Sunday, 27 April 2014

Fish + Cowboys = Talisker 10

 This week’s post is dedicated to the Talisker 10, a renowned single malt from the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. It is bottled at an unerringly accurate 45.8% ABV and is known for being full-bodied and peaty.

My first experience with Talisker came back in my formative years when my sister bought me a bottle for Christmas. It came in a kind of faux-leather bound, cylindrical box that I still have to this day – on my desk at work where it holds my tea bags and arouses suspicion on a regular basis.

I remember not being too impressed back then, though I was a long way short of knowing anything about whisky. I liked Laphroaig, but I still took my scotch with ice. Tsk, the naivety of youth.

Time passed and I discovered that I liked whisky so much that diluting those lovely flavours with ice was diminishing the experience, but they do say “first impressions last”, so it was a long time before I came to try Talisker again.

Well, here it is. No exceptional box this time (just an ordinary one with pictures of crashing waves that has been much disparaged by customer reviews on the various online whisky retail sites), but the bottle has an air of class about it, and it was only £25 in Tesco. Time to find out whether I was wrong or naïve or both all those years ago. Here’s some tasting notes.

In the glass: looks good, a nice dark colour, though I’ve read that caramel spirit is added to that end. I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that when classy drams like Ardbeg 10 have no qualms about being pale and interesting, but there you are. I would tend to be reluctant to buy a whisky that is too pale in colour, but you can offset that by using a coloured bottle – again, like Ardbeg.

Nose: tobacco, menthol, apple, possibly even a bit of orange.

Palate: menthol... and something else that was there for a second when I licked a drip off the side of the bottle… and then gone before I could identify it. It’s salty at the tip of the tongue, then there’s sweet barley. I know this is renowned for being smokey and peaty, but I really don’t taste any of that. Perhaps I’m so used to those things now that I am blind to them… taste-blind… if there is such a thing.

Finish: long and dry, with a sweetness at the back of the mouth.

For a while I was drinking the Talisker alongside the standard Glenmorangie Original, and to my surprise it was the Glenmorangie that was pushing my sensory buttons. My appreciation of the Talisker varied from one tasting to the next, but as I passed the halfway mark of the bottle, my appreciation started to deepen, with one occasion where I would say its MOMA was achieved. It actually followed the sampling of a “secret” cask strength dram that turned out to be a Glenfarclas. I hadn’t enjoyed that at all, so it made a welcome change to return to the Talisker. That proved to be the turning point.

Now, I don’t much go in for trying my whisky in different ways. Frankly, I just want to pour it into a glass and drink it. You do sometimes get suggestions though that you have to try. I added water one time, and as usual immediately wished I hadn’t, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. No, in one of the reviews I’m going to get to in a minute, someone suggested warming a glass with boiling water before pouring your Talisker. It sounded like a decent idea, so I gave it a go.

It didn’t take long for the spirit and the glass to equalise in temperature, so I’m not sure how much difference it made – presumably the hit of heat causes the spirit to transform in some way. What I did notice, is that the saltiness on the front of the tongue was enhanced and, while each succeeding flavour wasn’t exactly delicious, I did enjoy it very much. I probably won’t repeat the experience though.

shoddy photography there
On further tastings I strayed from my usual glencairn glass to try it in a rounded tumbler on the suggestion of a comment from a previous post. He didn’t actually say to use a rounded tumbler, but he did say glencairn glasses were detrimental to the tasting of whisky. I have to say, I didn’t notice any discernible difference, and certainly couldn’t say the whisky was less enjoyable in the glencairn. No, no better either, but I have come to prefer the glencairn glass, and have had considerably more success in tastings with it than I had before starting to use one. My preference has actually developed to the extent that I am wasting the precious liquid if I have to drink it out of anything else… although I can be placated if there is a wine glass available.

One or two online reviews suggested this dram improves with oxidation, which is a bit of a curveball since that’s always something I try to guard against by finishing bottles within three months – it is supposed to lead to a deterioration in quality, but as you will see shortly (below), one review suggested it was seven months before the Talisker started to taste good. I’ve never actually noticed the effects of oxidation myself, but I can confirm that I have been enjoying the Talisker more with each glass – and that only bodes well since it means I don’t need to worry so much about the quality of my whisky deteriorating – it might get better. It was probably around 6 months in total from release to passing, and it really was one that I enjoyed more as time went on.

