Regular readers will know that I love Talisker. It’s certainly one of my three favorite distilleries. In 2013, around the beginning of the NAS craze, Diageo released Talisker Storm to much marketing fanfare and an initial retail price of around $70 – $80. The only difference between it and the flagship Talisker 10, a perennial favorite, was the lack of an age statement and the use of (some) re-charred ex-bourbon casks. Why the premium over the 10 year, which was around $50 at the time? Purportedly, the selection of both younger (3 year) and older (25 year) casks brought more smoke and a better balance of sweetness to Talisker.
Talisker Storm met with a flurry of mixed reviews. (See what I did there? I slay me!) Some reviewers appreciated the different perspective on classic Talisker without going too far outside the box. Others decried the higher price and lack of age statement. Reviews also seemed confused on whether Storm was actually more or less smoky than the 10-year, and whether it was actually sweeter or not. Fast-forward 6 years and, tellingly, the price of Talisker Storm has slipped significantly below its stalwart age-stated sibling, now retailing around $40 and in some markets as low as $33! It’s hard to say whether this is due to its relative lack of quality, or if those negative reviews were a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s also impossible to know if the blend of casks has changed along with the price. Is there still 25 year-old whisky in Storm? If so, it might be measured by the teaspoon…
I somehow managed to entirely sidestep the whole fiasco. This happened for two reasons. First, my local tasting group back in 2013 roundly panned the whisky when I asked if they’d all tried it. Second, I tried Storm while entirely sloshed at a whisky show, and my voice notes once transcribed read something like “urrrshhhhsh maybbeeeshh goood. I’unno.” Let’s see if I can improve on that slightly:
Nose: Definitely Talisker DNA: savory smoke, brine, and black pepper. The smoke is oddly more evident away from the glass – inside the glass the smoke becomes delicate and is overshadowed by unusually sweet malt. This results in the strange sensation of appreciating the aroma more above the glass than in it. The un-Talisker sweetness in question is a combination of shortbread cookies, honey, apple juice, and pancake syrup (not maple).
Palate: Medium bodied, not quite syrupy. Mild tongue burn. I’m used to being punched in the face, metaphorically speaking, by Talisker distillate. This feels more like a delicate caress. The brine is there, as is the black pepper, and the peat evolves properly across the tongue, starting smoky and ending earthy. Still, the usual Talisker-ness is missing, replaced by a parody. A sweet one.
Finish: Medium-Long, but doesn’t linger quite like the 10 year. Again, there is an odd candy-like sweetness that accompanies the briny smoke, turning what should be an experience of seaspray on an unforgiving rocky coastline into… a sputtering candy-scented gift candle. Fades with more of the same.
With Water: A few drops of water tame the sweetness on the aroma and bring out some lemon peel. The palate is brighter and has more tart high notes, which makes it less cloying. I highly recommend a little water with this.
Overall: I see what the detractors are saying. This is Talisker, but it feels like Talisker invaded by a troupe of Care Bears, which have turned the crusty old seafarer into a dancing cartoon version of itself. I find this to be sweeter and less smoky than Talisker 10, although other reviewers have found the opposite.
To be fair, the only reason I don’t like it is because of my own expectations of what Talisker is. Taken in isolation, objectively, this is tasty, well-crafted malt with a nice balance of sweetness and smoke. If you don’t go into it with the “This is Talisker” mentality, you’ll probably enjoy it. Especially at the marked-down price, which is squarely where this belongs. I would expect to pay about 20% less than Talisker 10 year. If you can find it for under $40, snap it up.