Talisker 10 Year Old

Talisker 10 Year Old. 45.8% abv. NIS 260-300

When I first made Aliyah back in the late 1980s, a guy in my garin (who later became a very good friend) introduced me to the wonderful world of Single Malts. In fact I remember as if it was yesterday, the very first Single Malt he gave me, namely Cardhu 12.
From that moment, I was hooked and on my next visit to the UK I was determined to find out as much as I could about this wonderful drink. After a bit of browsing through the whisky book shelf I came across “The Malt Whisky Almanac” by Wallace Milroy.  Each page contained a single single malt with a photo of its label, a little bit about the distillery, Wallace’s own tasting notes and some blank lines for your own notes. It was absolutely brilliant. Between 1991 and 1999 I bought quite a few update editions of this little whisky handbook and it accompanied me through my first visits to the major whisky regions as well as specialist whisky shops. Then, after the 7th edition, it disappeared and eventually became so out of date I could no longer use it.

I looked up the tasting notes I made about this whisky which I scribbled down in my collection of editions.


“Rough in the mouth, smoke, dry briny spices, white pepper up the nostrils, chilli pepper powder, crushed black pepper in the throat. Don’t like it!”.

Flipping through more than ten years of notes which I made in those wonderful pocketbooks I noticed that on only two occasions did I write “Don’t like it!”. These were on the pages for Isle Of Jura and Talisker! These notes, (to the surprise of my family), were the cause of me actually choosing to bypass the Talisker distillery and instead visit a reptile zoo when we visited the Isle of Sky. We had a picnic in the grounds of the Dunvegan castle and a most enjoyable drive around Loch Coruisk. But no distillery tour!

I have tasted Talisker a few times since over the years (as it is quite a popular whisky) and concluded that this is a whisky I simply do not get on with although I understand why many would. Dry smoky and spicy malt might well appeal to many but I need a certain amount of fruitiness and barley grain characters in my whisky, even if only in minuscule amounts, for me to enjoy the experience.
The Battle of Jutland

Now, the last time I drank Talisker 10 was at a very posh Kiddush I attended back in 2011. I obviously didn’t choose to drink it myself and actually had my eye on a bottle of Caol 18 Year Old I spied, its yellow label gleaming in the sunlight, beckoning me to pick it up. I was making a steady and swift course through the crowds of herring and cracker eaters, towards this classic Islay malt but was intercepted by the host who thrust a Talisker in my hand. Ah Well, I thought. Let’s give it another try. My opinion was pretty much the same as it had been in all previous occasions. Smoky, rough, dry, hot black and white pepper. I actually left the glass on the side and made a dash for open waters, heading  full steam ahead for the golden yellow bottle whereupon I weighed anchor. I poured myself some Caol Ila 18 Year Old and stuck to this.

Now, fast forward to two weeks ago. Wandering around Machane Yehuda I noticed that Talisker 10 was on special offer in some of the stores. Even so, prices were ridiculously varied. The most expensive was NIS 399, obviously pre-TAX reform prices. Most stores were however quoting NIS 350 but one store was NIS 300 and another, the lowest was  in "Gefen" in Machane Yehuda for NIS 260.

I mentioned to someone at work that I had found the Talisker on offer and he was very excited exclaiming that Talisker was his favourite dram! In fact he admitted that it was the only whisky he drank and went on to tell me that in his opinion, it had actually improved over the years and was, since around the 2010/11 bottlings, becoming less peppery and sweeter than he remembered. This was interesting as in my experience, when it comes to single malts, people are usually quite nostalgic and opine about how the bottlings back in the old days, (they mean ten years ago), were oh so much better.

Returning home that evening, by pure coincidence, one of my regular reviewing blogs I like to read was featuring, yes, you guessed it, The Talisker 10! It was actually a re-review as he was comparing the latest Talisker bottling with one he had reviewed three years ago. He concluded that there had been a bit of a transformation. I was now sufficiently intrigued and decided that it was time to buy a bottle and give the Talisker another go.
This Bottle, dated by its plain blue box and centralised "10" on the label, was bottled in 2011 (I know this because the bottling code, barely visible at the bottom of the bottle starts with "L1").  The newer versions, starting from around 2013, come in a more touristy looking box with "waves crashing on rocks" artwork and the "10" on the label is now moved to the righthand side.  So this bottle has been sitting in the shop for a good few years it seems, gathering dust, just waiting for me to take it home.
The first thing I noticed about this whisky is its ridiculous fake tan! It is so obvious and artificial that it is embarrassing, (see photo below). Seriously, I'd like to ask someone at Diageo, what prompts them to pour in so much E150 caramel colouring gunk dafka into Talisker, far more than any of their other brands? Forget E150a! It looks like they've gone for the E150c!!!! It almost goes without saying that the Talisker is obviously chilled filtered as well.  Its one redeeming feature is that it comes at a very respectable 45.8 percent Alcohol By Volume. (If someone can tell me why they didn’t just bottle it at a round 46 percent, could they let me know please?)

