Talisker 15yo (57.3%, OB, Special Release, Freshly Charred American Oak Hogsheads, 2019)

We have already seen quite a few special releases from Talisker, probably the most popular distillery in the Diageo portfolio. For instance, there have been two releases of 20 yo’s in 2002 and 2003, an annual release of a 25yo. Between 2004 and 2009 the 25yo was bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 it was reduced to the “Talisker strength” of 45.8% ABV. There have been several 30yo, again, between 2006 and 2010 bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 reduced to “Talisker strength” as well. There have been some other special releases as well. Since 2018 Talisker showed up in the annual special releases with a 8yo, in 2019 with this 15yo and in 2020 another 8yo was released, this time finished in Caribbean Rum casks. I expect Talisker to be a main stay in the forthcoming years of annual releases. Let’s have a look at one of those three new annual releases. The one I have open in my glass right now is this 15yo from 2019, an expression matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads. Usually these are refill casks that have been used multiple times, and have grown a little bit tired. A long time ago these casks would have been scrapped, but these days theses cask are rejuvenated, their lease of life extended by re-charring them and opening up another layer of wood, giving an aroma closer to virgin oak than a refill cask would. So lets have a look at this tired old oak release, to see if it’s any good…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Hints of Rhum Agricole and sweet funky organics. Dry, big and fatty. A promise of sweetness, but it’s not only this, it also has a sharper and very fresh side as well, like a windy seaside view complete with sea spray. Nutty, sweet and creamy with some ground coffee, not freshly grounded mind you, a bit faded, maybe old ground coffee. Paper and a bit of cardboard, but also very old, soft spicy wood. Kitchen spices. Lovely and fruity sweet organics. Peppery attack with a big alcoholic, well, attack as well. Hints of peat combined with different funky organics. The initial, almost ozonic, layer makes up the first series of aroma’s, but when these pass, more fruity notes emerge. Some of the fruity notes are quite acidic and it seems there are several acidic notes, not all of which seems to be well integrated initially. A razor sharp Malt. When this gets more time to breathe, and especially when the bottle becomes emptier and emptier, it shows a more woody note mixed in with something very nice. Still fresh and very oxygenated, and also more balanced. I get lots of notes I don’t encounter all that much. A special release indeed. Fresh pineapple, sweet apple meat, mixed with a wee bit of cream. Tiniest hint of smoke and tar, but different from Islay smoke and tar, here it is more refined and combines with creamy wood and American oak vanilla. Sometimes, I swear, I even get a note of rotting wood and cold water left over after washing the dishes the evening before. All of this is partly masked by the fruity bits on the nose. Salty meat is next. Polish dried sausage. Complex it is!

Taste: Big, very big, with a short sweet and vanilla sensation and an equally short slightly bitter attack. Clay, sharp smoke, burnt wood, warm peat and lots of nuts. Industrial and it differs quite a bit from the nose. Salty and dried fish. The sweetness evolves after the initial attack. Salty and dried meat come next, with later on, after the first sip, a nice nutty and wonderfully creamy body with the classic Talisker pepper attack. The smell of clean steamy bodies in a sauna, how is that for funky organics? It has been a long time since I had a Malt this salty. The feeling of salt on my lips. When this opens up a bit, some nice yellow fruit notes emerge. Nice fruity acidity better integrated than it was in the nose. More peat and smoke (and clay again). A really good Talisker yet not perfectly balanced though. There is this difference between the nose and the taste, but also not everything I can taste seems to be in it’s right place. Don’t worry, this is only a minor grievance. Quite hot going down. But this is also why we like Talisker. Fruity and also some winey notes. Lips still salty. Long finish (with less balance than the body has) with a very warm aftertaste in which the wood, the dried yellow fruit and the toasted oak resonate. Personally, I find this to be another very good OB like the 8yo from 2018. Both welcoming releases after all those lesser and less inspired NAS bottlings. I hope Diageo will continue to release good and interesting Talisker’s in the annual special releases.

