The Whisky For Malt Lovers

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - January 20, 2006
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I know, I know, this column is supposed to be about spirits. And yes, there are some unusual and noteworthy spirits being introduced to the islands in the next few months. But do you know how hard it is to not write about whisky?

I suppose it’s because, for me, writing about whisky means just settling down for a couple of hours and thinking about home. I get to re-create the trips I’ve made to dozens of distilleries, remembering along the way invariably inclement weather, the different taste of the water at each distillery, and of course, I get to sit and sip while I dream on.

Talisker is a favorite malt of mine. There’s only one distillery on the Isle of Skye, the largest of the Hebridean Scottish Islands, and Talisker has many of the components I love most about a malt.

With its own heavily peated water source, and within view of the famous Cullin mountains, the distillery sits gleaming and white, in a valley of sorts, and is manned almost entirely by MacLeods. Of the 14 or so staff at the distillery, about half are from the islands’ famous clan. Talisker is also steeped in the kind of tradition I love - the kind of superstition that makes the craft of distillation seem more like magic, some days, than a learned trade.

The five giant, onion-shaped kettles (two for the first distillation and three for the second), for example, were destroyed along with everything else in the distillery in a fire in 1960. The new stills were re-created as exact replicas of the old. Same slim, swan necks with their unusual angle, same dents in the body, all put back just in case that banged-up bit on the corner of kettle No. 2 had some effect on the taste of the whisky.

The barley used to be malted at Talisker, but today it’s malted elsewhere to very precise specifications. The whisky is certainly peaty - the water source alone is quite heavily peated - but it’s much lighter on the palate than most of the Islay malts. It’s heavier than its gentler, nearest neighbors, the Highland malts, and has a nice balance of peat and smoke.

And with Talisker, there’s not the saltiness that sometimes can accompany island malts. It’s a complex enough malt, with seaweed and honey edging through, but at the same time it’s a really approachable single malt. It’s sweet and smoky on the nose, and I like to introduce novice whisky drinkers to Talisker because they aren’t overwhelmed too much by the peat.

It used to be bottled at eight years, but 10 is now the benchmark and the age at which the nuances of the whisky show best.

As an addition to a collection that represents a full range of the geography of Scotland, Talisker is a must for any serious malt lover.

You’ll find it at the usual haunts - Tamura’s and Fujioka’s and The Liquor Collection will probably have a bottle or two, but as they don’t order this in large amounts, you might be safer to call to see if they have it in stock.


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