Not all that long ago I had a conversation about Talisker 25 year old. Specifically its comparison to the much loved 10. It went something like this “Tali 10 year old is one of my all-time favourites, but I’ve not tried the 25 year old yet, and I’d be really excited to give it a go.” No problems, I pull down the bottle from the bar, pour a dram and advise that as an older whisky that it might need a little time in the glass to relax.
Fast-forward 10 minutes and my friend has a perplexed look on their face. “Yeah, so, I like it, and I can tell it’s a quality whisky, but it’s nowhere near as smoky or as peppery as the 10 year old.” I spend the next x minutes attempting to explain the effects of cask maturation on both spirit and flavour – this doesn’t change their opinion. “It’s just not as exciting or punchy, I can’t see why anyone would prefer it to the standard bottling, let alone pay quite a few times more for it.” I provide them with a follow-up Ardbeg, there are smiles and the conversation is forgotten.
A few days later I was thinking about further and so spent some time on the Interwebs. Interestingly my friend was not alone in their belief that better (at least to their palate) was equated to hard-hitting, sometimes aggressive flavour. As I’m fond of pointing out, all drinks appreciation really boils down to a matter of opinion, but, at the same time, I think there’s also a level of maturity and experience that can sometimes be required to truly appreciate some whisky expressions and understand what they are and why they work. I’ve been sampling around 50 whiskies each month for some time now (I’m probably due a liver check), my friend is an occasional imbibed, so looking back it’s fairly easy to understand their point of view – as we grow on our malt journey we’re naturally training our palates to identify greater nuance and complexity. When we start out we’re not yet attuned, in a sense mature enough, to fully appreciate the full spectrum of flavour and intricacy. Like all things, this comes from time and experience. Though in the end, my friends occasional whisky palate is going to be a lot cheaper than mine.
Strongly flavoured and particularly smoky younger whisky is going to undergo some fairly radical structural and chemical changes when it’s left in an oak cask for several decades. Wood will become more dominant, spirit influence will lessen, and peat in particular will calm and intermix with other flavours, rather than remain in the driving seat (in most cases). Talisker 25 year old is a perfect example of this – all the aromas and nuances are still there, but 25 years of maturation have changed the whisky into something, which to my mind and palate, is pretty sophisticated and complex.
Talisker 25 year old was first released back in 2001 as a cask strength expression from the distillery clocking in at 59.9% ABV. For the next 8 years it remained at various high strengths until 2011 when this was lowered to a new standard ABV of 45.8%. The whisky is made on batch every year, and bottling numbers have, by and large, been limited to around 6,000 each year. Until 2017, when the annual release was increased. A lot. To 21,498 bottles. Our expression is from the 2013 batch of 5772 bottles.
Nose: Delicate, sophisticated, but still very Talisker. Light citrus takes on woody notes – sappy oak, pine, planking and a touch of polish. It’s supported by pineapple and honey for sweetness and more green notes in the form of sweet but tart apple, cucumber and cool mint. It’s quite maritime with some sea air and of course smoke – which is gentle, sweet, but still pervasive. There’s a touch of spicing which again is maritime giving a lick of salinity.
Taste: Relaxed and elegant. The expected Talisker pepper is here, but it's wonderfully retrained to the point where it supports the other flavours rather than leads them. Toffee, honey, pineapple, orange peel peels contribute sweetness and tang. Freshly cut wood, tanned leather and deck varnish all offer mature flavours of longer ageing. There’s more smoke on the palate then on the nose, it’s part maritime (TCP, iodine), but part inland, delivering a fairly ashy and yet fresh, slightly heathery, sweeter peat. There’s a ton of balance here….no one flavour dominating, but all adding to the equation. More than the sum of its parts.
Finish: Long, with honey, citrus and salinity.
Talisker 25 year old is a refined expression with excellent poise, that takes the inherent characteristics of the distillery, but delivers them in a manner which exemplifies longer-term quality maturation. Pepper – check. Smoke – check. Citrus – check. Add, a dash of understated grace and now you’ve got a mature expression for mature palates.