Continuing on my tasting journey through the Diageo 2009 Special Release samples that I got from whiskysamples.eu, I decided to compare the 25 and 30 year Taliskers to my bottle of Talisker 18 year. Talisker 18 has been one of my favorite whiskies for under $100, along with other great expressions such as Highland Park 18, several Laphroaigs, and Lagavulin 16.
I’ve been very curious about the older Taliskers, but at $200 to $350 for a full bottle, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. That’s why I love the concept of whisky sample services such as the one offered by whiskysamples. It wasn’t cheap…I payed around $80 for my 7 samples, but I’m getting to try several whiskies that go for $200 – $400 per bottle.
I forgot to take a picture of the 25 and 30 year olds in a glass, but the color is not appreciably different than the Talisker 18.
According to the Oddbins website, Talisker 18 is aged in a combination of American and European oak refill casks, but I can’t find anything official to confirm. This standard expression is bottled at 45.8% ABV, and I think they made a very wise decision not to go with 40 or 43%. When the Talisker 18 could be found on the shelves here in AZ, it went for $70. However, it disappeared in the Spring and hasn’t come back. Fortunately, I have a couple of backup bottles to tide me over.Nose: Toffee sweets up front are immediately replaced by earthy peat, light smoke and fresh oak. There is also a mild medicinal quality to it. Then vanilla, and finally a little lemon citrus. Palate: Sweet at first, with a nice full mouth feel, you can taste that earthy peat, too. Then pepper starts to build and gets reasonably strong, if not as big as the 10 year. Finish: Continued pepper on the tongue lasts quite a while, and the smoky peat comes up into the back of the nostrils, also lasting a long time. Actually, the earthy peat sticks on the tongue as well. Excellent!
Comments: This is one of my favorite semi-regular whiskies. Great balance between sweets, pepper, peat and smoke. The peat on this is the closest I’ve found to sniffing a block of actual peat (as I got to do in Edinburgh at the Scotch Whisky Experience tour). There is some iodine, but none of the tar that you find in some Islays. Still, this is VERY close to an Islay profile. I rate this the same as Highland Park 18, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the Talisker by a peaty nose. Plus, at $70, it’s an amazing value. 90 points.
This is a limited release of 5862 bottles. It’s aged in a combination of American and European oak refill casks, with the American oak presumably being from bourbon casks. I’m not sure what the ratio is between the cask types. Being 100% refill casks, the color is not particularly dark. It’s bottled at the natural cask strength of 54.8% ABV. Recommended price in the U.S. is $200.Nose: Much more citrus than the 18 or 30, but not as much vanilla. A little more oak than the 18. A little furniture polish, perhaps from the higher alcohol. Not noticing the medicinal notes of the 18 as much, and the earthy peat is hiding behind the citrus. With a couple of drops of water, the citrus dies down and it’s more balanced, with the vanilla and peat being more noticeable. Palate: Huge pepper hits you over the head, with sweetness and earthy peat behind it. Wow, that is some serious impact! Finish: The pepper continues for a long time, and like the 18, the light smoke comes up through the nostrils and brings the earthy peat with it. The pepper is still huge.
Comments: This is the 18 year on steroids. It seems slightly less complex at full strength, but with just a few drops of water, it becomes very balanced like the 18 year while retaining some additional pepper kick. Without taking price into account, I would say that I prefer this just a little over the 18 because of the extra punch, which can be toned down as desired. 91 points.
There are 3000 bottles of Talisker 30 year for 2009. It is matured in a combination of American Oak and European Oak refill casks, and has a golden color. This release is bottled at 53.1% abv, and has a recommended retail price of £215 (around $350 if it’s shipping to the U.S.).Nose: Less citrus than the 25 year, and probably a little less peat. There is still a little more oak than the 18 year. The big difference with the 30 year is a rich vanilla component that stands out more than the other two. It’s creme brulee rich. Palate: Soft at first, without the big pepper hit, but that rich vanilla is still there, giving a luxurious mouth feel. Just as you head into the finish, the pepper builds up like you would expect with a Talisker. It’s kind of cool the way it comes out of nowhere later in the drinking process.
Finish: The pepper continues to build, then levels off and stays for a long time, and of course there is the smoke and peat in the nostrils. The oak is still present, but not in any way overpowering. Unlike the 18 and 25 year expressions, there is absolutely no bitterness to the finish on this one (I get a very slight bitterness with the other two).
Comments: With the extra richness and utterly flawless finish, the 30 year steps up to “special” status, but just barely. It’s not like it’s leagues ahead of the other two. This is the third 30 year I’ve tried, and I’ve loved them all. I wouldn’t rate this one quite as high as the HP 30 or Laphroaig 30, though. 92 points.
Comparison and Value
The Highland Park line uses varying combinations of first fill and refill casks, along with different ratios of European and American oak to achieve differing profiles between expressions. With these Taliskers, the profiles all seem very similar, and I haven’t read anything to indicate that there are significant differences in the maturation process. The reason for taste differences seems to come down mostly to age and ABV.
I highly recommend all three of these Talisker expressions, and the 25 and 30 year certainly qualify as “special” releases. The Talisker 18 provides the base profile from which the older expressions build, and I don’t think you can go wrong with it (if you like peat). Get a bottle if you can find it. The 25 year provides the goodness of the 18 year in an explosive package. Finally, the 30 year just exudes class, begging to be sipped savored with its richness and sophistication.
I’ll keep an eye out for a sale on the Talisker 25 and grab it when the opportunity presents. As for the 30 year, while it does seem “special”, I’m putting it in line behind HP and Laphroaig on my super premium 30 year wish list. The 18 year is close enough in quality to satisfy my Talisker cravings right now, and it’s a bargain to boot.
Several bloggers attended a Diageo tasting of the whole Special Release lineup: