The annual Diageo Special Releases passed us by without much fanfare here at Malt. In fact, this is probably the first release from the outturn that we’ve sat down with and likely to be the last from the 2018 assortment. Year on year, these releases grow less relevant. Spiralling prices and a cluster of odd selections. This cavalcade combines to create a collective shrug of the shoulders and like any disappointed onlooker, you move on elsewhere.
Bottles stand idle at retailers, waiting patiently on the welcome boost of a price cut. That step towards a more digestible asking price that rarely materialises with mere baby steps being granted. Do you want to pay £660 for a 25 Caol Ila? Who does? Especially when Cadenhead’s seem able to bottle at this age several times a year – in a single cask format – with older expressions still coming in under £250 if you’re lucky enough to get a hold of one. Needless to say, the 25yo is still out there for £660 if you do win the lottery. A useful Whisky Exchange section offers a roll call of the incarcerated, who seemingly are locked up for life with no chance of parole.
Listen up Diageo, because it is time to highlight what’s sitting right under your eyes. Big age statements and high prices don’t sell. Nor do I foresee such icons gaining popularity in the UK as we stumble into Brexit, or whatever we’re left with after being shown the door. A more educated and informed market nowadays wants value alongside a more natural presentation. None of that E150 artificial colouring that you like to dump into Lagavulin, Talisker and their ilk. The emphasis on filtration and watering down the strength to expand the outturn and potential profit.
These should be the behaviours of the past and not the future. Much like bottling at 40% strength, there is a groundswell of opinion now that it won’t cut the mustard. Such things are frowned upon and rightly so. Times have changed as has the level of appreciation.
The big sellers from the Special Releases in recent times have been the affordable options that showcase a different side or more natural state of a distillery. The distillery DNA if you will. Free from interference. In Talisker’s case, it has been molested by the blenders to an extraordinary degree of late. The frightfully overpriced Talisker Neist Point to the rather sedimentary Talisker Skye or even the hugely overrated Talisker 57 North. These and others combine to almost camouflage the true identify and appeal of this distillery.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Talisker and many other Diageo distilleries produce a good spirit. It’s just that somewhere along the lines things do vault off the rails and the end result is a significant wreckage of twisted metal and debris. The Special Releases have become irrelevant. Now what’s needed more than ever is a new series that reveals the true nature of each distillery. Bottled at a specific age, cask strength and with no filtration or colouring. It’ll need a fancy title of course and I’m never good at these things. Something simple and pure. A range that rewards the enthusiast and allows them to reconnect with many distilleries that have been lost amidst the carnage.
The single range. A single distillery. A single year and a single cask strength. I believe it’d do very well if executed correctly. After all, Diageo is quite happy to do something similar for their Game of Thrones series. In reality there is a much bigger opportunity up for grabs once the fantasy creatures have run their predictable course. Food for thought?
For now, we’re sitting down with this 8 year old Talisker. Bottled at an impressive 59.4% strength and heralding from ex-bourbon 1st fill American oak casks that have been deep-charred. If you can find it, expect to pay around £70 and no more ideally.
Talisker 8 Year Old Special Release 2018 – review
Colour: Bashed gold.
On the nose: Very salty, with seaweed, driftwood and a coastal bonfire that produced a thick smoke. Lemon peel, washing up liquid, hemp, a wet flannel, smoked limes and green apples. A mineral aspect, beach pebbles, cream soda and pineapple cubes rounded off by grapefruit. Water reveals a vanilla toffee and peaches.
In the mouth: Very salty once again and a real smoky goodness. Limescale, green apples and a long salty finish. Returning, highlights sea salt, a gammon steak and a clean light whisky. A dirty vanilla, popcorn, talcum powder, black pepper followed by dulce and a silver needle tea. More grapefruit, watermelon. Adding water showcases more oils, a salt crust, green peppercorn and candied orange.
An excellent whisky, hence the score. Perfectly drinkable at cask strength, there is much to savour here. A dram that reminds you of the power and poise that Talisker can offer, and ultimately should be offering each time you purchase a bottle. None of these concepts that abuse existing stocks that could be deployed towards a better and greater whisky.
Overpriced at £70? At double the price of the Talisker Skye, it offers more than treble the experience. Meaning, I’m happy to pay the asking price, for hands down, one of my favourite releases of 2018.