When I went to Scotland, I decided to make it a priority to visit the distillery which made my (currently) highest rated scotch.
That distillery was Talisker, and that whisky was their unbelievably good 57 ° North, a NAS, cask-strength beast of a dram. It was good enough for me to include the Isle of Skye on my trip, in order to visit the only single-malt distillery on the island (at the time of writing.)
It wasn’t terribly cheap, but following the extremely informative tour and thorough tasting, I’m happy to report it was worth every pence.
Here’s how it went:
I have to give an enormous kudos to Talisker for their employment of exceptionally good tour leaders. Our guide was knowledgeable, patient, and captivating.
She managed to strike a wonderful balance of fine details and more general knowledge, which appealed to both me and my girlfriend who is far less interested in the ins-and-outs of scotch production.
I learned a ton about the pre-distillation phase and the history of scotch that I never knew before. At one point during the explanation my girlfriend asked, “Did you know all this already?” I was very pleased to answer “No, not at all.”
There was no cameras allowed around the stills themselves (hence the absence of pictures), but at Talisker, we were told the shape of their stills (with a unique two bends in their pipe) is largely responsible for the character of the whisky.
One thing that really struck me while touring Talisker is their commitment to tradition. Wood where there could be stainless steel in the fermentation tanks, worm tubs still in use despite more modern forms of condensing, and an overall appreciation for “the way things have always been done.”
The one contemporary touch was the recent addition of seawater cooling, to offset fresh water use during (rare) dryspells on Skye. While these happen so infrequently it wasn’t sure if the new pipes would be used for years, Talisker found itself requiring them only last month, proving their immediate value.
In essence, touring Talisker gave me the refreshing sense of a distillery committed to tradition, but unafraid to adopt modern techniques where necessary.
The Scotch Tasting
I knew we would be tasting whisky, but I was pleasantly surprised with the range and depth our guide took us for the tasting.
We tried (in order):
- Unaged Talisker
- Talisker 10
- Distiller’s Edition
- 57° North
- Talisker 18
- Talisker 25
I was stunned by just how good the (very strong) unaged expression of Talisker was. It had so much character – including Talisker’s lovely peatiness — it put other white dog whiskies I’ve tried to shame. It also served as a useful baseline for the rest of our comparisons.
The 10 held up amazingly well compared to its more mature kin. I also learned that Talisker’s flagship whisky was originally aged only 8 years – but was changed to a decade after Talisker was included in the “Classic Malts” list, where 8 would have made it the youngest whisky included.
I was a little underwhelmed by the Distiller’s Edition, which seemed to me a flatter, less potent expression, possibly to pander to more sensitive palates.
I’m happy to say the 57° North impressed again. A few members of my group were a little leery of the “No Age Statement” but our guide spoke strongly in favour of it – with the caveat it be used for making great whisky not bound by age, as opposed to increasing production. At the end of the tasting, about half our group (myself included) voted for the 57° North as the best expression we’d tasted.
The Talisker 18 was outstanding. Really mature, and it had developed a depth of flavor with almost earthy undertones to the bright salted caramel top notes. If you’ve got the money and you’re looking to spend it, you could do far worse than the 18. It was easily my second favourite and gave the 57° North a run for its money.
But as for the 25, I was quite disappointed. Far less rich in character than the 18, the 25 was almost approaching Speyside levels of subtlety. Which is all well and good, but Talisker’s unique flavor is what makes it so appealing to me. And I feel some of that was lost on the 25. That said, it was far and away my girlfriend’s favourite (and about half of the group,) so I can’t write it off completely.
If you’re looking for a top-notch distillery experience in Scotland, you’d do well to try touring Talisker Distillery. Both my girlfriend and I had a lovely time, and the price was well worth the experience.
The tasting was the perfect cap to the afternoon, and the range and quantity of whisky was very generous. We even got to take home a Talisker branded nosing glass, included in the cost of the tour! I highly recommend this tour as a chance to sip some fine Talisker slow.