Isle of Skye

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure Part Two

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

Fiddlers WW

PART TWO: Highlands and Islands

Whoever said that Scotland is freezing, windswept and rain-lashed has obviously never been to Speyside in the summertime. I was a little sad to leave what was clearly a sunny paradise and head further north, so decided it was not possible to get too much of a good thing and called into two more distilleries on my way out – and boy, these two could not be more different.

Macallan have recently opened a new visitor centre in the heart of Speyside – and it is an architectural masterpiece. The walls were all glass, revealing vistas of the distillery beyond or encasing infamously rare and valuable bottles. All this was sealed beneath a dramatically curved green roof (although in the height of summer it was more of a… well… brown roof). The whole complex was breathtaking – and yet I didn’t like it. Not one bit. It lacked the soul and warmth I love about Scottish distilleries. It was stunning but cold; glamorous but unwelcoming.

Macallan Wall WW

The complete opposite was the case at my final Speyside stop: Glen Moray. While the buildings themselves were nowhere near as spectacular as what I’d just seen at Macallan, the staff (master-distillers wife Fay, champion drinks pourer Kier, and tour guide extraordinaire Caitlyn) were among the nicest and most welcoming in the whole of Scotland. And the whisky? Wow! If you considered the Glen Moray range to be cheap and cheerful, then a visit to the distillery would reveal a few stunners that have been left a little longer in barrels. A personal favourite was the 1988 port cask matured, however the 1998 PX cask was also exceptional. I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Moray – and this visit just made it softer.

Glen Moray paddle WW

Just as I thought my Speyside journey had come to an end I spotted a sign for Benromach and duly turned off the main road. Though I had not booked a tour the kind staff showed me around and let me try some of the varied wares.

Sadly, though, this was all I could squeeze into my Speyside trip; it was time to travel to the opposite side of the country. A trip to Scotland would not be complete without the compulsory failure to spot Nessie on the shores of a certain Loch, so I called into Drumnadrochit on my way to the west coast. While there was no monster to be seen, I was able to stumble upon a Whisky Waffle favourite whisky bar: Fiddlers. While there I sampled some local drams: a 25 Year Old Tomatin (business class whisky – you can taste the extra legroom), an Edradour matured in ex-Port Ellen casks (who could resist such an intriguing combo?) and finally a Balblair so dark is could have been black (so sherried it was almost undrinkable – naturally I loved it).

Black Balbalir WW

No filter. That really is the colour.

Before leaving Fiddlers, owner Jon Beach arrived and called me over for a chat – whilst pouring me a dram of Port Ellen as casual as can be. Seriously, this bar – cannot recommend highly enough.

Jon Tweet WW

While the west highlands of Scotland are absolutely stunning, there is one region of the country which is even more spectacular: the Isle of Skye. And this island is home to Talisker Distillery – a Whisky Waffle favourite from our early days of whisky tasting. On my only previous visit to Scotland, I was prevented from visiting Talisker by a freak hiking accident (no whisky was involved) so I was in no way going to miss out this time around. My guide, David, was not only a whisky fan, but also a chef and shared his Talisker BBQ sauce recipe with us while we had a dram of the Amarosso finished Distillers Edition. It was a tasty drop – certainly a step us from the Talisker NAS releases and even pipped the 10 Year Old. I was also able to revisit an old favourite and get my palate roasted by the winter warmer that is the 57 Degrees North.

Talisker WW

Upon leaving the Isle of Skye I had a long drive ahead of me. And yet I couldn’t resist making it even longer by stopping into a beautiful town along the way – and it just happened to contain a distillery!

The town was Oban and I slotted onto a lunchtime tour to check out yet another stillroom. What struck me about Oban was its size – or lack thereof. Of course, it’s miles ahead of the Tassie distilleries I’m used to seeing, but compared to the rest of the Scottish establishments it was rather quaint. This is demonstrated in their cask usage – Oban are the masters of the refill cask – everything they use has been already used by one of Diageo’s other distilleries to mature whisky in for ten or more years. When it gets to Oban it is re-charred, repurposed and ready to go. This is partly why a whisky 14 years old was for so long this distillery’s staple – and partly why the Little Bay is pretty light on for flavour. The real x-factor for Oban is its coastal location imparting a delicate salty layer upon each bottle in their range.

Oban WW

The cherry on the top of my visit was one final dram – from under the bar came an unmarked bottle containing promisingly dark liquid. I was sure it had been aged for longer than most Oban whiskies – and sure enough, it was a 20 year old: straight from the cask. I was assured by the friendly Oban staff it would be unlike anything I’d tried so far on my trip – and they were right, it was absolutely phenomenal. Sadly, though, after concluding this warming and delicious tasting I had to leave Oban in a hurry. You see, I had a ferry to catch…

z Ferry WW

I wonder where this could be going….