I opened the bottle on Friday afternoon and took an initial sniff, placing my bent thumb on the rim to act as a barrier so that my nose did not actually touch the bottle. Hmm. sweet Citrus, smoke and candied glazed ginger on the nose (or should we say “on the thumb”). I put the top back on and placed it on our Shabbos table until the seuda (Shabbat meal).

During the seuda, at the end of the first course when we had finished off the delicious Gvaot Petit Verdot 2013 (more on this beli neder in another blog post), we opened the Talisker’s dark blue nautical themed box and poured some for everyone at the table, adding a few drops of water to each glass.

Smelling and Tasting Notes:
Lashings of sweet peat smoke wafted up from the glass. New leather like Retzuos (Tephilin straps) with the shiny black paint. Definite yellow citrus notes in the mixture with glazed soft ginger, vanilla creams and polished wood at the tail end.

Tasting brought silky smooth fresh leather tannins, English tea, smoky toffee treacle, sweet barley and ginger travel sweets. I added a few more drops of water and left it for a few minutes. Coming back to it I noticed a lot more citrus fruit aromas and now with the addition of some canned pineapple in water, (not heavy syrup). Furniture polish, strong tea with full fat milk, more crunchy dark toffee and maybe, just maybe, a touch of black pepper in the background? Finish was long and satisfying. Boy, was I enjoying this. Like the Islay malts, there is a citrus flavour there but unlike say Caol Ila, it is a glazed sugary lemon with more body and smoky toffee and less brine and seaweed.

Is it the whisky that has changed, or is it me?

Has this whisky really changed so much since I first tried it some 25 years ago? My guess is that the change I’m experiencing is probably something like 80% me and 20% the whisky?  This is obviously not a whisky to give to a novice, especially one with a sweet tooth as it is too much of a shock to the system I suspect. However to go from tasting notes like "choking smoke, dry black pepper, chilly powder"....to "toffee, creamy, fruity...." is quite dramatic by any standards!

At this point I must confess something which probably has a great bearing on my conclusions. Since 2010, for health reasons, I have (had to!) dramatically cut down on my everyday sugar intake and as a consequence, have found that tastes and smells are so much clearer and more enjoyable now.  Fruits are sweater and vegetables juicier. There is simply more taste and smell in everything. I am also finding that I have an increasing intolerance for anything sugary. I  no longer enjoy commercial ice cream and cakes, finding them sickly sweet and annoyed that the sugar has destroyed all the other tastes. Even so, it’s still a remarkable change from the rough pepper bomb I remember.
I thought it might be a good idea to compare the Talisker to a known sweet toffee like whisky and I had the perfect thing. The Balvenie14 Caribbean Cask (Second Edition) which I had reviewed a few weeks ago.

Smelling and tasting the Balvenie was a revelation. Now this was crunchy toffee sweet!  I washed my mouth out with some Diet Coca Cola and tried the Talisker again. Astonishing! It wasn’t rough at all. Still silky smooth tannins but much much drier that the Balvenie. The Balvenie is also spicy but the Talisker has drier spices. How could I describe them? I don’t know, some baked pepper corns perhaps?

Bottom Line:
We all really enjoyed the Talisker 10 very much, our guests, my daughter and my sons. It is a unique and really lovely whisky with a great finish. I am however left wondering how much of that furniture polish and toffee sweetness in there is because of the gallons of caramel gunk they pour in there?

Getting rid of the E150a (or at least toning it down) and while we are at it, allowing it to go misty in the glass by not chill-filtering it, would reveal the real Talisker.  What are Diageo so afraid of?  I suspect that there is an outstanding natural, raw classic whisky ready to be presented to the world, if only Diageo had enough trust in us punters that we are sufficiently grown up and mature now to appreciate and even enjoy it. Come on Diageo? How about it? A 10 Year Old limited edition natural cask strength, natural colour and unchilled filtered expression? 

Back to this version though. Even with its fake tan and caked on makeup, there is no hiding its true innate beauty and it is highly recommended.


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