When we arrived in Minnesota in 2007 I fortuitously happened on Chicago-Lake Liquors while visiting the Midtown Global Market across the street. Chicago-Lake’s large collection of single malt whisky at minimal markups had a lot to do with my rapidly accelerating whisky mania at the time. Alas, those days are long gone—Chicago-Lake is still around but the selection shrank and the prices rose quite a few years ago. I will always be grateful to the owners of the store though for making it possible for me to try so many excellent official releases at such reasonable prices. These included the Laphroaig 15 for $40, the Glenlivet Nadurra for $55, Springbank 15 for about $65, the Highland Park 18 for $80 and, yes, the Talisker 18 for all of $50. The Talisker 18 had only just been introduced a few years ago and had recently been named the best whisky in the world by some publication or the other. And so I was very happy to try it. I loved it right away and for a good few years bought it regularly from Chicago-Lake. Elsewhere the price was higher—$80’ish—but that paled in comparison to the price hike around 2012 or so when it shot up to $140. Alas, I had not had the foresight to stock up on a case or two and so the memories of the early releases were soon all I had left of them. Thus when the chance recently presented itself to acquire a bottle of the 2004 release I jumped at it. I was curious to see what I would make of it now. I’d liked the 2011 release but not thought it very special; the 2007 release I’d liked a lot more. Would this one live up to my memory of it? Well, I’m very glad to say it does.
Talisker 18, 2004 Release (45.8%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Honey, a bit of lemon, some of that Talisker chilli pepper and quite a bit of a papery note (very similar to that in the Oban 18). The lemon turns to orange soon enough and little whiffs of smoke show up as well. As it sits there’s sweeter fruit as well (apricot) and the whole becomes quite intense. Water pulls out the cured ham/ham cure here as well and the orange expands as well.
Palate: Comes in sweet and peppery (and papery) with some coal smoke as I swallow. Nice texture and a good drinking strength. More pepper and smoke with time along with more of the sweet citrus. A bit sweeter with water and quite a bit more peppery.
Finish: Long. The smoke turns a bit bitter (wet ashtray—you know you’ve licked one). Salt crystals at the very end and a savoury note somewhere between gunpowder and cured ham. Water knocks the gunpowder back here and keeps the pepper going.
Comments: A very clear through line from this to the cask strength Talisker 25s of the era. Not too far from the 2007 release of the 18 yo either, though there’s less of the gunpowder. What it really puts me in mind of though is the Brora 30 that I’m about to finish up. Doesn’t have all the depth of that one but it’s well in the ballpark. Really wish I’d thought to buy a lot of these back in the day. Ah well.
Rating: 90 points.