One of the things I find most fascinating about whisky is the way in which its story intertwines with the history of Scotland. Many of the nations distilleries have been in business for more than 200 years and could no doubt tell a tale or two, if only their ancient walls could talk. The origins of Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye for instance, are rooted in a particularly bleak period of Scotland’s past.
In the aftermath of the Jacobite uprising of 1745, highland life was changed forever. The authority of clan chiefs was outlawed, traditional highland dress was banned and land was stripped from rebel supporters to be redistributed to those who stood loyal to the crown. In the years that followed, new landlords increased rent, forcing tenants into debt as they struggled to keep up payments. With the rise of mass sheep-farming gaining momentum, it wasn’t long before profit-hungry eyes saw potential in their newly allocated land and set about forcibly evicting thousands of families. The people of Skye would not escape such clearances, with some 20,000 people emigrating between 1763 and 1775. Then, in the 40 years that followed 1840, 1,740 writs of removal were served, involving 40,000 people.
In 1825, brothers Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill of Eigg bought Talisker house and the adjoining lands from the MacLeod of MacLeod. In order to make money, they replaced the tenants with sheep and began to build a distillery. Talisker opened in 1830, while all around it the people of Skye were forced from their homes. Many headed south to the central belt, where poverty and disease were rife. Others made for the new world of North America and many died in the attempt. To this day, much of the highlands and islands of Scotland remain barren and empty, stripped of the rich life that once thrived there.
As for Talisker, things didn’t work out too well for the MacAskills either and by 1848 the distillery was in the control of the bank. A variety of owners came and went over the next 30 years until it was bought in 1880 by Roderick Kemp and Alexander Allen, who ushered in better times and by 1898, Talisker was one of the best selling malts in the country. Ownership would change again in 1916 when a group made up of John Walker & Sons, John Dewar, W.P. Lowrie and DCL took over. This group became United Distillers and later, Diageo.
The 10 year old Talisker malt has formed part of the Classic Malts range since it was created in 1988 and has since become one of the most beloved drams in the world.
Smell: Brine and Seaweed, some Honey & Heather, a little bit of Dark Chocolate and then lots and lots of Pepper wrapped in a wave of Smoke.
Taste: Intense. Pepper and Sea Salt with a touch of Honey, Vanilla, Lemon and Smoke.
Value: It’s bottled at 45.8% ABV, a reasonably high strength for the price. I presume that some chill filtering has taken place but there is good weight to it regardless. Should retail for around £35.
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