One of the fascinating things about whisky is the rich history surrounding it and up until now I’ve pretty much skipped over this aspect. It seemed a shame because some of Scotland’s distilleries have been around for over 200 years now and there’s many a story intertwined with their own. I thought I’d maybe delve into that a little bit as I’m reviewing the next few drams.
There’s been one or two more expensive and limited whiskies sneaking into the blog of late so I think it’s time to get back to reviewing some entry level single malts again. So with that in mind, we’re off to the Isle of Skye to visit the only distillery there – Talisker.
Talisker’s story is rooted in a particularly dark period of Scotland’s past. Following the defeat of the Jacobites at the battle of Culloden in 1746 the traditional highland way of life was almost completely destroyed: a law was passed abolishing the authority of clan Chiefs, highland dress was outlawed and land was stripped from Jacobite leaders and ‘redistributed’ to those more loyal to the crown. The years that followed saw a steady increase in rent from many of these new landowners, forcing tenants from their homes as they struggled to keep up with rising payments. This period also heralded the rise of mass sheep-farming and it wasn’t long before profit-hungry eyes saw the potential in Scottish land and began forcibly evicting thousands of families to make way. The isle of Skye was not exempt from all this, far from it. In the 12 years from 1763 to 1775 some 20,000 people emigrated. In the 40 years following 1840 1,740 ‘writs of removal’ were served involving some 40,000 people.
In 1825, brothers Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill from the isle of Eigg bought Talisker house and adjoining lands from the MacLeod of MacLeod. They set about removing tenants and replacing them with profitable sheep and making way for a much grander scheme – distilling whisky. Talisker was built in 1830 while all around it people were forced from their homes. Many headed south to the cities where poverty and disease were rife. Many set off 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 hands 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, good times followed and by 1898 it was one of the best selling malts in the country. Ownership changed 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 spirit produced here is well loved – Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote ‘The King o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet’ and much like it’s hebridean cousins on Islay, Talisker often divides opinion due to it’s rugged coastal nature and use of peat smoke.
The 10 year old has been one of Diageo’s ‘Classic Malts’ range since 1988 and as such it can be found just about anywhere with a half decent whisky selection – supermarkets included. It’s fame is well justified, as a dram of Talisker is an intense experience. On the nose there’s brine and seaweed, some honey & heather, a little bit of dark chocolate and then lots and lots of pepper wrapped in a waft of peat smoke. The flavour is dominated by white pepper and sea salt with some honey, vanilla and lemon before a long, smokey and peppery finish.
The Scores: About the scoring system
Smell: 17 / 20. A classic maritime malt character. The coast leaps out of the glass at you.
Taste: 18 / 20. Intense. The explosion of pepper and peat smoke may not be to everyone’s taste but if you like that kind of thing Talisker will never disappoint.
Value: 8 / 10. 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. You should be able to find this for around £35 and at that price you can’t really go wrong.
Total: 43 / 50
There have been a lot of Non Age Statement releases from the distillery over the last couple of years (Talisker Storm, Talisker Dark Storm, Talisker Skye…) and one wonders if we could see a price hike on the 10 year old at some point. Talisker Skye may not be a replacement for the 10 but it does push it from being the entry level Talisker towards being more of a ‘premium’ product. However, for now at least, the 10 year old is widely available, reasonably priced and thoroughly recommended. Long may it continue.