Age statements on a bottle of whisky can be both a good and bad thing. Consumers often like them because they help ensure that they are getting what they pay for. Distillers like them because, for older malts, they can charge a lot more. The problem is, however, that how old a whisky is doesn’t tell how good it is, or really all that much about its character. To make matters more complicated, the Scotch Whisky industry has been experiencing significant shortages in older malts due to unexpectedly high demand and growth in the category. In the blended whisky space, this has lead to non-age statement releases like Johnnie Walker Double Black. While the trend has been a little less prevalent in the single malt whisky space, a few notable companies have found traction with non-age statement releases, like Ardbeg, whose Ardbeg Alligator and Ardbeg Uigeadail have been very successful.
Talisker, owned by Diageo, is a key malt in the Johnnie Walker Red Label blend. As such, its often sweet and affable character should be familiar to many drinkers. Talisker is now making its own foray into non-age statement whisky with the release of Talisker Storm Whisky. Talisker Storm is a single malt whisky comprised of whiskies from the Talisker distillery aged between 3 and 25 years. It is designed to fit right between Talisker 10 Year Whisky and Talisker Distiller’s Edition (which varies in age) in Talisker’s portfolio. Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye, which often classifies it under the “island” or “maritime” style of Scotch whisky, although it’s traditionally far less smokey and peaty than its brethren on Islay like Caol Ila and Lagavulin.
Talisker Storm Single Malt Whisky (45.8% / 91.6 proof, $66) is dark gold in color with a nose that is instantly recognizable as a part of the Johnnie Walker universe, especially the deep honey, apricot, and honeysuckle. Just underneath these bright, sweet, fruity, and floral notes is a nice light smoke and briny oyster shell that is a hallmark of marine style Scotch whisky. There is a peek of some of the younger malt in the nose with a touch of fire, but that’s well counterpointed by the more lush aromas in the nose. The entry for Talisker Storm is classic Talisker with honey, malt, apricot, pear, and honeysuckle leading the charge, but things quickly shift in the midpalate with a strong salinity and undercurrent of peat smoke. In the midpalate there’s also a nice amount of spice including black pepper and clove, and supported by a little heat from the young malt. The midpalate serves to showcase the balance between some of the older and younger malts in the mix as well as Talisker Storm’s sweeter and more savory notes. The finish is medium length and focuses much more on the spice and smoke elements of the whisky. It’s here where Talisker Storm is at its smokiest with a finish of ashy peat fire.
While we tend not to be fans of younger malts, Talisker and by extension Diageo’s Master Blender, Jim Beveridge, have done a solid job of using the fire, spice, and raw smoke qualities of the younger malt to balance out the thick honey sweetness of their older malt. The combination works because it’s balanced. For every sweet and lush note in the mix there’s a savory counterpoint. Talisker Storm also has the unmistakable DNA from Johnnie Walker (or rather the other way around), and so Johnnie Walker drinkers (especially Johnnie Walker Red) are going to find some very familiar sensibilities and flavors presented here, well counterbalanced with some decidedly new ones. Priced $6 over Talisker’s 10 year offering, Diageo has kept Talisker Storm from being astronomically priced, although it’s still perhaps a little spendy for something with such a hefty quantity of younger malt in it. Most importantly, however, is that Talisker Storm represents a significant shift in the single malt whisky space toward focusing on the character of a whisky over its age. If done right, this could produce some interesting and unique malts; done wrong, we’ll all be swilling too-young whisky covered by drops of old. Talisker Storm manages to stay on the better side of this equation with a nicely balanced malt that has some nice character.