Talisker 8 year old is the second appearance for Talisker in the Diageo Special Release lineup – but it’s remarkably different to 2014’s 30 year old. It has been designed to reflect the style of whisky the distillery produced in the 1970s - around the time that the maltings closed and barley was imported from over 100 miles away at Glen Ord.
It is a mere 8 years of age, but possesses a considerably higher ABV than the current entry point 10 year old. It was not all that long ago that Diageo took the plunge with Lagavulin, producing an 8 year old age statement bottling (at a time when NAS was very much plat du jour) - this has proved so popular that it has been added to the distillery’s compact core range. Alas, all signs point to this not being the case with the 2018 Talisker 8 year old – whilst the initial Special Release run was presumably quite large, the interwebs suggest this was a one-off limited edition.
The bottling is drawn from first fill American oak hogsheads (which I’ve read were heavily charred) and is delivered at 59.4% ABV. Priced at a shy below £70, it joined Caol Ila 15 year old unpeated at the ‘affordable’ end of the 2018 Special Releases….and sold out at most retailers in short order. You’ll still be able to find it, but will likely pay more than the original RRP for the privilege.
Nose: Starting with engine oil, diesel and hospital floor cleaner, this delivers expected pepperiness alongside coastal brine and strange combination of sugared sootiness. By no means shy, indeed, quite intense – but some resting time does this wonders in terms of its expressiveness. Syrupy fruits – apricots and lemons – with toffee, candy canes, burnt out fireplace tapers, and some touches of bicycle inner tubes. Dilution adds meatiness into the equation – burnt ends and amplifies the coastalness with more pepper (this is Talisker afterall) and salty water.
Taste: The arrival is impactful. Actually, it’s pretty massive – verging on hostile at this ABV – but the flavour combinations all work well enough that I’m not immediately reaching for the water jug. The sweet fruits detected on the nose (apricots and lemons – now joined by some green apple) are intensified on the palate – rich, syrupy and surprisingly sweet. They play nicely with a combo of smoked kippers, charred meats and sooty pepperiness. There’s not a great deal of development here, but regardless, all of the flavours are dialled up to 11. Water offers a more balanced delivery – less aggression and more coastal saltiness alongside juicy tinned fruits (with just a slight sense of tropicalness added), oaty cereals and buttery seafood.
Finish: Medium to long, still quite sweet and fruit-driven, with lemon drizzled oysters, ashy peppery smoke.
Perhaps the biggest question for this Special Release Talisker is whether it offers something different to the rest of the distillery’s expressions – unlike Lagavulin’s compact offering, there’s a wide variety of Talisker bottlings readily available. To my mind the answer most certainly is yes, but not in the manner I was expecting. The high ABV delivers exactly as you’d imagine (57 North is similarly powerful), the differentiation here comes from both the style of smokiness (more medicinal and meaty) and the sweet fruit focus. Complexity is not the emphasis here – but this is still very effective, offering excellent balance alongside power.