If someone says to you “I’m drinking Scotch made on an island,” your first guess for its provenance would probably be an Islay distillery.
Yes, Islay is best known for its briny, iodine heavy, burnt rubber-smelling, peated Scotches. But it’s also not the only Island that is home to Scotch whisky distilleries. There are many amazing Scotch brands made on islands, including Lochranza distillery where Arran is made, the eponymous Isle of Jura, and Highland Park from Orkney. And then there’s the Isle of Skye. Until recently, Skye was only home to the subject of this piece: Talisker.
Talisker was founded on Skye in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill. In 1879 R. Kemp & Co purchased the distillery for £1,810 (£277,362.62 in today’s money). Back then it had a production capacity of around 36,000 gallons per year. As of November 2023, the distillery has a capacity of 3.5 million gallons of alcohol per year!
In 1925 Talisker was acquired by The Distillers Company, which was acquired in turn by Guinness in 1986. In 1987 the company was renamed United Distillers. In 1998 UD merged with International Distillers & Vintners (a distribution company) to form what we now know as Diageo.
Today Talisker uses five stills to make their whisky: two spirit stills, and three wash stills. In addition, they also make use of “worm tubs,” a type of condenser comprised of a coiled tube placed inside of a vat of cold water. In a worm tub, the alcohol vapours flow through the tube and are turned back into liquid. This helps give the eventual whisky a much fuller mouthfeel.
One last bit of Skye-related trivia: in 2017 Marussia Beverages founded Torabhaig, the first new whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye since Talisker was built in 1830! Perhaps we will see more distilleries on Skye someday, but for the meantime it’s just these two.
With that history lesson done, let’s talk about the 2023 release of the Talisker 30-year-old. Stuart Morrison, Talisker’s Master Blender, said this in the official press release: “The three decades spent in oak casks allow Talisker’s distillery character to develop refined and exquisite qualities. As the spirit ages through its twenties, the fruit flavours become even more complex, giving us fragrant tropical notes and the peppery smokiness that moves from coal-tar to a warming, smouldering bonfire. A truly spectacular Talisker liquid, every sip is a celebration of the magnificence of Skye.”
This 30-year-old Scotch, aged exclusively in refill American oak casks, is non chill-filtered, with no colour added. It clocks in at a natural cask strength of 49.6% ABV or 99.2 proof. SRP is £1,099.99 and there are only 3,195 bottles globally.
Last but not least, an important bit of housekeeping: I received this sample compliments of Talisker and their PR Agency in exchange for my honest feedback and review. Both Malt and myself have very strict disclosure policies, and the presence (or absence) of a media sample will never have an outcome on my review.
Talisker Aged 30 Years – Review
Colour: Yellow gold with a slight honey hue.
On the nose: You’re greeted with beautiful, mellow notes of smoke, red berries, and apples. Following that are notes of cedar, salted caramel, Apricot, peach rings, and a very subtle hint of sand. All of this is enveloped in leather.
In the mouth: The first flavours I picked up on were apricot, peach ring, and leather. The smoke on the palate was so much more prevalent than on the nose. In fact, I would say it is a vessel to carry the other flavours. Rounding out this dram were earthy, meaty, and slightly woody notes, with a hint of vanilla and almond on the back.
This bottle has a really unique finish. It starts with a wonderful note of a beautiful meaty smoke, and not your typical “burnt rubber/used band aid” island smoke either; this was a much softer, sweeter, and rounder smoke. But it also has this slightly mentholated character to it, almost like the lingering effect from a mint Mentos.
You’ll no doubt notice that the colour of this whisky is the exact opposite of what one would expect for a 30 year old Scotch whisky. It’s closer in colour to what I would usually associate with something under 10 years! More evidence that colour means essentially nothing when it comes to the age of any spirit; that goes doubly for Scotch due to the common use of E150a or “spirit caramel,” and also that different maturation locations and barrel types have vastly different effects on the colour of a whisky. I like that the folks at Talisker have chosen to let this release be at natural colour.
The use of refill American oak adds two flavour nuances: the first is that they have allowed for more of the house style of Talisker to shine. Used cooperage generally does not impart as strong a flavour into the whisky as much as new barrels do. And as these are refill American Oak casks, we can surmise that they are on at least their third fill; and with every subsequent fill it comes closer and closer to being neutral oak. And the more used or “tired” the wood is, the less you will be able to extract from each use.
To taste history is always a true joy, and this 30-year Talisker is no exception. An added bonus for me: it was laid down the year I was born.
This was a tough one to score. Malt uses a very fair, and quite objective (as much as one can be) scoring chart. This falls very much in the middle between 5 and 6 for me. After careful consideration, however (and as only full scores are accepted), I am happy to give this bottle of Talisker 30-year-old a 6. This is also to say that a score of 6 is not indicative of a bad product at all. It’s a very good dram, and the age of this product absolutely takes it to another level.