I went to a publicity event for the new Talisker Skye the other day, one of those very PR-heavy, all guns blazing, no-expense-spared jobbies. If I made a list of “Things you associate with Talisker”, they had it in the setup. There were seafood canapés, and a soundtrack of waves lapping against the shore; they had a lump of peat burning slowly in front of an unobtrusive fan, filling the room with a gentle smoke; the whole thing was held at the London Canal Museum, so we were surrounded by various bits of boating and maritime paraphernalia, and tastings were held on a barge outside. In fact the only thing missing was a judicious sprinkling of pepper, which might have been deliberate – I’ll come back to that later.
Of course, being the cynical man that I am, the first question I asked myself was, “Is this meant to enhance the whisky, or disguise it?” It’s a question that gets asked in many different places, and many different forms. Serve your Bunnahabhain 12yo with a slice of ginger cake, and it’s a brilliant piece of food pairing; add an ice cube to your glass and you’re closing off the aromas and oversimplifying your view of the whisky. I’m all in favour of the first example (if you’ve not tried that particular pairing, I really recommend it), and while I agree with the facts of the second, I’m not against the practice. I drink whisky for my sake, not for the sake of the whisky, and if I can change the taste so that I enjoy it more, I will, even if it means adding Coke (in theory; I don’t like Coke anyway, so the point is moot).
So what about this new Talisker? Are they dressing up a bland whisky by overloading the other senses? Or are they simply enhancing it, picking out and framing each of the subtle elements that make it what it is? At this point, I’m not sure I even care – if I get invited to a big party, loads of cool drinks and cool people (they had Andrea Montague doing cocktails – that’s pretty awesome), and all they ask is that I drink their free whisky while they show its best side, that’s fine by me. But I like to pretend that I can maintain enough objectivity to taste the whisky as it is. So here goes:
Typically untamed on the nose, though a little sweeter than the 10yo – I get coal smoke and bracken, with a bit of apricot. It’s a nose that could have been hand-made for me – the freedom of the wilderness, but with a soft underbelly.
Not that I was expecting it to, but the palate doesn’t quite carry the baton. The smoke is softer than on the nose, a gentle wood-smoke. Quite sweet and herbal – my old school had an apothecary garden (that probably says quite a lot about me), and that’s what came to mind. There’s a bit of citrus there as well as the trademark pepper, but you have to go looking for it – in fact nothing about the palate really grabs you.
The finish is basically a faded watercolour version of what came before – the smoke dies into ashiness, tempered by some lingering sweetness. Not unpleasant at all, but not one to take your time over, like reading J. K. Rowling.
And that basically sums up the whole whisky. It’s a pretty decent one, one that I enjoyed while drinking, but not one that will linger in the memory. Talisker have stated that the idea behind the Skye is to reduce pressure on their stock levels, to keep the 10yo alive, albeit on a smaller scale, and if I’m honest, that’s probably its best feature. But as a gentle introduction to the range, it works great, and if you’ve got a friend who just can’t get into the Talisker style, this might be the one to change their mind.