I’ve actually read in two different places recently a suggestion that after opening your bottle for the first time, you should let it stand for 15 minutes before pouring the first glass to let the whisky breathe a little – like red wine or something. I honestly can’t see the point in that. If oxidation can be a problem, then that way you are just leaving yourself open to it. Surely it makes more sense to pour a glass and then leave it several minutes before you take a sip? That way the whisky in the bottle is preserved for longer while the whisky in the glass has full scope to breathe. Once again, my logic could be flawed, so if you know any better than me, feel free to get stuck in in the comments.

Talisker 10 absolutely has to be tried, but for me it isn’t quite worthy of all the praise heaped upon it. If you are a fan of the peaty malts like I am, I would be more likely to recommend the Caol Ila 12, Lagavulin 16 and Ardbeg 10, but it’s all personal taste, isn’t it? Talisker does feature in 101 Whiskies to TryBefore You Die and I can see why – for some reason it doesn’t seem like a whisky education would be complete without trying it.

Time now for some of the best comments I’ve found in reviews of Talisker 10. As is so often the case, opinion is polarised. There are a lot of glowing reviews, well written and making good points and there are a number of terrible reviews – half a star and the like. As you can well imagine, it is mostly these slightly loony ones that are most creative and interesting. Peat seems to be the Marmite of the whisky world.

The first batch are from Master of malt:

“tasted like rabbit toasted in lamb”. – I’m assuming that’s a positive review.

“what is that? It was more than just the smoky after glow of a house fire, there was canvas and rubber in that house. Then It came to me visually. Burnt sneakers.” Nope, that isn’t the flavour that is eluding me.

“This whisky has no balance, soot and asphalt. Am I drinking or resurfacing a road?” I often get those two confused.

“Now, after 7 months of open bottle, my Talisker 10 is rich, delicious and sweet. For the first 6 1/2 months it tasted to me like crawling through the desert dying of thirst with nothing but seawater to drink.” How lucky we are that you waited 7 months before submitting your review.

“Those who do not enjoy Talisker 10 lack the palate for a true single malt.” Calling out the amateurs.

“Seriously, if the glass is warmed first by boiling water then this is simply superb. The heat takes the edge off and liberates the flavour and smell.” Seriously, maybe I like the edge.

Getting away from direct quotes for a moment, one review compares the nose and palate to Mozart and Metallica. I’m not sure where that’s coming from, but you can’t fault the enthusiasm. Is the nose Mozart and the palate Metallica?

“a finish that makes you think you could speak honey but breathe fire.” A taster from the next Mumford and Sons album.

“Try it for yourself, but first develop your pallet... One path would be: Glenfiddich18 (or 15 to save $)>Clynelish14>Oban14>Talisker10>Cao Ila12>Laguvalin16 Move slowly and then back and forth(uh...take days if not weeks :-) You will know your own mind on the matter.” And only then may you try the Talisker. People love to talk about directions – even when they’re talking about whisky.

“I could have bought a gallon of gasoline for $3.57 and saved myself a ton of money!” Next up, having a shit instead of going to MacDonalds.

“If you cannot appreciate this - well then, give it one star and declare that you are not a whisky drinker.” Yeah! Get back to yer JD and Coke.

This next one is from Amazon:

“It's whisky and the only way to review whisky is to drink it. If the taste suits you finish it off. If the taste does not suit your pallet you finish it off and buy another brand. I would buy more of this brand.” Practical, no nonsense. This pretty much sums up my philosophy.

And finally we have For Peat Sake where the contributors pull out all the stops:

Nose -   “horsestable” – the latest update from the vet is a weight off my mind.
“paintless refurbished furniture” – If you wanted me to paint it, you should’ve said so.
“shaking a cowboys hand while questioning ones sexuality”  - a particularly limp handshake, I assume. Less “howdy”, more “coo-eee!…”
 “water that had dead fish swimming in it” – dead fish don’t swim.

Body – “Like drinking Christina Hendrick's rack” – not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix’s sack.

Palate – “burping after a seafood dinner” – coincidentally, “Talisker” is how you describe the taste of that burp.

Finish – “like you licked a pirate.” Pirates are just cowboys of the sea, aren’t they?

Overall comment – “Diving into the Atlantic ocean on a drizzly afternoon with a mouth full of cut grass and fish scales” – Not something I’d ever be likely to do, but at least now I know what it would be like.

So we’re looking at fish and cowboys here. If any of these could be relied upon to be actual accurate representations of Talisker 10, I wouldn’t be going anywhere near it. Luckily they aren’t the first whisky reviews I’ve ever read, so I know that they are ultimately meaningless. If none of this makes you want to try Talisker, I don’t know what will.

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