I love getting to try new stuff, especially if it’s not easy to find here in BC. This Talisker falls into that category – usually this bottling is only available in duty-free stores in airports or at a few UK specialty shops. A friend of mine was traveling back from England last week, and generously offered up the meager duty-free allowance you’re given in Canada to my constant quest for new whisky. I asked him to grab the 57° North if he could find it which he was good enough to do. So thanks, Simon!
Talisker is famously the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, up in the north-west of Scotland. Built in 1830, it suffered a devastating fire in 1960 and had to be rebuilt. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence with distilleries; in fact while on a tour around Aberlour it was mentioned that most originally built in the 19th century have suffered fires. The milling process is especially dangerous as it results in a fine haze of suspended particles that is actually explosive. No flash photography of an operating mill if you visit a distillery, please!
Happily Talisker’s stills were reconstructed after their mishap and the distillery now puts out around 3.5 million litres of spirit per year. They have a fairly small range of standard expressions, with the 10-year-old and the 18-year-old being the most common by far (strangely here in BC the 25-year-old is much easier to find than the 18, though it’s monstrously expensive). Their house style is a moderately-peated spirit (around 20ppm, which is around half of the peat level of Lagavulin), smoky and a little briny, with a characteristic long peppery finish.
This 57° North is named after the northern latitude at which the distillery lies, and the alcohol strength has been cunningly set at 57% ABV to continue the theme. Now, that’s a powerful whisky and though it may be much to the chagrin of Jim Murray I’ll normally have a few drops of water with a cask-strength dram. It’s always interesting to see how the character of the spirit changes with the addition of water though, which means we need to try it both ways to get the full experience.
Without water then, the nose is smoky and has the typical Talisker briny notes along with some vanilla from the American oak maturation. There’s some fruit in there too… maybe ripe oranges. Try a drink and the taste is huge – the wonderfully oily texture of the spirit explodes with chili pepper, black pepper, berries, and more brine and smoke. The finish is very long and full of spice and pepper. Adding some water and letting the drink sit for a few minutes brings out the fruitiness, and I thought I could actually identify raspberries in the mix this time. The big alcohol hit is reduced, losing some of the sharpness and allowing the flavours to come through in a more composed manner.
I don’t give a score to my reviews as I find that the appeal of a given whisky is dependent not only on the individual experiencing it, but also on time of day, mood, setting, what else has been consumed and so on. But if you’re a fan of the “Islands” style, this is an exceptional single malt. For those occasions where I feel like a smoky whisky without wanting the extremes of an Islay, this Talisker will fit the bill very nicely. I’m very glad the duty-free edition is a whole litre!