Two years ago I reviewed the Talisker Special Release for 2018, which was downright yummy. Today, I was lucky enough to taste the 2020 release thanks to the same longtime-reader and fellow Talisker groupie, who I will refer to below as “Generous Reader”.
Diageo does an annual “Special Release” of bottles from its stable of Single Malt heavy-hitters, such as Talisker, Lagavulin, Mortlach, etc. These are always pricey, hard to acquire, and only a tiny trickle of the supply reaches retailers in the US. I’ve never seen one on a shelf. Generous Reader gets his via mail-order from the UK, which is an increasingly uncertain and hazardous operation as the triplet specters of Brexit, Covid-19, and punitive tariffs make the international shipping of whisky a downright Mission: Impossible. One more global retail apocalypse and we’ll have a full set of Horsemen.
Also, let’s note with spite that 2 full years later and I’m still unable to order anything from Master of Malt due to its acquisition by AB InBev.
Talisker 8 is a very limited edition cask-strength (57.9% ABV) batch of the familiar Talisker 10 except at 8 years, which is a bit of a reference to earlier 1980s bottlings of Talisker that were released at that age (although not at that strength). The whisky for this year’s release was distilled in 2011 and this time the distillery broke new ground (for Talisker) by finishing the whisky in a funky pot-still rum cask from Jamaica. How long was the finish? What distillery did the rum casks come from? Who knows, this is Diageo we’re talking about, so details are sparse to none.
Nose: Pungent vanilla, cracked white pepper, nutty nougat, and gently smoked meat. The pot-still rum cask comes through clearly, with characteristic funky banana, coconut, molasses, and vegetal sugar cane. Oddly, the sum of these has subsumed all of the classic Talisker peat. Even after a rest in the glass, the peat/smoke remains in the background.
Palate: Syrupy body. There’s the peat! Holy firecrackers there’s a ton of smoke and an avalanche of briny, peppery peat. The tongue burn is as expected for this high ABV. There’s also barrel char, shortbread cookies, and salted caramel, but not a lot of rum notes.
Finish: Long. The party resumes on the finish, which brings the joy of windswept, rocky Talisker peat together with a bubbling pot of Caribbean funk. There’s only just barely enough sweetness from the rum to compete with the smoke. The finish is quite long, and it evolves a little by adding spearmint, carob, and burnt caramel. A journey.
With Water: A few drops of water warm up the aroma, adding toasty oak notes and waking up a little smoke. The rum funk is less obvious, though. The palate and finish seem largely unchanged by this small amount of water. Water optional, I’m not sure this needs it unless you’re having trouble with the high ABV.
Overall: What an oddball. The aroma is so decked out in Caribbean funk it feels like it should have a little umbrella sticking out of the glass, but the palate is pure unadulterated hurricane-force salt spray in your face. The finish is a little of both. An experience… it took several tastings to just make sense of what was going on in the glass. I’m calling it a “Must Try” although it’s quite pricey. If you have a chance to try a glass, don’t pass it up. If you’re already a Talisker fiend, you probably don’t need me to tell you it’s worth the money, which is even higher than last year. Ah! I found the fourth Horseman of the Whisky Apocalypse: Inflation!