Let it breathe for a while, this needs quite a lot of time and air to find more balance.

Points: 88

Last year I reviewed the Talisker 57° North and since that has an almost identical ABV, let’s do a H2H between North and this new 15yo. First of all, the North is ever so slightly darker, most likely from caramel colouring. On the nose North is much softer and definitely a lot younger. Much closer to new make spirit. That’s exactly the difference between a NAS and a 15yo. The 15 has more wood, and is more mature. North has more cream, like creamy sweet yoghurt. On the palate the North is way simpler, sweeter, rounder and again much younger as well. The North by itself is a nice high ABV Talisker. However, if you compare it to a Talisker with some proper ageing, the differences couldn’t have been greater. Different puppies altogether.

This is review #800.

Ardmore 1996/2014 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, Refill Sherry Hogsheads)

Why review one Ardmore, when you can review two? Hidden far away in a wooden box, where I keep my odd-shaped sample bottles, I found this more recent Ardmore. All Ardmores I reviewed up ’till now, were somewhat older bottlings, and this one is more recent. 2014 is not that long ago isn’t it? Gordon & MacPhail released 1996 Ardmores in 2013 and 2014, and both are still available, so I guess they hold off a new release, untill both of these sell out. Where on one side we have official bottlings (OB’s), in this case the range released by Beam Suntory (the owners of Ardmore), on the other side we have independent bottlers (IB’s). Usually, firms that buy casks of Whisky and bottle them as a single cask (usually).

However, this particular Gordon & MacPhail bottling lies somewhere in between. This series is known as the licensed bottlings, but are also known as the distillery labels. This comes from the time the owners of certain distilleries allow Gordon & MacPhail to bottle a Whisky and market it as the “official” release, since back then the owners didn’t release an official bottling themselves, probably using the output from that distillery for blends.

Gordon & MacPhail do their own wood management (The wood makes the whisky). They bring in their own casks and fill them at a distillery. Sometimes they leave the cask to mature at the distillery, but more often they take it with them to their own warehouses.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and ice-cream, oh and Sherried as well. On top some smoke. Right from the start this is very well-balanced. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. Sherry casks from American oak. Very sweet, big and thick smelling. Nutty. Almonds, with hints of clay. Add to this a fruity cloying sweetness with an edge of perfect peat, with sometimes some burnt match-stick aroma’s, with only a tiny hint of the sulphur. The sulphur is a mere trace, and I don’t pick it up every time I try this. Next to this the Sherry gives off a funky note which should be an off-note, but here, it works well in the construct of the nose. Almost like artificial orange powder (Sinaspril). Fire-place in the middle of winter. Almost christmas. Lots of vanilla comes next and the smoky note stays. Works very nice together. As I said, very well-balanced indeed. Medium complexity though, and it shows its hand quite quickly. After that, not a lot of development is happening.

Taste: Ahhh, yes. Nice (simple) sweet, creamy, nutty and (red) fruity Sherry nose, mixed in with vanilla and big toffee. Cold black tea. It’s big on the Sherry, the almonds and the cream this is. Also a slightly bitter oaky edge. Peat, but it’s aroma is different from the nose. Stricter and more modern. The fruit evolves in acidity. Excellent smoky note. Come to think of it, where is the wood influence? The wood may have made this Whisky (imho, the Sherry did), but where is the wood itself? Sure it has a lot of vanilla and creamy notes, so American oak was used, I believe, this one would have been better in European oak. A similar thing happens as it did with the nose. Everything is there right from the start and hardly any evolution happens after that. Balanced, yes, sure, but not as much as the nose. Lacks even more complexity than the nose.

Right from the start I thought it was nice, and it is. The journey, however, I was about to take with this Ardmore didn’t happen. Alas. A good Whisky, but it is what it is. The start was promising, and it started with a nice statement from the nose. After that it all went a bit downhill and simple. The Ardmore I reviewed last, also has its flaws, and I can’t say this one is better, hence the similar score. Both are good, but I expected a bit more, especially since in this one, the Ardmore distillery character is obvious in the nose, but not on the palate.

