This 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.