concentrate the alcohol content and selectively capture the desired whiskey.
After distillation, the spirit is placed into previously used American bourbon barrels where it sits for a minimum of ten years before being blended with some older stock and shipped for sale.
As with many other Scottish spirits, this bottle comes in a protective cardboard sleeve which not only protects the bottle from getting dinged up while in transit but also protects the spirit inside from premature oxidation through contact with sunlight.
The bottle itself isn’t much to write home about: a standard, round-bodied bottle with a medium length neck and a synthetic stopper.
What does stand out is the label. The artwork and the choice of colors for the bottle is visually striking — the combination of deep blue and bright orange works very well (and is prevalent in movie posters these days for that exact reason). It looks great, and the orange compliments the color of the whiskey in the bottle perfectly, in my opinion.
Something else I like about the label is that it has an interesting edge on the lower left side, which represents the coastline of the Isle of Skye. Not only does this break up the appearance of the label, but it also allows you to see more of the beautifully colored spirit within. It’s a really nice touch.
There’s a beautiful color to this spirit, with a dark amber color that’s maybe a bit closer to rusty iron or orange. It looks great in my opinion.
On first whiff, there are some immediate similarities to the Islay spirits — specifically, the presence of some peat smoke and a bit of slate and salinity. But behind those aromas, there’s also some sourdough bread, sweet honey, and a bit of caramel which provide an aromatic balance that is legitimately delightful.
Taking a sip, the flavors unfold and present a delicious yet approachable version of a peated scotch whisky. The peat smoke is present and immediately noticeable, but it isn’t overpowering and instead seems to provide a soft blanket to support the rest of the components. Some caramel, vanilla, and honey drizzled sourdough bread are the next components to make themselves known, and they slot in delightfully next to the existing smoky characteristic to provide some good balance and richness. On the finish, I start to get some fruity notes, including apple, banana, orange, and melon (like you’d see in a Highland scotch), before it finishes cleanly with just a hint of alcohol tingle on the lips.
With a little bit of ice, it seems like the peat smoke on the aroma has disappeared into the background. There are more floral and fruity notes coming through now, with melon, banana, apple, and orange topping the list. A little bit of honey and sourdough bread linger in the background giving it some depth and complexity.
On taking a sip, however, the peat smoke once again makes itself known. It’s still the prime flavor in the spirit despite the added ice (which often has a tendency to tone those kinds of flavors down considerably). What has changed in the flavor is that the fruity notes have diminished significantly, leaving the peaty and briny umami components to really be the stars of the experience. There’s a little bit of honey and bread keeping it from spiraling into a full blown Islay scotch, but it’s definitely a darker and richer experience compared to before.
I like a good smoky and salty Islay scotch, but I do realize that might not be for everyone. In this case, those flavors and components are still there, but it’s essentially a lighter, less overwhelming version of an Islay scotch whisky: all the same delicious flavors, just taken down a notch in terms of intensity.
This is one of those spirits that will stay on my shelf until I finish the bottle (which is rare, since I’m a spirits blogger who has pretty high rate of bottle rotation on my shelf!) Especially with summer coming up, I feel like this is the right compromise between keeping those amazing flavors and having something that isn’t quite as oppressive and dark. I do love my Lagavulin, but that’s more of a mid-January spirit whereas this is something that could be enjoyable even in a Texas July.
If I have one note, it’s that I’d like a little bit more of the fruit to come through in the flavor. If that component was just a bit more saturated, I think this would be perfect — but even as-is, this bottle is absolutely worth the price of admission.
|Talisker 10 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 45.8% ABV
Price: $72.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious smoky and peaty scotch whisky that still has plenty of fruity and light components. A gateway drug to the Islay scotch whiskies.