Three years ago I reviewed the Talisker Special Release for 2018, which was downright yummy. Last year, I was lucky enough to get another stab at the 2020 release. Today, I am continuing this particular stroke of luck thanks to the same longtime-reader and fellow Talisker groupie, who I will refer to below as “Generous Reader”. Seriously: I’ve shown a defect of character in my unwillingness to go through the effort to acquire these bottles myself, so I’m eternally grateful that someone is willing to do so on my behalf!
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 find, 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 frankly surprising given the state of international shipping.
Also, let’s continue to note with spite (bordering on fury) that THREE full years later and I’m still unable to order anything from Master of Malt due to its acquisition by AB InBev. Get your proverbial shit together, Malt Masters! (Excuse my French.)
While I’m in a very un-Christmasy, uncharitable mood, let’s also point out that the official Diageo website for this bottle has achieved an actual NEW LOW in transparency: they don’t even list the bottling proof! That’s probably illegal, but hardly surprising. C’mon, Diageo. Think of the baby Jesus.
Talisker 8 is a very limited edition cask-strength (59.7% ABV, almost 2% higher than last year) 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). Instead of an innovative cask finish (like last year’s funky rum), this year Talisker simply selected the 8 year-old warehouse casks that were in refill (re-used) casks and which showed the heaviest peat character. Diageo would like you to think of this as maturing in “ex-Talisker” casks, or perhaps as a “Talisker finished in Talisker”, but refill casks are hardly new, and honestly that sounds a bit desperate.
Apparently there is some kind of immersive AR experience if you scan the QR code on the back of the bottle. Most importantly, let’s be real, what could represent Talisker better than a freaking sea monster? That may be the best whisky label I’ve ever seen.
Nose: Begins very vegetal. Plump seaweed, roasted nopales, smoked vanilla (is that a thing?), and very mildly sweet vanilla saltwater taffy. The peat is surprisingly shy, adding only an earthy quality to the other aromas. Deeper in, there are faint wisps of barbecued meats and perhaps smoked salmon. A rest in the glass amplifies these notes – it now smells a Hell of a lot like maple-cured bacon.
Palate: Heavy body, almost syrupy. A vibrant tongue burn is followed by a reprise of the aroma notes (seaweed, smoke, vanilla), plus a hearty dose of earthy peat… like I imagine that cut peat would taste if you just took a big ol’ bite. The classic Talisker minerality is faint but detectable, like licking wet granite.
Finish: Long. Mouth-drying, with mild tannins. The peat recedes into the background, again, leaving earth, coal, 99% dark chocolate, and a ghost of anise/black licorice.
With Water: Several drops of water provide a much-needed tart high note, like lemon peel. The palate seems a little sweeter (again, with lemon), as does the finish. I recommend water with this one, but you owe it to yourself to try it at full strength first.
Overall: So, it’s young-ish Talisker. I think (like many youthful Islay releases) that it would be disappointing at standard bottling proof (43% ish) but the high concentration of cask-strength whisky drives home the essence of Skye and what it means to be Talisker. Without the benefit of sweetness, balance, and oak complexity that longer aging (or… *cough*… a first-fill cask) provides, you are left with residual grassiness (seaweed), plain unadorned vanilla malt, and earthy peat that is just getting its engines revved up. Still, at this proof, you’re getting all of those things dialed up to 11. This is a glimpse into what’s going on in the barrel before Talisker spirit finishes becoming classic Talisker single malt.
But who am I kidding? If you’re already a Talisker fan then you don’t need my review to convince you that the juice is worth the squeeze. It’s Talisker, it’s not going to be bad. I just preferred the Special Releases from previous years.
Finally, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Open something special this week. When else are you going to do it?