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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Three Talisker 18s: A tasting

On Monday, I posted an introduction to today's tasting. Now, just a little more bottle background before I begin:

I opened the 2012 bottling several months ago for a fundraiser, though I did save one ounce for today's purposes. Its bottling code was L2352CM000, likely one of the first three runs of the new-label 18.

For reasons unknown, the 2011 bottle's code went unrecorded, even though I've written down much less useful bottle code information before and since. I do know that the bottle was bought in September 2011. So it's either of the L1244CM000 coding or the batch before. Either way it was one of the last three bottling runs of the old-label 18.

I opened the third bottle for this tasting. Its code is L6172CR000.

Surprise, surprise, this is what happened to its cork:

But not a single nub of cork fell in the bottle.

To the drinking!

TALISKER 18-YEAR-OLD, 45.8%abv, L2352CM000, bottled 2012

Nose - Good 'n Plenty candies, limes and grapefruits. A merging of gentle ocean-y and mossy peat notes. Hints of white stone fruit skins. The anise candy and limes ramp up over time, and are joined by a slight rosy note.

Palate - Lots of fruity sweetness at the start. More peat than on the nose. Tangy pepper sauce, dates, lemon peel and a bit of minerals. It gets more peppery with time and white fruity with time.

Finish - Fiery chile peppers, mild sweetness, a stony minerality (mineralness?), ashy smoke. The pepper and smoke last the longest.

Comments - It's good stuff, though not as gorgeous as I'd remembered the 18 used to be......a circumstance that will be confirmed in a moment. The palate dearly needs some of the nose's complexity, and the Talisker character doesn't come through until late. Still, it's well balanced, the oak stays out of the way and there's plenty of youth to be found. Were it still $80, I'd be enthusiastic. At twice that price, I'd find it disappointing.


TALISKER 18-YEAR-OLD, 45.8%abv, bottled 2011

Nose - A peatier thing than the 2012. There's menthol and dark industrial smoke. Yellow peaches and yellow plums, then a splash of plum wine. A combination of lemon juice and freshly cut grass. A bit of dunnage. Citrus and floral fruit skins last the longest.

Palate - Salt and sweet and tart, perfectly balanced. A charred-bell-pepper smoke. Oranges and citrons and fig. Then the second gear kicks in: a zap of minerals mixed with lime zest.

Finish - Tangy fruits and cigarette smoke. Salt, stones, barley and figs.

Comments - I used to think of Talisker 18 as one of the titans of single malt, and this reminds me why. It sits perfectly between the Drinky single malt and Thinky single malt categories. I've seen people use the word "effortless" to describe the whisky, but I won't do so because I don't know what that actually means. BUT this whisky's complexity is accessible to any nose, while on the palate every element merges into one and then shifts into a second gear. Though the rating is lower than the one I'd listed seven years ago, know that this is an excellent whisky.


TALISKER 18-YEAR-OLD, 45.8%abv, L6172CR000, bottled in 2006

Nose - Lots of dunnage and dark chocolate and grapefruits. Jalapeño oil, wet sand, citronella, peaches, a few old sherry casks thrown into the mix. I could keep going on but that would serve only the ego.

Palate - Here comes another list! Dunnage, lime zest, minerals, hay, dark chocolate, toffee, a pepper-oil smoke, then swirls of salty smoke with sweet lemons around the edges. It's the biggest and boldest of the three, yet also the most mature.

Finish - Lemons, stones, salty/peppery smoke, white peaches, musty staves and a hint of Thai chiles.

Comments - Gorgeous and grandiose, dark and delicious. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of this one. It's of a remarkable quality that's difficult to compare to anything other than maybe old Springbanks and other old Taliskers. I can't really discuss this further without referring to the other two, so let's go...



The 2012 was a very different whisky than the 2011. Meanwhile the 2011 and the 2006 feel much more akin. There's a curious thread running through these three, though. Each one reads older than the previous, with the 2006 bottling seeming like it's a good decade older than its age statement. And I think that's the key here.

Until 2011, Talisker's 25-year-old was bottled at cask strength. And those 25s were big whiskies, bottled between 54%-60%abv. Then in 2011, the 25 was bottled at the diluted strength of 45.8%abv. What if low-strength 25+ year old casks were added to the 18yo, once upon a time? Older casks that wouldn't fit the flavor profile of the 25 or were of low proof could have been used by the blenders to boost the profile of the 18 year old. This isn't a revolutionary idea because blenders have used this approach, historically.

There's a depth/complexity/dimensionality (sorry) missing from the 2012 bottling that is present in the two earlier bottles. I think there was a change in the recipe, and thus I wonder if the missing element was older Talisker. Its absence is a loss for Talisker fans.

Five and a half years ago, I found the 2012 bottling of the 25 year old suffering from a similar decline in quality. I believe the 10 year old has also seen a dropoff, though perhaps not as extreme. I look forward to putting that to the test in 2021...