Points: 85

Teaninich 2006/2014 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, AD/JFBG)

More than four years ago I wrote a review about another Teaninich from the Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range. That one was distilled in 1983 and bottled in 2003, so that one was bottled before this one was even distilled! Reading back I see the mindset I was in at the time. The first decade I was interested in Single Malt Whisky, I hardly ever bought something that was reduced with water to “drinking strength”. If I bought anything from an independent bottler, it was most certainly bottled at cask strength. Today I still very much like my whiskies at cask strength, but I don’t have a problem anymore buying something reduced, as long as they didn’t reduce it too much. Old malts, distilled in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s seem to have some power left in them, when bottled at 40% ABV, but more modern malts need a higher a ABV. 43% seemed a bit of a compromise, but the 46% we see today, is doing the trick for me. So, two weeks ago I caught myself red-handed with a bag of no less than four of Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice bottlings! Go figure. As I’m a fan of Teaninich, I hardly could wait opening this one, so finally I didn’t even manage to wait for 24 hours…

Teaninich 2006/2014 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, ADJFBG)Color: Reddish gold.

Nose: Waxy, fruity and with a nice toasted oak aroma as well. Biscuity and a warm smell of lovely barley and cereal. Right now I already want to stop smelling this, and have a sip, but I’ll wait. The toasted aroma becomes more complex since it turns a wee bit into coal and even boasts a slightly tarry note. A breath of fresh air comes next, laced with alcohol. Reminding me of high quality and ultra soft rye Vodka. Hey, give it a break, it’s a very young Whisky. Bread and toasted bread obviously. Grassy and still waxy. Waxy, red blushed, apple skins? Slightly floral notes mixed in with coffee-creamer. Somewhat sweet and a nice note of vanilla. Since these are Sherry hoggies, I’m guessing the hoggies were made from American Oak. This is only a 7 or 8 years old Whisky, so it shouldn’t be too complex, but you don’t hear me complaining. I understand what it is, and I think it is pretty impressive already, at this age. Well balanced and I guess the casks were pretty good as well. They will do just nicely as second fill casks.

Taste: Definitely starts with a Sherry note. First fill casks all right. I guess they bottled this rather quickly, since the Sherry already starts to dominate the Whisky. My guess would be a Sherry matured under flor. Initially sweet (but not for long, because some white pepper comes to the fore). Waxy again and notes of paper and not of wood, although the paper note seems to make way for a more bitter woody note eventually. A tad funky and slightly less balanced than the nose promised. More Sherry (& flor) wood, with even some slight soapy notes. Don’t worry. Even though this is bottled at 46% ABV., it doesn’t even seem that strong. Sure its fruity, but in a more sugared kind of way. Perfumed lemon curd. Hidden behind the waxy and soapy wood. Surprisingly, the finish isn’t very long, giving away its relative youth.

Let me warn you about the new Gordon & MacPhail packaging. I had an open-topped Whisky bag and the experienced salesman, shoved the metal lids into the cartons instead of leaving them on the cartons. I would have lost them otherwise. I tried this at home and he was absolutely right. Just grabbing the carton and the lid already pops off, weakening the structure, with a possibility of dropping the lot on the floor. This is the 21st century isn’t it? Sort it out people. And it’s not only Gordon & MacPhail. Signatory have tins of which the lid comes popping off as well. The folded cardboard stuff some Diageo bottlings come in, can spontaneously unfold under your arm when carrying slightly too much Whisky at a time. That way I saw a bottle of Talisker slowly disappear from under the firm grip of my armpit onto the welcoming tiled floor.

Points: 84

16-3-2017: I just finished this bottle and I have to add that it got gradually better over time. This really needs to breathe to show all of its huge potential, even though its just a reduced young Whisky. A have a soft spot for Teaninich and this one really didn’t dissapoint me again. I Love it. I’ll give it a point more, and maybe I should have given two…

Points: 85