Diageo’s Special Releases for 2019 revolve around the central theme of “Rare by Nature”, showing off interesting ages, casks and finishes – and as always, bottled at cask strength. The packaging for each expression has also been given some real love and attention, with some (surprisingly) great artwork bringing them all together.
There are some real highlights in the lineup. Lagavulin 12 is back, which was to be expected. Cragganmore makes a welcome appearance, with Cardhu and a Glen Ord bottling of The Singleton being the surprise newcomers.
But my eye is always drawn to whatever the Isle of Skye has cooked up for us, especially after last year’s exceptional 8-year-old monstrosity. And this time? Too tempting to pass up:
Talisker 15, the first official bottling in this age and still at a face melting ~57% ABV. Freshly toasted bourbon casks – so nothing too exotic going on – and an insanely good price here in South Africa. Purchased, opened, decorked and poured!
Phwooooar. Hot as hell. One of very few whiskies that requires a little oxygen before diving in.
A few minutes later either I’ve grown some chest hair or the alcohol has settled somewhat. Absolutely zero doubt that this is a pure-blood Talisker, with that salty, briney, olives-and-anchovies goodness on the nose. Dominant Talisker peat, but less so than the beloved 10, more so than the 18 (funny, that.) I was expecting a little more cask aroma, but instead the vanilla, bourbon, fruit and caramel are forming a really subtle backdrop.
Great balance, beautifully familiar. One of those whiskies you can schnaaf all evening.
Although first sips are tasty (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it really is just a little too hot to appreciate up front.
Right, after a little trial and error the sweet spot for me was 5ml of water to a 25ml glass of Talisker 15 – bringing it down to around 48% ABV. Now we’re talking.
A little sweeter than Talisker 10, which perhaps isn’t a surprise given 50% extra years of softening in casks. But not nearly as subdued as the Talisker 18. If anything, this one is even more “oceanic” than its age-stated brothers and sisters, likely moreso than any other bottling. Sushi, garlic, olives. Cloves, almonds, paprika. Delicious.
Long, strong, peaty and wonderful! One glass can certainly last an entire evening, assuming you can fight the urge to drink it at a more realistic pace 🙂 The peat really develops, sitting on the palate for ages, eventually becoming soft and floral – with zero bitterness or sulphur.
This is an absolutely cracking dram, well worth picking up if you’re a Talisker fan, or a an Islay fanboy more generally.
There are two comparisons that have to be made:
The first is to Talisker 10, which is of course permanently available. I’d say that blow-for-blow, these are in the same league. However, you get the benefit of being able to dial that alcohol down to your desired level, making Talisker 15 far more versatile. Which means many people will have it slightly punchier than the 10. Nice! And at the current price it’s a total no-brainer. R250 over the Talisker 10 for the privilege of cask strength and some extra age bragging rights seems well worth it to me!
Second is Talisker 57° North, a NAS expression often found at Duty Free and also bottled at 57%. Talisker 15 blows that out the water, remaining far more true to the distillery style, less obscenely “hot”, better balanced and significantly more interesting. Cheaper too.
Also, I utterly love the artwork on the label – they should really think about rolling this into the standard Talisker 10. Fits the brand and the Talisker style perfectly.