August 6, 2013

Review: Talisker 18 - A Seriously Badass Beast

Birthdays, Back Then...

The year: 1995.

Our hero: Your faithful hubby.  Today: close to forty (shhhh!) with a bouncing baby girl;  Then: a strapping, heavy-drinking, profanity-ridden, late-sleeping, long-haired college junior during a semester abroad on the verge of his twenty-first birthday.  

Location: Glasgow, Scotland.  

To be precise:  A bar on Grange Road, about a half mile in the wrong direction from Glasgow University, that featured thirty beers on tap and thirty different bottles of whisky.

Mission: "Drink the bar."


When I arrived in Scotland for my semester abroad, Americans were known for three traits:  They talked too loud, ate too much, and couldn't handle their drink.  I set about to change the last one.

Nobly forgoing academics and "alarum" clocks, repeatedly risking life and limb to cross the street against right-bound traffic, I began my training.  Queue soundtrack =>

I hit the bars every day at 2pm sharp.  We drank. Pints of lager.  Pints of "heavy".  And whisky.  Shots of whisky.  Shots of shitty whisky.  Grouse.  John Powers.  Those were the high points.  I'm pretty sure the low points didn't even have a name on the label.

The Rise

Maybe it was my stature.  At six foot and two hundred-thirty pounds, I was more than double the mass of my average competition.  Maybe it was my Russian heritage: drinking was in my blood.  But I like to think it was sheer will.  Determination.  The eye of the tiger.  I drank, conservatively, half of the United Kingdom under the table. 

My Downfall

On the night of my birthday all my fallen competitors hit back hard.  "Drink the bar!" they dared.  Thiry pints and thirty shots were lined up.  All the jeers and jests of fat, loud, weak-drinking Americans were thrown in my face.  I hit that Grange Road pub hard.  Keep in mind these were imperial pints.  Keep in mind we were alternating said pints with the aforementioned shots of shitty whisky.  "Wonderwall" blasted from every available speaker.  The room started a slow and steady spin.  More pints, more shots.  More spins. I vaguely remember giving up on shots versus beers and pouring the shots into the beers towards the end.  


I didn't "drink the bar".  I did vomit...  Repeatedly.  

Meanwhile, About 200 Miles North

That same year something much more dignified was happening.  Something involving less late-night kebabs and less early morning Irn Bru's.  And far less vomiting.  

Up in the Isle of Skye, Talisker was brewing a batch of single malt.  Like your humble narrator, it probably started brackish, unrefined.  But over the years we both mellowed.  We gained character.  We matured.  Well, one of us did.  

Talisker 18-Year

It's comforting to think that today I'm drinking something that was born in that same fateful year.  The 2013 Talisker 18-Year was distilled in 1995.  It patiently aged in oak barrels while I became a (somewhat) respectable citizen, traded my thirty pints for a slow-sipped malt, and came to appreciate the finer things.  And this is a finer thing.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Peat & sweet!  There's something really wonderful going on here with a gorgeous balance of peat smoke, wood, sweet grapes, and botanicals - sunflowers and tarragon.  The tell-tale signs of citrus and sea-brine that take us to the Scottish Islands.  And that men's club leather chair smell speaks to sophistication and age.

Body:  The body is where we get the spice: cayenne, hot mustard, fresh spring ramps. Sweet honeyed tea moves to the sides of the tongue and the spice collects in front.  On the second sip we get peanuts and honey.

Finish:  Warmth without burn - this is a dry finish, very solid.  Punchy tight smoke floats over a crisp snappy click of green apples and more cayenne pepper.  The smoke, spice, and fruit fade evenly leaving a hint of fine cigar tobacco and oak.


Talisker 18 is a wonderful beast.  You can taste the two decades of slow ocean breeze and gentle oak nipping away at the warm malt.  The quality is undeniable.  If you love Talisker, as we do, you will want to have a bottle on your bar at all times.  One word of caution:  Talisker 18 varies widely in price.  Here it is at Binny's in Chicago for $99.  Here it is in NYC for $147.  Assuming you're closer to a hundred than one-fifty, Talisker 18 gets a SmokyBeast "A-".  Pick it up.  Celebrate how much you've changed over the last 18 years.  Just don't pour it into your twentieth pint and end up puking on Grange Road.


1 comment :

  1. Do you guys know how to figure out the release year of a Talisker 18? I picked one up for dirt cheap ($80) during a recent work trip to CT. No box and it looked like it'd been there for a long time. I can't find anything on the bottle that offers any identifying characteristics. Maybe I've just gotten spoiled by the good people at Buffalo Trace and their laser codes (once you have the decoder ring).