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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Skye's The Limit. Talisker's New Visitors Centre & Port Ruighe

Oh the irony. In both our professional and enthusiast capacity, we've visited a huge number of distilleries across the globe: from tiny craft operations in the middle of no where, making some seriously unusual hooch, to powerhouse many-million-litre industrial sites, which help to form the heart of some of the best loved spirits brands in the world.   However, in spite of all this we've never visited perhaps one of the most celebrated and popular destination distilleries in Scotland - Talisker, so thought it high time we get our act together.

Getting to Talisker is an eventful experience in itself.  If you're driving, it will take you near on six hours from Edinburgh. Of course, that's factoring in the obligatory lunchtime stop at the Green Welly in Tyndrum for a Scotch pie and a thorough wallet emptying in their whisky shop.  But to say the drive is arresting would be doing it a disservice.  Dependent on the season, the snow capped peaks and colourful fields of heather exemplify Scotland's bleak beauty.  It's no wonder that Sam Mendes decided to choose the breathtaking drive through Glencoe (which you take in on the way up to Skye) for one of the integral scenes in Skyfall.  
Would you accept a lift from this Skipper?

The other option is to take to the high seas and assuming you can find a suitably friendly captain, some Breton caps and oil skins, we'd wholeheartedly recommend the nautical approach.  Here, as you approach the jetty in Carbost, the 30ft climb up the rusting ladder is particularly bracing, especially as you watch your belongings being precariously hoisted up on a piece of rope alongside you.  

The payoff of course (apart from the unbelievable sea views, seal spotting and learning the ropes) is the distillery itself. Whilst not 'chocolate box' in the traditional distillery sense (a la Lagavulin or Strathisla) Talisker has a brooding sense of importance, with truly manifests itself in the spirit produced at the distillery.  At one point Talisker was triple distilled and wandering round the still house (which was rebuilt after a fire in 1960) the five stills (two wash, three spirit) are a formidable sight, knowing the character of what runs from them. If you're still wondering why Talisker is such an iconic distillery pop outside to see the worm tubs in action and then you'll finally get the sense of why it has a huge international reputation for being a powerhouse of flavour.  

A particularly wiggly worm.

Now, we mentioned that Talisker is a popular destination; not just for whisky pilgrims, but also tourists too. Annually, Talisker receives over 60,000 visitors, which, although is a spectacular number, has presented a (nice) problem to Diageo in terms of properly providing the full Talisker 'experience'. As a result, the visitors centre has just received a welcome £1 million facelift, turning an already successful operation into something highly inspirational.   

As we arrived, builders and designers were putting the final touches to the tasting rooms (which are neatly hidden behind pivoted wooden beams) and the wave-inspired opening display.  Impressive stuff indeed and very pleasing to see such investment in the home of an undeniably heavyweight whisky brand. But what about the liquid?  

Well, as you will have seen if you follow our other posts, the whisky itself hasn't been neglected. Like buses, along comes two new expressions in the Talisker range. Storm, which we reviewed recently has proved to be controversial addition, with some quarters arguing that as a non age statement whisky, it is a step in the wrong direction from the much loved Ten Year Old.  But for us, that's exactly the point. In the increasing world of no age statement whiskies, personality is absolutely paramount and in our opinion, Storm is rammed full of brooding intensity and youth, playing alongside some spicy fruit and classic Talisker bonfire chilli smoke. 

Box ticked. We like. 

Next up comes Port Ruighe. Taking its title from an old gaelic name for one of the larger port towns on the Isle of Skye, this expression, like the Distillers Editions has been additionally matured after its time in ex-American and European refill casks.  The final destination is rather aptly a port cask, which supposedly gives a distinct fruitiness to the proceedings.  Like Storm, Port Ruighe does not carry an age statement, so we're particularly keen to find out exactly where it sits alongside its tempestuous brother and the more well-known Talisker Distillers Edition (which carries a vintage and is also extra matured, but in an Amoroso sherry cask) 

Talisker - Port Ruighe -  45.8% - 70cl

Nose: Youthful, a little spirity, but with plenty of zest and bite.  Undiluted, you'll find masses of white pepper, a hint of spicy stewed apple, some wet cardboard and black treacle.  Given time, a little dried ginger emerges and perhaps a touch of earthy truffle oil. With water, a dark caramel note sets in alongside a hint of fruity perfume.  

Palate: Hot and very fiery with familiar Talisker smoked chilli, hickory and a sweetness (icing sugar) hitting first.  A slightly charred woody note develops alongside, developing further with the addition of water- which this whisky really benefits from. 

 Finish: Oaky notes, some very dry smoke and a hint of dried fruit.  

Overall: Enjoyable, but very much reliant on water for the full effect. Here's the rub. Talisker has set such a high benchmark with several of its existing expressions, which are now hewn into the fabric of what are known by many as 'classic' whiskies.  Port Ruighe is a solid enough contender and a very direct one at that, full of youthful bite, but in our opinion it lacks a little of the finesse of the Distillers Edition, the Ten Year Old and now the mighty Storm. That's not to say it doesn't have its own place. Right now however, we're left wondering exactly where that might be.  

For More information on visiting Talisker, visit:  Visit Scotland or The Classic Malts websites.