Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: Talisker 10 years old Single Malt Scotch

Ripley, a regular reader, has accepted my invitation to submit some of his own scotch whisky reviews.  I like his insights and more importantly, he is a peat head.  I mean a fan of the big, peaty and smoke infused malts of Islay, and in the case of tonight's post, the Isle of Skye.  Me, I am more of a mainland (Speyside, Highland, etc.) rube.  I think it is important to have divergent opinions on scotch, some from the Speyside perspective and some from the Islay/Isle of Skye.  Ripley will advise on appreciating the latter.  So, here is Ripley's review:

Talisker 10
Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? I mean the actual moment you went from "trying" to actually doing it without thinking? At that moment, did you finally understand how to ride the bike - did you finally get all the instructions? I'm betting the answer to the last question is no - you didn't finally know something you didn't before, your body just did it without you thinking about it.

For me, learning how to drink whisky has been a lot like learning how to ride a bike some forty years ago. I tried lots of different suggestions, read all I could and tried to relate it to what I was tasting, and occasionally rode a few feet without falling. But one day it just all clicked together (I rode a few blocks without falling) and it was "ah ha" this is what whisky is all about! Like you develop balance on a bike, you develop an ability to smell and taste sometimes very subtle, sometimes very different, components within the malt. At least for me, I have never had drink nor food that has as much complexity and requires so much of my senses to fully comprehend and appreciate.

Unfortunately, I first tried Talisker 10 when I still had my 'training wheels' on. With my newbie senses, I could only taste big smoke which overwhelmed my ability to detect all the other components of this malt. I wasn't even able to detect the subtlety within the smoke (like the obvious sweetness). It wasn't until months later, when I had much stronger smoky/peaty malts (Islay), that I had my significant ah ha moment. What has become abundantly clear to me is that time is required for appreciating whisky. Time between sips, time for each dram to breathe, time for water to mix, time between each trial, time to learn etc, etc, etc...

Personally, my "drams" are only about 1/2 to 3/4 oz (about 1/3 to 1/2 a normal dram). As Jason has suggested many times, I drink plenty of water between sips - this has got to be the #1 best tip of any I've read/heard. I'll wait 1/2 hour or more to go back for another "dram". Before my tasting, and sometimes during, I cleanse my palate with a little sour dough bread (Jason likes French bread). Each time I go back, especially the longer I've waited, the more I smell and taste. In fact, for me, the Islays and other "peaty" malts, get sweeter at each tasting. The point is, read other's opinions and just experiment and try different things - you'll discover what works best for you!

On to the Talisker 10. But one last thing! Unlike Jason, I am definitely a peat-head, as soon as I hit the Islay islands (so to speak), I knew I found my home. With that one caveat behind us, I think you may find this review interesting. With that said, give each malt it's own few nights or space of time with yourself. If you break it up with a powerful one like a peat monster, you won't likely be able to appreciate any subtlety on its own.

Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. In many ways, Talisker is a closer cousin to the other Island whiskys (Islay, Orkney), than to it's mainland brethren. But despite these similarities, it is quite unique from them as well.

The color is an area I haven't paid much attention to before, but it's a nice golden-brown hue in the tumbler. If it was in a burgundy or wine glass, I may be able to tell you about its legs...but it's not.

The first nose is pure smoke and a light peat medicine (clean band-aidish) scent. Second and subsequent nosing's are increasingly richly sweet like a sweet almond biscuit with a little sea-salt banana around the edges. The peaty scent starts fading in the background as the sweetness increases.

Crispy caramel banana sweetness in front with a big kick of pepper dryness in the middle then a peaty top note. This one you can roll around and around your mouth for a long time picking out the different levels. The texture is right in the middle between light and thick, perfect for rolling.

This has a short to middling length finish. You get a light smoke and crispy burnt-sugar aftertaste. It's very pleasant but not long-lasting, which is perfectly acceptable since this isn't a peat-monster.