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Talisker Port Ruighe

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker does a lot of things consistently well. Being located on the Isle of Skye certainly helps – there is surely not a more spectacular cross section of scenery to be found anywhere in Scotland. Offering exclusively peated drams also comes in handy. There is nothing that guarantees dependable yumminess like a distinctive smoky swirl through all available products.

And then there are the little things. Talisker’s packaging is always beautiful, their individual bottling names are always evocative and their non-cask strength releases almost exclusively sit at a beautifully balanced 45.8%.

All of the above is true about the Talisker Port Ruighe. And yet… and yet… This one is more than a little different. The clue is in the name, Port Ruighe being somewhat of a non-sexual double entendre. Not only is it the Gaelic spelling of Skye’s largest (and candidate for Scotland’s prettiest) town, Portree, but it has also spent the last part of its barrelled life in ex-port casks. And it is this point of difference that makes the Port Ruighie stand out from the Talisker pack.

The nose is typical Talisker. Sweet. Peat. Chocolate. Salt. A bit of orange. Basically what you’d expect from the 10 Year Old. It’s on the palate that this diverges. It’s a little rough and pleasantly ashy but alongside the smoke is burnt fruit, sticky raspberry jam and hints of Turkish delight. The port influence is clear for all to see and really rounds out the peat hit. The finish is surprisingly long with a bitter, perhaps tanninic, dark chocolate linger.

While Talisker do many things consistently well, one gripe I do have with the distillery is the up and down nature of their copious NAS releases. I can take or leave the Storm and the Skye but this one really provides enough contrast to justify the release of a 7 or 8 year old whisky. It really is the sweetest peat on offer on the Isle of Skye.

★★★

Talisker Dark Storm

Reviewed by: Ted

Talisker Dark Storm

Thunder crashed and wind howled across Skye as the Taliskerians prepared to bottle their new whisky, a non-age statement barrelled in extra-heavily charred oak casks. Keith glanced at Nev and shouted over the noise “what do you reckon we should call this stuff?”

“Dunno… Sunny Skyes?”

“Nah, that’s the name of Mark Lochhead’s villa on Majorca. What do you reckon Taranis?”

Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, had started working at the distillery after a bit of a slump in the smiting business and a failed attempt to break into Hollywood. After a moment’s pause, he reached into Nowhere and pulled out a bronze goblet covered in spoked wheel designs that made the world spin if looked at for too long.

Plunging the goblet into a barrel, he scooped up a god sized dram and breathed deeply of the captured spirit. Rich stewed fruits, heavy spices, grilling meats, chocolate, banana and curling sweet smoke rose up to meet him.

Planting his feet, Taranis took a mighty draw, amber liquid spilling down his braided moustaches. Sharp, crackling salt on burning driftwood burst across his tongue, followed by dark honey and cured meats. Over the top rolled curling smoke, like a forest fire seen on the horizon. The finish was bright, sharp and lingering, yet somehow contained it’s opposite, the void.

Keith and Nev looked at each other nervously. The brooding 8ft tall figure in its leathers and woad was a forbidding sight. Suddenly Taranis stirred, his eyes sparking with distant lightning, and spoke in a voice like far away thunder rolling across the hills:

“DARK STORM”

And so it was.

★★★

Dark Ted

How it compares

The Dark Storm is quite raw and robust compared to the 10yo, which is (slightly surprisingly) smoother and lighter. The Dark Storm makes big leaps and bounds over its other Talisker NAS stablemates, the Storm and the Skye. We’ve had the Storm and found it to be lacking in guts, a bit… bland, and from reports the Skye is even lighter. If you’re looking to try a NAS Talisker, the Dark Storm is definitely the way to go.

Talisker 57˚ North

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 57 degrees north whisky waffle

Whenever I pour one of my non-whisky drinking friends a wee dram (watching in amusement as they splutter noticeably and their face flushes a conspicuous shade of red) I tell them to picture themselves in a small rugged hut on the west coast of Scotland as a fierce Atlantic storm batters the walls and ceiling. That, I proclaim, is the ideal location to enjoy whisky. While a fireplace may sufficiently heat your extremities, a dram of whisky will warm you from the inside out. And if I were huddled in this rugged hut on such a night, the drop I would turn to first is the Talisker 57˚ North.

This whisky, made on the Isle of Skye’s sole distillery, is named for two reasons: firstly (and I may be biased, but I would claim foremostly) because the spirit is bottled at a practical 57%. Secondly (and perhaps more poetically) because the town of Carbost, home to Talisker, is found at 57˚ North of the equator. In this part of the world, your insides are quite often in dire need of warming.

To put it into perspective, Canada’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games host, Vancouver, is situated at a mere 47˚North while my often freezing home state of Tasmania is at just 42˚South. Talisker Distillery is only two degrees further south than notoriously icy Scandinavian capitals Stockholm and Oslo. So it stands to reason that a warming dram or two is created there.

