Ah Diageo’s Special Releases! Every year Diageo graces us with a set of special releases in the later half of the year that is intended to showcase and highlight some of the more unique whiskies in their stable of distilleries (29, in case you were wondering, Diageo owns 29 distilleries).
For sure the one that stood out to us was the Talisker 8-year-old finished in Carribean rum casks. The past couple of years, the Talisker 8-year-old was always the reliable rock of the lineup, offering drinkers the most accessible (and affordable) way into Diageo’s Special Releases, so it never was seen as a surprise. But this is the first time we’re seeing Talisker (not even just for the Special Release format) finished in a rum cask, and we’re certainly intrigued.
Region: Islay, Scotland
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Malt Whisky
Style: Single Malt
Cask: Caribbean Rum Cask Finish
Age: 8 Year Old
Behind the Label
The Diageo Special Releases started in 2001 and took the place of Diageo’s previous special lineup the Rare Malts Collection. One pattern that has held through the years is that every year, a Port Ellen, Brora and a 12-year-old Lagavulin is included in the lineup. This year, the collection follows 2019’s theme “Rare by Nature” and almost looks like 2019’s doppelgänger, which makes us just that much more nitpick-y in what’s worth getting out hands on.
An annual release, the 2020 lineup includes 8 whiskies across Diageo's stable.
The thing about rum casks is that it imports esters from the rum, which is what gives rum it’s funk, that characteristic overpowering ripen fruit profile. If that strong funkiness overpowers the underlying malt it can bring it in a weird direction or make it far too sweet and cloying with an overt bitterness that draws the palate back. Yet good use of rum casks gives the malt a whole new dimension of grilled tropical fruits that can be a wonderful summer sipper or even something I’d have in a summer cocktail. Dat ester be a double-edged sword!
Through my experience it would seem like malts with a very sturdy body and a strong flavour profile are the ones best suited to temper the rum casks’s esters. Well let’s see!
Colour: Light straw, white wine, champagne
Nosing it, the funkiness is apparent, which is not unexpected, but unlike the rum it’s been casked in, the funk is much more subdued, putting it on par with Talisker’s maritime character, that distinctive cigar malt and coastal sea-spray. It marries wonderfully! The nose interplays the different profiles without any hint of overpowering funk.
Talisker's characteristic maritime umami-ness plays well the deeper more aromatic fruity notes from the rum casks. (Image Source: Very Well Fit)
More delicate notes start to appear with some drops of water, there’s kombu, a light touch of iodine and a bit of cracked black pepper. I have to say I’ve always been a fan of that rum funk of overripe bananas and grilled pineapples. That tropical flavour always goes so well with grilled meats and seafood.
On the palate, a firecracker of a dram, it comes in big and hot, but very smooth alongside plumes of smoke. The prickle of pepper we got on the nose comes through on the palate as well, almost reminiscent of Bak Kut Teh, making it very satisfying.
A Singaporean/Malaysian classic, Bak Kut Teh, comprises of well boiled pork ribs in a peppery herbal bone broth.
The fruits start to show up, very mellowed on the one hand yet you can’t miss it. It’s like nectar you’d get out of a honeycomb, very fragrant yet imbued with caramelised fruits of apple and banana bread. It rounds off with a touch of sea spray and tart umami-ness of olive fried rice.
Rum can be a dealbreaker or a showstopper. It lends strong estery fruit notes that can be overpowering if not married well. So well done, Talisker! (Image Source: Maplewood Road)
The finish is crisp so none of that funky overhang from the rum casks. The smokey peat on the palate fades to reveal an aftertaste of burnt orchard fruits, a more charred version of that prior caramelised apple and pineapple.
It leaves with some tartness that is balanced out by chilli flakes and flakey sea salt. Very quenching!
This bottle is complex to say the least! Talisker’s profile is fairly recognisable to most whisky drinkers and that recipe has pretty much stayed the same. But this is certainly a big twist and a fairly daring move with the Caribbean rum casks.
But it works! Neither the Talisker nor the rum casks overpowers the profile and you get a wonderful interplay of the two. It marries well seamlessly making it very harmonious which I suspect is because of Talisker’s very structured body and strong smokey, maritime profile.
A rich meaty dish grilled with some rosemary and cummin would go great with this malt. (Image Source: The Irish Times)
What you get here is a very unique Talisker that is big and intense, with it’s coastal saltiness and smoke, yet sweet and fruity. Very well composed! This would go perfectly with some lamb or seafood grilled in mediterranean herbs or something like a Neapolitan tomato-base.
This one was a solid Talisker with just a twist. Interesting but you already knew it was going to be good. It gets a dancing couple that knows the steps but always finds a way to throw in a lil' shimmy.