I deliberately avoided this whisky as soon as it was announced by Diageo as part of their Special Releases outturn in 2019. Why? I hear you ask?
It struck me after the highs of the 2018 incarnation, which was the Talisker 8 year old, that any follow up was the whisky equivalent of the insanely difficult second album. You know the scenario. Your favourite new band has hit the ground running with a stunning assortment of tunes and captivating vibrancy. Only to flounder and tumble when lofty expectations were not met with their sequel long-player. History is littered with such examples; one that jumps to mind is the Stone Roses and the ironically named Second Coming.
The baggy generation waited 5 years on their next effort only to be repulsed, disappointed, annoyed (insert your reaction here) when it landed in stores at the tail end of 1994. This wasn’t what we expected or recognised. Looking back in hindsight, the ship had sailed and there was a need for a new direction. And the Roses were always more rock orientated than a traditional happy-go-lucky indie band. Expectations and pressures can be crippling artistically and also when it comes to whisky.
In hindsight, the Talisker 8 was very much an own goal for Diageo. They set the benchmark too high and thus expectations rose accordingly. This was a dram that offered bags of coastal character and the rugged characteristics that have been missing from so many of the Talisker land grab releases. Their soul remains sadly lacking. The 8 was the raw power of the distillery, well presented and affordable. Needless to say, once word got around, it was increasingly more difficult to pick up a bottle. Friends abroad seeking this Skye nectar tapped me for a couple of bottles, which I was more than happy to source for them – at retail cost price. Even though, I’m now down to my last bottle before venturing into the minefield that is the second market. Or I may just drop by the distillery later this year (COVID-19 restrictions depending) and take my chances in the shop.
After the 8, where do you go? Is the only way down?
Thinking back to my own expectations, vinyl and whisky experiences, it was a big ask to return the year after. Lightning rarely strikes twice and even less so soon after the initial burst. Ok, I’m sure some of you will highlight Port Ellen and Brora in the Special Releases realm. I get that and acknowledge their price tags that underline the juice better be top-notch. But for Talisker, it was a mistake to jump back in so soon when that whisky was still firmly in the minds of many and in the glasses of many more.
So, if the corporate giant wouldn’t allow a little more time – after all these Special Releases always come around each year – then, I actually would step aside. I only made it into 2020, which is pretty feeble in my opinion. I still haven’t bought a bottle and this review will determine whether I do so, as unlike the 8-year this 2019 incarnation is still widely available. Whether that’s a result of a higher outturn, breaking that psychological £100 barrier or just a sense of Talisker fatigue, I’ll leave to you the dear reader.
I’m very fortunate, I don’t chase an invite to the London unveiling of the Special Releases, which seems like a badge of honour for many writers, bloggers and industry types out there. The golden ticket that is prized by some and chased by an increasingly desperate pack of, well, insert your descriptive summary here. I just dislike such events and care for them even less. They’re also not conducive to writing good tasting notes for articles such as this. Reviews that might influence or determine whether an onlooker actually decides to take the plunge. I’d rather stay at home and change nappies than embark on such a pointless foray over the border.
However, my hand has been forced here as The Whisky Sleuth kindly provided me with a sample of the 2019 release and I sorta feel inclined to actually review it. So, let’s do that now and hope for another winner from the beautiful Isle of Skye.
This release is bottled at 57.3% strength and it’ll set you back £110 at The Whisky Exchange. Matured only in freshly charred American oak hogsheads, Amazon are requesting £109.01 of your hard-earned pennies for this release.
Talisker 2002 15 Year Old Special Releases 2019 – review
On the nose: not as punchy or coastal as I had hoped for. Muted in some respects or is that over-produced? Sour apples, a gentle salted caramel, fern and some sweetness, but I’m left feeling confused by this. Almonds, lime, aniseed, cream soda and the vibrancy of orange peel.
In the mouth: flat with some flashes of ruggedness, cracked black pepper and some smoke trying to poke through in places. This is far too genteel with barley sweets, honey, driftwood and a touch drying. Fiery in places as well, which reminds you of its Highland origins with toffee and some salt on the finish.
I can feel why this one disappointed several friends after the previous incarnation. It is very much a different beast. The rawness and vibrancy of Talisker has been sanded down and engineered into a good, but ultimately safe and inoffensive whisky.
A dram that is overpriced for what it is. I dunno, maybe you’re paying for the label or the sense that this is a Special Edition? Perhaps even the retail price has been determined by the flipping of the 8 year old? I’m sure the secondary market factor is coming more and more into pricing discussions nowadays. Rightfully so, after all, the creators in some cases are making less than the flippers, who as I type this, have managed to accumulate 28 Bimber and 84 Waterford lots between them for a single auction.
It is overpriced in my mind when you consider the value of the 18 year old, which Master of Malt is selling for £76.45. That’s a better dram even with batch inconsistencies and I feel more representative of Talisker itself.
As second albums go, this is solid enough if unspectacular. You’d make the purchase and spin it in the background before looking ahead to a better third attempt.
Photograph via The Whisky Exchange as it looks better than a sample. There are also a couple of commission links above but we’d suggest seeking out the 8-year instead if you can.