As one of the world’s premium whisky brands, Talisker has built a reputation for distilling and producing some of the best single malt Scotch whisky since 1830.
Few whiskies tell the story of its origin better than Talisker. Its smell and taste are instantly recognisable – rugged and bold, like a warm welcome from a wild sea.
Fortunately, we were recently able to enjoy a glass of its best with Talisker ambassador Katie Nagar, an industry expert who has partnered with the historic Scotch brand.
On the Isle of Skye in the northern islands of Scotland lies the home of the Talisker brand. Standing apart from a multitude of outputs from other whisky producers, the whisky-making process is largely the same across the board. However, Nagar emphasised that it’s a number of subtle decisions made during this process that determines the range of flavours the final whisky product will display.
“All single malt Scotch is made from malted barley, where the grain is allowed to dry and
breakdown, activating the enzymes which transform the starch into complex sugars,” explains Nagar.
“To then complement this process, the grain is smoked over peat fire which imparts a unique flavour that is distinctive and unmistakable.”
This flavour we speak of, where smoke and cackling sulphury spice mingle with a prominent counterpoint of salty sea spray and fruit, highlights that this can only be achieved with careful attention to how the grain is peated. Talisker is of a medium peated style, yet begins its life as lightweight and fruity, emphasising the transformative aspects of peat.
“Our peat consists of decaying coastal vegetation from the region, seaweed for instance, which, to a certain extent, accounts for the unique briny flavours that Talisker showcases, imparting an unmistakable sense of regionality to the taste and aroma of the product,” says Nagar.
After the grain is mashed and saturated with pure Scottish water, and then fermented
with the addition of yeast, the resulting product undergoes double distillation in copper pot stills.
“It’s all about time and contact at this stage,” says Nagar, describing Talisker’s stills as small and
basic in design, with a bowl-like shape.
“Interaction with the copper stills are kept to a minimum, and as the bowl-shape is less curvaceous, there is less contact. The tradeoff is that the more contact with copper, the more refined the whisky becomes. The less contact, the more characterful.”
However, despite this double distillation, the product at this stage still won’t taste like whisky and relies on a process of maturation where the whisky gains colour, flavour, and its characteristics – the Talisker style that many have come to know and love.
“This is when we can really talk about the quality factor,” reveals Nagar.
“This harsh alcoholic liquid is matured in active new casks made from American oak, where a synergistic
process occurs where the oak’s flavour profile of vanilla and spice soften and tame the fiery liquid, losing its abrasive qualities and gaining its complexities and colour.”
With time, the flavours of the whisky integrate seamlessly together, resulting in a harmonised yet complex product.
Along with the peating process and the process of oak maturation, which is always at a
minimum of 3 years by law, this allows flavours of the region to make their influence on the spirit.
Nagar reminds me that, as humans, maturation isn’t always a matter of age, and looking at the
age statement of a bottle of whisky will only reveal so much. Some styles of whisky just need
less time, especially if certain characteristics wish to be highlighted over others – a stylistic
concern for the whisky makers, she states.
Talisker Storm, for instance, my favourite dram from the range, emphasises the smoke and maritime flavours unique to the Talisker profile, amping up the intensity and lengthening the note of sizzling pepper on the palate. And with their flagship Talisker 10 maturing for 10 years, there’s adequate time during maturation for the region to make its mark, especially as oak casks are porous containers, slowly seeping in Scottish air over time.
“The way Scotch matures in the barrel is all a bit of a mystery,” admits Nagar.
“But it’s an intriguing one nonetheless. As an exceptional whisky, we should meet it with pure enjoyment, which can only come from trusting your palate. Talisker is an opulence for everyone, that’s accessible enough to be enjoyed neat or with a splash of water to open up the whisky and reveal more aromatics.”
Talisker, unlike perhaps any other Scotch, embodies a sense of place and a history accumulating in a bottle that takes many long years to make, so one should approach its label with respect. If anything, we should appreciate the time and effort it takes to create a robust and powerful yet balanced beverage that gently challenges our palate.
For more information on the Talisker brand, head to the website here