Old Malt Cask: Talisker (6 year) 2009-2016

This is not a review that is intended to inform a purchase. I bought a bottle of this K&L Wines and Spirits -exclusive Talisker from Old Malt Cask awhile back, and only just recently dug it out of my cabinet to try. It’s long sold-out. I am reviewing this, instead, as a look at what you might expect from independent bottlings of very young peated malts, which seem to be appearing more and more on shelves as the older stuff disappears from warehouses.

Talisker 10 is one of my favorite drams of all time, and maybe #2 or #3 on my list of favorite peated malts. I’ve been (thus far) slightly less-than-impressed by any of the NAS expressions released by Diageo to capitalize on the popularity of the distillery, which is just fine with me because Talisker 10 can still be had for $50 a bottle. This Old Malt Cask bottling spoke to me: younger Talisker (with an age statement!), purportedly aged in sherry, bottled at a potent 100 proof, and only $40. The malt was just one month shy of 7 years of age, and bottled in 2016 without added coloring or chill filtration. Only 361 bottles were filled out of this single sherry hogshead.

Nose: Fishy peat with a heap of black peppercorn, thin malty grain, and chalky minerals. Seaspray and absolutely no sherry whatsoever. Complex, young, and fiery.

Palate: Thin body. Aggressive tongue burn, which clears slowly to reveal some vanilla sweetness, sea-salt caramels, and a drifting hazy fugue of peat – like being in a cold-smoker cabinet after the fire has gone out.

Finish: Long. More of that salty caramel, now with a seaweed chaser (yum!). More black pepper and now some tobacco. Fades very slowly to a dry, cigarette-like smoke, which is somewhat acrid.

With Water: A few drops of water release a lemon peel (verging on Lemon Pledge) note, which conflicts oddly with the fish (ok, ok, “brine”) notes. It does, however, tame the fieriness a bit. I can see wanting a little water for that reason.

Overall: Man, this is really not good. But at $40, I also really can’t complain. This confirms two suspicions that I’ve had: One, that ultra-young peated malts contain more peat flavor than their standard 10- and 12-year elder siblings. Two, that there’s a reason peated malts are usually released at 10 or 12 years of age. The smoke and peat and brine need some time to integrate, to mellow, and to lose that brash, acrid aspect. Unfortunately, this may as well have been aged in cardboard for all the total and complete lack of sherry character. The label might as well have just said “aged in a barrel”.

It IS fascinating to see not-ready-for-prime-time Talisker, though, and I’m happy to only have paid $40 for a ticket. I can’t ever imagine being in the mood for a glass of this, unless maybe when I’m mad at myself for something. They could put that on the bottle.

Seriously, though, I can’t recommend anyone buy this, even if it were still available. I do think it would be possible to develop a taste for “rough” and cheap peated malt… although you’re really only saving $10 to $20 per bottle and getting a lot less quality. Bottles like this are in the same vein as Finlaggan Old Reserve and other bottom-shelf peated malts, except that the transparency of the indie bottling is refreshing. Nobody is trying to pass this off as anything but what it is.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Talisker is located on the lonely Isle of Skye, off the western coast of the Scottish Highlands (included in the “Island” region by owner Diageo). The population there still speaks Scots Gaelic, and Talisker was the only whisky distillery on the island until Torabhaig was built in 2017. But oh, what whisky. Poet Robert Louis Stevenson identified this distillery’s product as a category of its own, and once referred to it as “the king of drinks.” He wasn’t alone. In the James Bond movies, 007 and M can be seen drinking Talisker. Like Bond, Talisker is rough by nature – rocky and influenced by the sea by which it is made. The spring water flows over peat and has a very high mineral content.
Old Malt Cask: Talisker (6 year) 2009-2016
50% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $40 - $50
Acquired: (750ml bottle) K&L Wine and Spirits $40

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  • Thanks for the honest review! I’m also a huge Talisker fan, and coincidentally, I also bought this bottle from K&L last year before it sold out, but have yet to crack it open yet. Your opinion actually has me more excited to crack it and see what young and unrefined Talisker is all about.

    Great work as always, and cheers!

    • I second AndrewO on all points, except that I have the benefit of bringing my bottle to my whisky club’s upcoming Talisker night and thereby dispersing the risk and spreading the educational benefits.

      Too bad there’s so little sherry-ness to be found here, it seems. Some legit sherry + young Talisker would be fun, like a fierce version of the DE.

  • You lucky dog. Talisker 10 (my all time favorite, absolute go-to malt) is an exorbitant $75 in this area. Curiously, comparable non-Diageo malts such as Laphroaig 10 and Ardbeg 10 can be had for $50. Which makes me think the problem is Diageo and not my area.

    Anyway, regarding the 6 yo Talisker, another downside(?) to my state is that I don’t have the opportunity of trying independent bottlers very much. They’re just not available here. However, my sense from a lot of reviews I’ve read is that distillers generally don’t sell their good barrels to independents, and this review is yet more evidence in that direction.

    • Pffft. Talisker 10 and Ardbeg 10 are $100 where I live. Laphroaig 10 is $87. Some younger peated malts seem to work, though. I like Laphroaig Quarter Cask quite a bit, despite the NAS label. Most of QC is probably 6-7 years old whisky, despite the fact that they pitch it as “containing whiskies from 5-11 years old”. I’m also a fan of Lagavulin’s 8 year old malt. I wonder if SN thinks this one is “less refined” than those.

      • I enjoyed the QC last time I had it, and it was demonstrably superior to both Finlaggan OR and this Talisker 6 year. It was years ago, though, so it could have changed (like some other official bottlings have – Ardbeg Uige and Laga 16 for example, which are both still good, but not as good as they were).

        • The consensus on the Interwebz seems to be that there is a lot of batch variation with both those (Oogie and Laga 16) these days. My last Lagavulin was a 99/15 DE and it was fantastic. I’ve always liked QC, just not as much as the 10 (at 43% ABV, never been stuck with the 40% version)

  • Talisker 10 is well above $80 here in Colorado but on the positive note, I managed to find Laphroaig 10 for less than $40 a few times, seems like a better pick than this young unfinished Talker…. Also, since I tried Kilchoman Machir Bay (your recommendation, your fault), I don’t enjoy any peter malt the same way, Machir Bay is that good for me!!!!!

  • To each his own. I just finished a bottle of 7 year cask strength Caol Ila from indep bottler Signatory that was absolutely magnificent. It’s one of my all-time favorite Peaters, and I enjoyed it much more than a Caol Ila 20-year-old that I bought at the same time Note that many independent bottlers source their own barrels and simply go to the distilleries and say “fill her up”. So it’s not just a matter of barrel selection where the distillery gets to choose what to give away. Of my all-time top 10 bottles I’ve ever bought, I’d estimate seven are our independents. While there’s greater risk in ending up with a duffer, the upside is far greater as well. E.g., I have an eight year cask strength Glenlivet aged in first fill sherry that is out of this world. If you’re a Ledaig fan, there are simply a ton of independent bottles available at various ages and barrel types priced at well lower than comparable official bottlings. And the list goes on.