Talisker 5, 2008, “The Speakeasy” (Douglas Laing)

Talisker 5. The SpeakeasyThis 5 yo Talisker is rather unusual. Both because it is very young and because it is almost as rare to see a Bengal tiger in the wild as it is to see an indie bottle of Talisker that is allowed to bear the distillery’s name. Dubbed “The Speakeasy” this is from the Laing warehouses and was bottled for K&L. I was unable to resist getting one for myself when they were announced. When I mentioned this on Twitter I was asked what on earth the appeal of this bottle could be and my response was that it was a combination of perverse curiosity and a desire to compare it with the Talisker 57 North, which is probably the youngest official Talisker. Frankly, I have no expectations of this whisky–I am a huge fan of Talisker and given how few opportunities we have to drink their malt the reasonable price on this made it hard for me to pass up.

This review is being posted simultaneously with Michael Kravitz’s review on Diving for Pearls. We have not discussed the whisky or our reviews ahead of time so it will be interesting to see how much we (dis)agree. I will add the link to his review once I have woken up and had a cup of tea. (And here is the link.)

Talisker 5, 2008, “The Speakeasy” (58.2%; single refill hogshead for K&L; from my own bottle)

Nose: Oh, this is real raw and rather mezcal-like. The mezcal notes burn off pretty quickly but it stays raw. A fair bit of (farmy) peat and a floral sweetness turning almost creamy. With time there’s some melon and then rapidly increasing brine. Water softens it a little.

Palate: Shockingly drinkable at full strength. Hits with the creamy sweetness that was hinted at on the nose and on the palate it seems even more mezcal than whisky at first. Lot of floral notes. On the second and third sips the salt expands and the peat has more of a gasoline edge. With more time and air it’s more firmly a whisky and beginning to be recognizably Talisker (though it helps, of course, to know that it is). Let’s see what water does. Well, it makes it smokier.

Finish: Long. Salty mostly. With time there’s some ashy smoke that lingers at the end and water brings it out earlier.

Comments: I thought this might be like the 57 North but this is much rawer. It seems at first like it can’t be very far removed from what it must have tasted like as new make but in sum it’s rather drinkable and, on the whole, I’m happy I got it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s far from a great whisky and far from a very good whisky too. But if you are a fan of Talisker you have to get a bottle just to see what it’s like when it’s very young. The trademark chilli pepper hasn’t yet quite developed and there’s a greater simple sweetness than in any other Talisker I’ve had. Of course, we shouldn’t read too much into a single cask–it may not be representative—but this seems like a glimpse at what Talisker’s spirit is like before it really becomes Talisker. One for the geeks rather than the regular drinkers but if you fit the description get one.

It must be said though that the first release of Kilkerran’s Work in Progress, which was also 5 years old kicks this one’s ass up and down the street (and all those releases have been cheaper). That’s a proper whisky, unlike this one. But it’s also doubtless a vatting of barrels carefully chosen to demonstrate what the house profile is going to be. Similarly, Bruichladdich’s young cask strength Port Charlottes in the PC line are nowhere as raw as this, but those are very much designer whiskies, with the high peat level and especially the wine cask component masking the youth of the spirit. You should not expect this to be anything like the whiskies in either of the series I’ve named. This is very much a one-off and a curiosity but one I very much appreciate. I don’t know how much luck K&L will have in selling this out but it’s one to build a Talisker tasting on: start with this, move on to the 57 North, then to the regular 10, then the D.E and end with the 18 (or, if the budget allows, go on to one of the excellent 25s).

And not that this is a reason to buy it but it has a very funky label design.

Rating: 82 points for what’s in the glass, plus 2 points for the experience: 84 points.

17 thoughts on “Talisker 5, 2008, “The Speakeasy” (Douglas Laing)

  1. Here again is the link to the Diving for Pearls review. We gave it the same score and found generally similar notes (though his notes are far more expansive than mine). The major discrepancy is that I found a fair bit of sweetness here and he didn’t. He did find the palate sweeter than the nose, as I did but where he didn’t find it particularly sweet per se I do (I tried it on two occasions). He also got more of the chilli pepper notes.

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  2. Yes, mezcal. That was in my mind but didn’t make it to my notes…

    The same score?! I was going to give it a slightly lower score, but felt as if that wouldn’t have represented the entertainment value. It would be nice if the current Talisker 10 held more of The Speakeasy’s character, but between the filtering and mass production that doesn’t stand a chance. I think this whisky’s great for whisky clubs/groups to split so that folks can experience the Talisker new make quality without going in for a full bottle.

    Not to continue parroting, but I fully agree about the Kilkerran WIP and Port Charlotte, those have been my favorite young whiskies. They were released to establish a brand, while The Speakeasy can exist as a singular experience because of its independence from the OBs.

    It’s interesting that we found such different levels of sweetness. I consumed a not insubstantial amount of this stuff for the review. So much so, my palate was blown out for the next 4 or 5 hours. The dryness and spiciness sat very far forward. Perhaps in subsequent tastings and with oxidation more will be revealed.

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    • I sampled it twice before finalizing the review. The first pour was more mezcal-like and there was more of the creamy sweetness there. Last night’s pour still had some sweetness on my palate and nose but was closer to being more of a simple, rough, peaty beast. I had it at 80+2 the first time but upgraded it to 82+2 after trying it a second time. It could get better I suppose, though I suspect the rough and raw character is to its benefit (i.e. I doubt there’s any further complexity waiting to emerge).

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  3. So it would seem true that Talisker is a rough youngster which metamorphosizes into a real beauty with time in the cask. (As opposed to malts that seem to hit their sweet spot earlier on).

    I’d like to know how this compares to the Storm but I don’t want anyone wasting their money on that bottle (myself included!).

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    • Hey Patrick. From what I’ve read about Storm’s maturation processes, there was a lot of oak manipulation going on. Many mentionings of “rejuvenated” casks. Which makes it sound as if Diageo wanted the Storm to taste anything but “young”. I like to pretend that they stared in the face of the raw Talisker spirit……and flinched.

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  4. That sounds about right, Michael, from the couple reviews I’ve read! Local stores are already marking down the Storm so if I see it for less than the 10yr I’ll give it a go…

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    • I’ve been wondering if Storm has been selling. It has been very well stocked wherever I go. There are piles of it at the Costcos in SoCal, selling for about the same price as Lagavulin 16. Rhetorical question: If you’re a customer who doesn’t know much about whisky, wouldn’t you go with the whisky you’ve seen and heard of more often (Lag 16) at the $70 price tag?

      Good to hear that there are some markdowns going on with Talisker Storm. Had Diageo released it as a starter Talisker, in the $40-$50 range, I would have whined about it a lot less. The thing is, I’ll bet it’s not terrible.

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  5. And thanks for the sample offer, MAO. I’ve been sick and haven’t opened new bottles, but will save “newly opened” samples when I do.

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  6. I purchased a couple from K&L. The price seemed worth the gamble for such a young whisky. Good notes. I’ll crack the seal on one soon.

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    • If you got to the end, can you summarize it for us? I have to set aside time to read through Sku’s Proustian reviews, usually during a long vacation.

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  7. It’s hard to tell through the endless fog of his verbosity but I think he thought it had some good points despite being obviously young and that he didn’t like it as much as another peated whisky that he’d said he didn’t like very much previously.

    Frankly, it is a bit of a violation (and challenge) to try and distill Sku’s flights of fancy down to a brief executive summary.

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  8. Thanks for sample. Drinks like a cross between sweeter grappa and mezcal. I’m glad to have tried it but not sure if I would buy a bottle.. It’s sold out in any case.

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