Talisker 10 Year Old
This post originally featured at watercolourwhisky.com
Sometimes it’s hard to know how much packaging influences the experience of drinking whisky. Remove a blue-capped bottle from a navy box adorned with nautical design elements*, talk of hills and island shores; pour yourself a glass; and BAM! You’re drinking the spirit of the ocean, baby, a single malt “like no other”! Why, if you hold a glass of Talisker 10 Year Old up to your ear**, you can practically hear the waves emanating from the flagship drink from the Isle of Skye’s only distillery, lapping against the cliffside…
Never mind of course that if you hold any glass up to your ear you can hear the ocean; nor that it’s Scotland: there’s a 50/50 chance any distillery is going to sit next to a large body of salt water and a 99/100 chance it lies beneath the shadow of some sort of hill. The Talisker 10 wants to make it abundantly clear that it’s unique, it’s island, and it does the sea.
And that’s cool. Even in a blind tasting, it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out there’s something Poseideny going on here. And it certainly is distinctive.
When it’s not actually splashing up your nose**, the notes wafting off the Talisker 10 have a curious mix of old and new. Most prominent are the musty smells that are by no means a refreshing crisp sea spray: they’re the dank, crusty salts of seaweed; wet hair of the dog (literal hair from a literal dog, mind); sea-soaked rope and leather. However, there are also some unusual industrial notes that provide a sharp counterpoint: a metallic edge, a piercing soap and a faint burnt rubber. These contradictions make it less ye olde creaking galley, more WWII aircraft carrier. The juxtaposed threads are a little jarring sitting side-by-side, but create a most interesting result.
There is also, buried underneath these strong scents, a suggestion of something sweeter – but that doesn’t really emerge until the taste. On sipping, much of the nose’s mustiness is washed away, revealing a rich-yet-bitter sweetness – a heavy, slightly salted, slightly burnt caramel, like the lid on a crème brûlée. This is quickly followed up by a strong wave of menthol, pushing that sweetness back down as the 45.8% crashes in with bitter pith** and orange seeds, temporarily drowning out all else. Fisherman’s Friend indeed.
As the menthol wave recedes, the sweetness begins to return on the finish, and something curious happens once again. As the flavour settles, sweet, subtle crustacean flavours take form: prawn, langoustine, and if I could afford it, what I imagine lobster tastes like. The longer you wait the more they emerge – after the alcohol evaporates, these subtle flavours remain, like a delicate yet pronounced bisque.
Overall, the Talisker 10 may not be the prettiest whisky at the ball, but by the sea-god’s trident it’s an interesting whisky, and it certainly lives up to its declaration of uniqueness. It’s also relatively cheap and often on sale, so I usually have a bottle of it in various stages of consumption. The Talisker 10 Year Old is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea dram of whisky, but, just like the delicious, noble prawn that rounds out its finish, there’s a lot to love if you put in the effort and get past its shell.
Try it if you enjoy: Top Gun; those sea-creature shaped chocolates – especially the sea horse; taking the 21-footer out for a sail on the harbour but still no-body will sleep with you
Don’t try it if you enjoy: Traditional cottage gardening, deserts, trying to ease in new whisky drinker with friendly drams
*Including handy maps and latitude and longitude readings for when you’re floating in the Atlantic and fancy stopping by for a dram.
**Or in my case, hold your glass up to take a deep whiff and tip it too far so that it goes up your nose. Spend the next three minutes crying salty tears, which I guess was appropriate?
***’Bitter Pith’ will be the name of my autobiography.