...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Taliskravaganza! Day 1: Talisker 10 year old

Now let's all take a deep breath and put aside our Diageo quibbles for as much of this post as possible.  Forget that Diageo came into being as a company only via massive levels of trading fraud.  Disremember their rigging of an independent beer competition.  Ignore the devastating satirical piece by Whisky Advocate entitled "Distillery of the Year 2013".  Brush away thoughts of Diageo forcing a new bloated luxury brand on the market, one named Mortlach, a distillery that sounds like it means Lake of Death.  You can disregard all of that, right?

Talisker is my favorite of Diageo's 7,348 distilleries.  And Talisker 10 year old was always my favorite of their "Classic Malts".  It always delivers.  It's not so peated that one can't drink it in the summer, and it works excellently in autumn.  The balanced seaside nose is one of the very few I may be able to pick out at a blind tasting.  And it was the single malt that I was going to miss most when I chose to commit to my Diageo boycott.

The bottle I'm reviewing here is the only Diageo whisky I've purchased in the last year and a half.  Because I'd heard/read a bunch of complaints about Talisker 10's quality slipping, I aimed to buy a bottle from before the late-2012 packaging change.  Since I was going for a whole bottle, I wanted something that was more like the Talisker I remembered.  It sat in the cabinet for six months before I opened it.  To my surprise, the bottle code said that it was in fact from 2012, probably one of the last using the earlier simpler label and packaging.  I thought it was older than that.  No worries, I'll just open it up.  Pour a glass.

I nosed it and -- to quote a household inside joke -- "The f**k is this nonsense?"  Really huge new oak notes, not dissimilar to that of the recent K&L Bowmore, poured out of my glass.  The classic Talisker character was submerged deeply underneath.

Half of me was worried that this was what my parting memory of Talisker 10 would be like.  Half of me was happy, because it would make Talisker easier to part with.  Half of me figured it just needed some time to open up.  I went with the third half.

This review comes from about a quarter of the way down the bottle.  Considerable Talisker was consumed for the sake of these notes.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Probably mostly refill ex-bourbon casks, though perhaps some refill ex-sherries too
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled: April 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%

The color is a very dark gold, GlenDronach single sherry cask dark gold.  Why the f*** do they insist on dumping in so much colorant?  Much more bold stinky oak on the nose than I remember there ever being.  As in, brand new heavy char mixed with sugary honey butter.  Maybe a hint of oloroso?  But then...in rolls the good part.  The beach: wet sand and seashells.  Earthy molasses, toasty peat, barley in brown sugar.  Then stray cats in the sun, wool, brown paper bag.  Finally, anise swoops in.  A casual, lazy, easy like Sunday morning peat drifts into the palate.  At first the flavor develops from buttery savory → peppery peat smoke → brown sugar.  Then there's some barley with a tart bite, along with some rye-whiskey-like spices, and the sweetness never gets too big.  A buzzy pepper hits first and last in the finish.  A little salt, mild tartness, grapefruit pulp, and a very distant smoke lingers in between.

WITH WATER (reduced to 40%ABV)
The nose becomes mild but candied.  Honey, anise, a hint of smoke, and a little farmy hay.  Then there's the barrel char, something corny, and lime peel.  The palate...Hello? Anyone home? After a few minutes it quietly appears. Goodbye peat.  Hello apricots, vanilla, and toasted grains.  It's sweeter, tarter, and lightly farmy.  The peat and pepper come back in the finish, along with orange peel and salt.

Pros:  Once the oak subsides, the nose is very good; Talisker 10 still lurks within Talisker 10.  On the palate, the mellow peat melds with the peppery zing with its usual flair.  And it's all very very drinkable.

Cons:  Aside from silly levels of colorant?  Though the new oak notes recede as the bottle is gradually relieved of its contents, they're still there and I don't think it complements the beachy, earthy, toasty characteristics well.  The finish is much briefer than I expected and very simplistic.  That's fine for a $40 whisky, but this isn't $40 anymore.

I realize I've been focusing on the negative a bit.  I hold Talisker 10 to high standards.  It's very good and nearly unmatched at its age.  It's still lovely to drink and even better to nose for a while.  I still recommend it, though see if you can find it for $50 or less.  And look for older bottles!

Before this review, I was probably more enthralled by the idea of Talisker 10 and my past experience with it rather than the current reality.  (Thus some of my recent goofy tweets about my romance with it.)  The whisky is very good, but it's no longer excellent.  Something has changed in its construction and I think it's the oak.  While I have no proof, this is another example of what makes me think that there's some aggressive cask manipulation going on at some distilleries.  An overuse of casks; recharring like crazy to bring forth vanillins from tired old barrels.  So, if you like simple oak, you're in luck.  But if you want more barley and complex spirit character......this is what I'm talking about when I say we're paying more for less.  Talisker 10 is now $65 at many retailers.  While I like this whisky a lot, I would not pay that price.

The romance is over.  Now it's just a whisky that I used to know.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $50 (yay!) - $70 (boo)
Rating - 87 (I thought this was going to be 90+ before I opened the bottle)