Talisker announced a 2021 batch of their classic 30-year-old just a few months ago. It just so happened that I still had a sample of an earlier release in my sample drawer, so I figured this might be a good time to take a look at the Talisker 30 Years bottled in 2011.
Despite it being one of the more touristy distilleries to visit (one of the downsides of its location on the Isle of Skye), I can’t help but be drawn to Talisker whenever I’m in the neighbourhood. Admittedly, that has been a while due to the pandemic, but during earlier trips I always made sure to take a left turn onto the single track road that leads to Carbost, the small home town of Talisker.
It’s a hospitable village, as noted by Alfred Barnard in The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, of which a first print recently sold for a lot of money. He wrote, “the Talisker Distillery stands at the foot of a beautiful hill, in the centre of the smiling village of Carbost, which, after the bare and rugged track we had passed through, was an agreeable change, and seemed quite a lively place.”
The Old Inn at the shores of Loch Harport is frequented by tourists and locals alike. And if you’re into seafood make sure to drive (or walk) just a few hundred meters past Talisker Distillery, where you’ll find The Oyster Shed. This is where I had my first-ever oysters in the most idyllic of settings imaginable.
Depending on how busy it is, I usually try to take a look around the distillery as well, if only to witness the two interesting wash stills that play such an important part in creating the Talisker 30 Years from 2011 that I’m reviewing today, as well as other expressions from this distillery. They’re part of a setup that includes five pot stills in total, which is unusual because most distilleries have an even number of stills. The most likely explanation for this Talisker wrinkle is that they used to employ triple distillation up until 1928.
What makes the two wash stills so unusual is the shape of the lyne arm and the thin purifier pipe. I’ll let Johnny McCormick take the wheel here, who described their look in detail for Whisky Magazine.
“The wash still lyne arm exits at almost a right angle and heads straight for the back wall of the still house. At the last minute, the pipework takes a sudden sharp downwards turn, manages to pull level and then dives straight through the wall. The contours of Talisker’s curious U-shaped lyne arm have been likened to the distorting effect of a capacious backside sitting on a wire fence. A kinked lyne arm has been part of the distillation set-up at Talisker Distillery since 1830.
“Look closely, and you can see that it’s really a Y-shaped bend, with a thin purifier pipe snaking away from the lower apex of the main pipe, and burying itself back into the belly of the copper pot still. This pipe prevents entrainment, letting any heavier condensed elements run back down into the still for re-distillation; only vapours can successfully negotiate the chicane.”
It these kind of quirks that allegedly play an important part in the flavour profile of the Talisker 30 Years from 2011. Peppery is one descriptor that is often used for the Talisker spirit, but if that is the result of the distinct setup remains in limbo. Even Dr. Alan Rutherford, someone who knows his fair share about single malt production, isn’t quite sure why the lyne arms bend in such a peculiar way. He attributes it to an inventive copper smith who was experimenting with reflux.
Either way, the Talisker 30 Years is one of the flagship expressions from the distillery. I’ve previously tried oldTalisker, going as far back as the 1950s (although I didn’t review that particular expression on my blog), but tasting old Talisker never gets old.
Talisker 30 Years (45.8%, OB, 2011)
Nose: Instantly recognizable Talisker, it’s great how much DNA this still shares with the standard Talisker 10 Years. Whiffs of dried seaweed, decaying leaves, hemp rope and creosote, this is extremely elegant. There’s pickled lemons, peaches and nectarines too, followed by smoked paprika powder. Taste: This Talisker 30 Years has a rather fatty mouthfeel. Salty and peppery arrival followed by some iodine and medicinal peat, but there’s an enjoyable sweetness here too, like crème caramel. Also bung cloth and stewed fruits, as well a rum-soaked raisins and a touch of gingerbread. Finish: Long with some wood smoke, brine and some apricots.
Even though this was the first of several batches bottled at a lower abv, I don't feel the Talisker 30 Years from 2011 would've benefited from higher or cask strength. It's full-bodied, rich and complex in one way, but also very elegant and restraint in other ways.