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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taliskravaganza! Day 6: Talisker "The Speakeasy" 5 year old 2008 (K&L exclusive)

Day 1: Talisker 10 year old
Day 2: Talisker 57º North
Day 3: Talisker 1993 Distillers Edition
Day 4: Talisker 23 year old 1982 MacLeod's Vintage
Day 5: Talisker 18 year old 1986 MacLeod's Vintage
Day 6: Talisker "The Speakeasy" 5 year old 2008 (K&L exclusive)

Something young.  Something current.  Something you might be interested in?

On this sixth and final day of Taliskravaganza 2014, My Annoying Opinions and I are posting simultaneous reviews of the K&L exclusive Talisker "The Speakeasy" 5 year old single cask single malt.  And of course, we picked a whisky that leaves me a bit stumped on how to rank/rate/grade it.

Yesterday, I mentioned that independent bottlings of Talisker almost always have to go by another name due to Diageo restrictions.  But apparently, The Laing Whisky Company was free of that restriction this year, bottling both a 5 year old under their own Premier Barrel label and this 5 year old single-retailer exclusive.

When I spotted this swanky label and the "Talisker" appellation in the TTB/COLA database several months ago, I was very intrigued.  An indie baby Talisker?!  So I was happy to split a bottle with two friends of mine when it hit the shelves.

Very young peated whiskies have been hitting the market at an increasing rate over the past two years.  That's partially borne of financial necessity; it means less of a warehousing expense and less of an Angel's Share, meanwhile it gets a product out on the market sooner.  But I also think these young peaters were inspired by all the success that Kilchoman has experienced with their 3-6 year old single malts.  But there's a difference.  Kilchoman's malt was produced/designed (by Jim Swan) to be ready for the market as an ultra-young malt.  And whatever the secret is (the heart of the cut?), many Kilchomans seem more rounded and mature than their age.  Meanwhile, the ultra-young indie bottlings of other peated malts often come across as very young and very brash as one would expect them to be.  That was one of my hesitations when it came to buying this whisky.  Was it ready?

This is a fun bottling from a design perspective, with a very informative and text-heavy front label and a keyhole cutout that reveals a speakeasy scene on the sticky side of the back label.

I'm not mentioning the bottle's sack (really) because I like these labels a lot.  Gimmicky without being too gimmicky.  So kudos there, because I'm usually ornery about that sorta crap.

Okay, enough with that "crap", you're saying.  Let's get to the whisky.  Okay, let's.  I have two different sets of tasting notes: one of The Speakeasy neat, the other with it reduced to as close to the official bottlings' 45.8% ABV as I could without better instrumentation.

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: The Laing Whisky Company
Retailer: K&L Wines
Age: April 2008 - November 2013 (5 years)
Maturation: ex-refill hogshead
Cask number8
Bottle #:  ??? of 345
Region: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

The color is a very light amber with a greenish tint.  The nose begins with an intensely vegetal peat.  It's very pungent.  Beneath it is anise, nutmeg, juniper, almond paste, and a dark leafy something-or-other (kale?).  Celery, maybe bok choy?  There's some hot rubber and coal smoke in there too.  After the whisky is aired out for 15 minutes, caramel sauce and shortbread cookie notes lend depth.  The palate is hot and spicy.  Cinnamon Red Hot candies, cayenne pepper, and ethyl connect with a very woody peat smoke.  Plenty of barley.  One can picture the wort.  There's also a Laphroaigy iodine and an earthy molasses.  Despite what the label says, it ain't sweet.  It's very dry.  The tongue numbing finish is almost all heat, but there's also plenty of moss, salt, and iodine.  Maybe some vanilla in background too.

The nose becomes very Ledaig-like, with a funky rubbery fishy peat.  Almonds, digestive biscuits (w/o chocolate), and lots of brine.  Some grilled meat, or maybe that's just grilled nasal passages.  Notes of jasmine and lavender perk things up a bit.  The palate is still very large.  All sorts of peppers (serrano, jalapeño, white peppercorns).  Bitter lettuce, horseradish, burnt tree bark, and a specific root-like note I've only experienced in a whisky once before.  Dried herbs and salt.  It's not sweet, though it's sweeter than when neat.  A peppery buzz in the finish, along with soil, peat embers, and maybe some rubber reentering the experience.  A hint of sweetness at the very end.

This is a masochist's malt.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Many of us like a little bruising before we leave a whisky love session.  It comes down to the questions, How much? and How often?

I think the palate and finish show better with added water.  The nose is the nose no matter what you do to it.  It is very dense, very challenging, sometimes weird, usually entertaining.  I like the Ledaig-esque craziness.  I like the full pepper power.  It's intense stuff from start to finish.  It makes me feel like I'm drinking Talisker new make, which brings me to the question...

...why bottle it now?  Do they have other Talisker casks that they're letting age for 8, 12, 23 years?  Because, seriously, how often does someone get his hands on a Talisker cask?  Wouldn't one want to see how much the palate and finish would improve with some more maturation?  While I like young and crazy, I prefer something I'm going to come back to over and over again.  Of all things, K&L's "Island Distillery" baby Ledaig is more more-ish.  Perhaps in frozen realms like Minnesota, a burner like this works better than in Candyland Southern California.

All of that being said, an independently bottled Talisker is like hen's teeth in the US.  It's admirable that the Davids went with this whisky.  If you wanted to get Laing's Premier Barrel 5yo Talisker, it'll be twice the price of this one.  So, technically, The Speakeasy is a steal.  And it is never boring.  If you like Ledaig, then you'll probably enjoy this whisky.  If you're expecting a cuddly yet smoldering Kilchoman, then go for a (more expensive) Kilchoman.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $59.99
Rating - 84