As I have learned, the complexity of the whisky grows as your experience with it, and it is definitely not tangible with just the first dram. This is a very nice whisky, much more complex than when I first tried it. The depth is both subtle and obvious - very interesting for a growing relationship. This is actually surprisingly malty-sweet, with a kick of pepper peat. This particular characteristic (hidden and growing sweetness) is quite common with peaty malts (at least for me), but is something I only recently learned and experienced. I love this particular element about them and about the Talisker 10 in particular.


Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. I forgot to mention (for those scientific types) that, according to a few sources, the phenol level of the malted barley (pre-whisky) is anywhere from 18-25 (22/23 being twice hit) parts per million (ppm). Based on a wee bit of research, this is lower than the lowest of the peaty Islay malts which start at about 35. The end result is that Talisker has less "peaty" taste than the major Islay malts, but it is certainly higher in general than most other whiskys.

  2. Ahh. Nice review by a peat lover. Jason wrote that one should find a reviewer with much the same taste as yourself. Just like Ripley here, I feel comfortably at home in company of Islay Whiskys. However, I keep reading Jason's blog because I like the honest down-to-earth way in which it is written.
    Talisker definitely sounds like something I ought to try out. Peat and smoke is wonderful, but there's a lot else to be had in whisky, and I like to have some variety. A couple of months ago, I bought a Glenfiddich 15 to try something new. It's pleasant enough (it's easy on some of my friends who usually don't drink whisky) but I can't help longing for a bit of smoke anyway. Talisker sounds like something in between Speyside and Islay - is that assumption way off? I recently tasted Dalwhinnie 15 (maybe the spelling is wrong), which I would pick over Glefiddich. But somehow I still feel that Speyside whisky, apart from the malty aftertaste, resembles cognac a lot (or maybe it's the other way around).
    Anyway, I can still taste the Lagavulin 16 I had just before reading this last post. It's a wonderful dram that this blog actually made me aware of, so thank you for that one.

  3. Magnus, if you like Lagavulin 16, another smoke/peat infused drams for you to consider is Laphroaig Quarter Cask.

    If you want to try a hybrid between smoke/ peat and honey/heather then try anything by Highland Park (ie. 12, 15, 18).

    Thanks for posting!

  4. Hey Magnus! If you like the Lagavulin and other Islays, you should definitely try the Talisker. The wonderful thing I have found about all of them is, yes there is peat and smoke, but they all express it so very differently - which makes it quite interesting! The Lagavulin has a little more buttery sweetness and the Talisker more pepper spiciness. The whiskys Jason mentioned are outstanding (I've had the Highland 12 and 18), the 12 always has a place in my cupboard because it is, as Jason so eloquently put it on an earlier post, like "my comfortable old shoes". Compared to a strong Islay like a standard Laphroaig though, the Highland may taste a bit sweeter. The Laphroaig QC also has a sweet side, while still serving a peat-punch along with...

  5. In comparison tastings (I'm a geek and can't help it), this Talisker expression is more like the Lagavulin 16 than like the 10 year Laphroaigs (Quarter Cask, Cask Strength or standard) or Ardbeg 10...But it is different then the Lagavulin. Each of these beauties have their own shine!

  6. Ripley, The way you have articulated the transition from not knowing to knowing is superb. I am an avid snowboarding and explain to people that snowboarding is much easier to do than skiing ... but much harder to learn (initially). I use the same analogy of learning to ride a bike as you have. I try to turn my wine friends on to whiskey ... of all kinds ... and many don't get it, just like your first experience try to get riding a bike.


  7. I did comment. Damn, this is good. Great review, too.

  8. Have you reviewed the 20yr sherry cask?

  9. No, I have not, and at 750 British pounds sterling, not likely to do so any time soon.

    If you do, let me know your impressions.


  10. Hi guys,
    Had to give away my Laga 16 to a mate (was rapt with it !) I found the Talisker 10 Had a nicer taste and 'feel' to it. My friend prefered the Laga. Each to his or her own... On to Highland Park12 when this bottle is done.
    Thanks Ripley... good one mate.

    AL from OZ