Nothing quite helps warm a body and mind on a chilly evening like a dram of a classic single-malt Scotch whisky. I’m thinking of what I consider the quintessential classic single-malt Scotch whisky: Talisker.
Not only is the mighty Talisker one of my favorites, it is also one of the Classic Malts of Scotland — the marketing campaign introduced in 1987 (in the United States in 1988) by United Distillers and Vintners, now owned by international drinks giant Diageo. These six single-malt Scotch whiskies are: Dalwhinnie 15 (43 percent abv) from the Highland region; Talisker 10 (45.8 percent abv) from the Isle of Skye region; Cragganmore 12 (40 percent abv) from the Speyside region; Oban 14 (43 percent abv) from the West Highland region; Lagavulin 16 (43 percent abv) from the Islay region; and Glenkinchie 12 (43 percent abv) from the Lowland region. While not all of these whiskies are equally exceptional, they are all very drinkable, and two — Talisker and Lagavulin — are among Scotland’s greatest contributions to the world of whisky.
Talisker has always held a place of honor. It is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. It was also the favorite whisky of author Robert Louis Stevenson, who enshrined this in his poem “The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad.” He wrote: “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.” (At this time Glenlivet was the popular name for a part of Speyside, so this reference was likely to the region, like Islay, rather than to the distillery.)
The Classic Malts campaign also helped establish the largely false notion that age equals better in whisky — an idea that Diageo and others have been forced to challenge with new marketing appeals.
Bringing fresh stock of 10- and 16-year-old whiskies requires at least that many years of those whiskies maturing in oak casks, generating no revenue. Hence the rise of non-age statement whiskies.
The release of NAS single-malt Scotch whiskies is pervasive, if slightly controversial. Some whisky geeks, having grown accustomed to the simplistic formula that old = better = expensive, consider NAS whiskies as some great hoodwink that passes off horrible, too-young whisky on loyal fans or unsuspecting drinkers.
All that matters to me is whether the whisky is any good and whether it’s worth the price. In the case of Talisker’s NAS, the answer is yes on both counts.
The Talisker Distillery was founded in 1830 and built in 1831 on the Isle of Skye, the largest island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.
Here are two expressions, the original classic 10-year-old, and the NAS release, Talisker Storm.
Talisker Storm Single Malt Whisky (45.8 percent abv; $66-$76): This is a younger, feistier Talisker, offering oomph, character and some robust flavor with aromas of honey, apricot, citrus, banana, tropical sweet fruits, pear, sweet malt, fresh biscuit and honeysuckle, all nicely balanced by light peat and smoke, brine and pepper. The flavors follow sympathetically, but with more peat, smoke and brine than usual, and also with some prickly black pepper, clove and a little burnt caramel. It’s rich and t; the slightly one-dimensional, clipped finish is the only underperforming component of this decidedly delicious whisky.
Talisker 10 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (45.8 percent abv; $50-$66, so shop around): This is a thunderous whisky, with billows of peat smoke, brine, iodine, mothballs and sweet citrus fruits on the nose, followed by oak-softened, though still edgy, black pepper, rich dried fruits, malted barley, toffee, another waft of peat smoke, and traces of licorice and honey, all of which powers through towards the balanced, warming, mildly smoky, slightly spicy and absorbingly unvanquished finish. Bold, vibrant, unique and complex with a little undertone of sweetness — this may very well be the essence of Scotland in a bottle. L’Chaim!