...where distraction is the main attraction.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Single Malt Report: Talisker 18 year old

If you're a whisky fan and haven't discovered The Davids yet, I urge you to check out their Spirits Journal blog as well as the shop(s), K&L Wines, for which they purchase spirits.  David Driscoll tends to have the more...say...vocal online presence issuing bold, educational, entertaining, and involving posts about the state of the spirits industry.  Whether or not one agrees with him, his writings are always engaging must-reads.  David Othenin-Girard ("The DOG" for the sake of a terrible metaphor in the next paragraph) is brilliant yet much more reserved when he writes.  There's a composed wisdom to each piece he submits.

Well, someone just cut The DOG's chain.  That someone is Diageo.  I encourage you to pause your reading of Diving for Pearls and read the missive missile he launched on Wednesday.  His post's title is not hyperbole.

Just come on back when you're done reading it.  'Kay?





Now, after reading David's post I originally wrote this very piece on Thursday morning in full frustration mode, but decided to hold off posting it.  I had hoped that there was some pricing misunderstanding or maybe some bad information communicated to the K&L guys.  I even went to the Hollywood store to say hi to David, thank him for the rockin' post, and confirm the news.  Well, now I can post this.

The Talisker 18yr is one of my top Ten all-time favorite single malts and ironically I had its report scheduled for this week.  I bought my bottle from the UK after my birthday in August 2011 for about $90.  Just as it arrived, I saw that K&L was selling the same bottle (actually 50mL bigger) for $80.  "Crap," I said.  I do love hunting down a bargain and here I was buying my bottle for $10 more.

Well, now its price has almost DOUBLED in two years.

Just for a moment, let's take a look at other 18 year old singles that sell for $150+ and do a quick comparison.
Macallan 18 year -- As David mentioned, like Johnnie Walker Blue Label the Mac 18 has become an iconic luxury status symbol.  It's the $150-200 malt to be seen with.  It isn't necessarily better than its younger siblings, but that purple box is familiar, expensive, and widely available.  Talisker 18 does not carry that luxury status, nor is it familiar outside of whisky geek circles.
Dalmore 18 year -- Seriously, any company that uses Dalmore's pricing structure as a model is delusional.
Springbank 18 year -- Springbank's production is conducted entirely by hand (via hiring local folks) in a distillery with 1/4th the output of Diageo's Isle of Skye computer-run Talisker.  When you drink Springbank 18 you are drinking a much more expensively produced dram than any other of its age.  And scarcity?  Springbank has a very limited malt run; reported shortages of Talisker 18 are either due to mismanagement, a sudden unknown Talisker 18 purchase boom, or a marketing ploy.

As of this moment, those are the only 18 year olds at the $150+ range.  Well, now apparently we can add Talisker 18 to it.

Diageo is making my upcoming boycott easier and easier.  They've dumped vats of industrial colorant into Oban 14, they've priced their special releases into one-percenter territory, and they're killing both JW Green and Gold Labels.  And I'm not even getting into Kilmarnock, the rigging of a beer competition, the insulting PR (I thought you weren't in the business of selling single malts), and the dead distilleries.

I've detailed this rant numerous times, so I won't repeat it.  Ultimately, my money will not support a company that has such open distain for its customers and products.

The saddest part to me, is that Talisker 18 year old is a lovely whisky and I won't be able to afford it anymore.  But there's a little left in the bottle, so let's talk about it.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Primarily refill ex-bourbon casks with a tiny bit of European oak ex-sherry casks mixed in
Age: minimum 18 years
Bottled: August 2010
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%

Talisker Distillery was founded in 1830 by the MacAskill family.  After it came under bank control, the distillery ownership changed hands a number of times.  One of the owners, John Anderson went to jail in 1879 for selling product that didn't actually exist.  Another owner, Roderick Kemp sold his shares in order to buy Macallan in 1892.  In 1916, Talisker was taken over by a consortium which included amongst its members: Johnnie Walker, John Dewar, and DLC (proto-Diageo).  The distillery is now entirely owned by, yes, Diageo.

A few interesting factoids courtesy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook:
-- Talisker practiced triple distillation until 1928.
-- They used their own maltings until 1972.
-- This 18yr was first released in 2004.

Talisker's malt is known for its bracing peppery kick as well as a generous suggestion of peat.  It's also almost impossible to find an independent bottling of it since Diageo rarely sells the malt to anyone other than the Isle of Skye blends.  Indie companies have bottled casks of Talisker using subtle names like Tactical, Tallstill, and Talimburg.

I'm planning on posting a couple more Talisker reports this year.  This is great malt and I'd love to try it in all its many glories!

But first, my bottle of Talisker 18.  It sat patiently in my possession for 15 months, then I happily shared its opening with good friends.


The color is a rosy gold.  It's not just e150a, rather they snuck some sherry casks into this.  American oak leads the nose, but is far from alone.  Orange peel is encircled by mild vanilla, milk chocolate, and cherry lollipops.  A floral note is followed by mango and a slight peaty band-aid note.  And...sherry.  Definitely sherry.  The palate though very quaffable, roars with white and cayenne pepper.  A little salt, some vanilla, burnt wood, and unsweetened cocoa follows.  A bit of peat and a savory note arises after some time in the glass.  It's all hot peppery malt in the finish.  There's also some of those great orange and mango notes from the nose.  It's lightly sweet and salted but mostly delicious pepper.

The nose changes gears here.  There's still some orange peel, but there's also fruit punch, peat ashes, pencil shavings, leather, dates, and vanilla simple syrup.  Now the palate gets more of a cracked black pepper note.  It's followed by vanilla bean, granulated sugar, tapioca, butterscotch, and bitter citrus.  The finish is now full of peated vanilla ice cream, molasses, butterscotch, and late harvest sauvignon blanc.


No, this is not happening.  Diageo couldn't possibly screw up their pricing like this.


Well, maybe, maybe, I can sell my blood platelets for $150 so I can buy a bottle of Talisker 18!

*Sob*  This whisky is so f***ing good.

Actually, you know what?  I scored a great deal on Talisker 18 back in 2011 and enjoyed the whisky while I had it.  The whisky world is wide and there are so many gorgeous malts, created by non-Diageo distilleries and bottled by dozens of unique companies whose success depends on releasing excellent products at accessible prices.  There will be new loves.

Sorry, I just had to go through my five stages of grief.  I may seek out another bottle if I can find it at $90 somewhere or I may not.  It is what it is:  A tremendous whisky.

Availability - It's around.  Good luck.
Pricing - at $80-$90 there aren't many better whiskies in this price range nor age class; at $150, you should just buy 3 bottles of the 10 year instead
Rating - 95