Ahh, Talisker. Although a prize pony in Diageo’s stable, this distillery has always seemed to be a wild card to me. A fiercely independent, borderline wild ward of the Diageo State, always going against the grain and getting away with it. I like to imagine meetings at headquarters where all the cowed distilleries of the Diageo rank and file nod in unison, eyes trained on the floor, while Talisker causes trouble on the third floor – getting the interns drunk and making photocopies of its arse. Now while I’m sure that’s wildly inaccurate, it helps rationalize my love of Talisker despite its corporate overlord.
Lately, however, Talisker has been starting to show its megacorporate stripes by releasing mediocre pap like Talisker Storm, trying to cash in on the NAS craze. Luckily for me, Talisker 57° North is different. Duty-free only (a.k.a. the Screw The Whisky Customers Who Don’t Travel Internationally market category), but entirely worth haranguing a travel-worn acquaintance into securing a bottle for you. As reliable as the Talisker 10 is, 57° gives you everything you expect from Talisker, plus more. Talisker++, if you will.
I have to say the marketing on this is refreshing – no obscure gaelic or strained nearly-factual allegories about the deer that used to graze in the valley by the water source. Just the latitude line that the distillery is located on – 57° (North) – and the ABV set at 57% ABV to match. Of course, one must wonder if 57% was really the ideal strength… what if it tasted better at 55% or 61%? Ah well, I guess that’s the price you pay for a good marketing campaign.
Nose: Nutmeg! A barrage of white pepper, nutmeg, smoked salt, burning incense sticks, salted caramel, and salmon jerky. There’s a lot of complexity packed into this little bundle. It definitely delivers on the promise of Talisker peat, plus a little something extra.
Palate: Thin body. Serious tongue burn (of course), with attendant smoke coming out of my ears. When the fury subsides, there is fresh (spicy) ginger, cracked black pepper, and a sensation of salty sea breezes.
Finish: Medium-Long. The peat makes a comeback, with plenty of brushfire smoke, residual brine, and only a faint touch of sweetness. A bit of mouth-drying tannin. Not a lot of bitterness.
With Water: Normally a dram is better when it’s cohesive, but here I find the opposite. The separate, independent notes of aroma create a chaotic jumble that very much works. When I add (a little) water, it becomes more cohesive and loses something – becoming muddied. The palate becomes markedly sweeter. If I add enough water to proof it down to around 50%, there’s a significant smoked fish element to the aroma. Also adds dried lemon peel and gingerbread (??) to the palate. I would only add water to proof it down if you aren’t enjoying it straight at full proof.
Overall: Well, that’s Talisker all right. A big, brutish dram with most of the complexity on the nose. It definitely delivers everything you’d expect from nearly-cask-strength Talisker. If you’re already a Talisker fan, then you’re ready to try this. If you’re not a Talisker fan, get comfortable with the standard 10 year first.