On the nose, there’s no doubting this is an Island whisky. Smoke wafts liberally out of the glass, although possibly more subtly than some Talisker expressions. Other elements are noticeable too: pepper, chorizo, and cured meats. It is like inhaling deeply at a gourmet barbecue.

There is certainly a woodiness about this whisky on the palate – although not reminiscent of your standard oak notes. Instead the flavours are dustier, earthier, more akin to a tree’s bark than the wood underneath. Elements of honey and marmalade hint at typical Talisker sweetness, though it is more toned down than the 10 Year Old. Instead, wonderful new flavours are present such as bacon and buttery toast, as well as some less pleasant bitter sappy elements which give the impression of burning wood that is slightly too green.

The good news is, this whisky leaves the best until last: the finish is undoubtedly the highlight of the dram. It is long – so very long – and hot and lively. After the spiciness fades, the smoke returns gently, bringing your tasting full circle.

Drinking this whisky, I find that I take my own advice. I close my eyes and picture the howling gale, the bucketing rain and the crashing thunder. Scotland is no stranger to wild weather. And in the eye of the storm, the Talisker 57˚ North is the dram you need.

★★★★

Talisker 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 10 whisky waffle

I will forever be filled with immense amounts of good will towards Talisker distillery and with good reason, as mentioned in this ‘whisky musing’ post. Of course, this could potentially leave me viewing their products through ruby-tinted glasses. However, my love affair with Talisker whisky began long before my visit, and was initially kindled by the quality drop that is their flagship release, the 10 Year Old.

There is something special about the way the Talisker balances smoke with sweetness. In fact, if this review were written on a more succinct whisky review site then it may be summed up in two (conveniently rhyming) words: sweet peat.

It’s there immediately on the nose. It doesn’t hit you over the head with smoke, but you know it’s there. The sweetness is akin to the scent of melting brown sugar. It’s spicy when it first hits the palate; a subtly higher bottling strength of 45.8% gives this whisky an extra layer of complexity. The flavours in the mouth are full and confident with notes of oak and pepper before the smoke makes a welcome return.

The finish is perhaps the highlight of this whisky. It’s lengthy and peaty, full of hints of the distillery’s island location and yet does not lose the toffee caramel notes. It’s memorable and long lasting, and certainly a more than appropriate selection to conclude a night of tasting.

The Talisker 10 year old is a fine whisky. It somehow combines the best elements of Islay and Speyside and assembles them into one impressive drop. I will always think fondly of this distillery, but despite everything, I think the main reason for this is simply the quality of their whisky.

★★★★

My trip to Talisker Distillery

There is a wonderful sense of community associated with whisky. I’ve witnessed it in many forms. A group of revellers at a bar in Scotland. A celebration between good mates. The support offered between establishments in the Tasmanian whisky industry. Talisker distillery.

The Isle of Skye is a breathtaking place full of beautiful scenery and quaint, friendly villages. Sadly, my time there was cut short, including my tour of the distillery Talisker. I was lucky to be afforded a half hour visit to cancel my booking and simply see it with my own eyes. While there, the distillery was able to fulfil my wishes and dreams, despite the shortness of my stay.

At Tallisker

Upon arriving I inhaled the wonderful sea air and hints of peat smoke emanating from the premises, and got a helpful tourist to provide photographic evidence of my presence. Then, upon entering the visitor centre, I told the tale of the unfortunate reasons behind my early departure from Skye and cause of my booking cancellation.

The response was immediate. “Have you got a couple of minutes”, one gentleman asked, and upon my positive reply escorted me into the maturation warehouse usually only seen upon a formal tour of the facility. We discussed their aging of the barrels and the variety of casks used in the process. He was interested in my little state of Tasmania and the whisky being created there. Then a tour group arrived and we quickly scurried back to the tasting area.

“While you’re here, you had better do a tasting”, he proclaimed. I did not protest. “I’ve tried the 10 Year Old,” I confessed “and liked it very much”. “Ok,” he replied “have you had the 18 Year Old?”

Twenty minutes later, and my visiting time elapsed, not only had I discovered my new favourite Talisker expression – but I had done so twice – for after the magnificent 18 Year Old, he produced a ‘Triple Matured’ dram only available to the ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ several years prior to my visit. And this special Distillers Edition was exceptional. Smoke balanced with sherry, dryness balanced with typical Talisker brown sugar. A wonderful, memorable whisky, given to me at no charge.

Talisker, on this day, really solidified in my mind the community that comes with this great drink. In Scotland, or anywhere around the world where it is created, there is a sense of comradery and good will. In fact, as I write this I sip upon a dram of Talisker 10 Year Old, not belonging to me – my good friend Ross left a bottle here after a pleasant night of catching up and one or two (or more) tastings. He will likely only discover my cheeky nip upon reading this post, though I am confident that will embrace the spirit that I have mentioned here and simply say: “Sláinte”.