Talisker 20 y.o. (2002) Review

Talisker 20 y.o. (2002)049

62% abv

Score:  94/100


I’m hard pressed to say whether this or 2012’s spectacular 35 year old is the absolute ‘best of the best’ Talisker I’ve tasted so far.  Either way, this big and bold 20 year old is simply incredible. 

Talisker, as you are likely well aware, is a Diageo distillery of much fame, and deservedly so.  It’s one of a handful of distilleries that boasts an almost immediately recognizable profile.  Its peaty salt and peppery edge allows it to stand out from the crowds, and to serve almost as a gateway malt to the big peated whiskies from fellow Hebridean island Islay. 

This rare and special 20 year old from the Isle of Skye’s one and only distillery is also a stand-out amongst its own Talisker brethren, due to having been matured in sherry casks.  The Talisker you’d expect is definitely captured here as well, but it’s been tweaked a bit to frightening success.  There is such a deep complexity of fruit notes knotted up with the smoke and pepper you’d expect in Talisker that the integrated whole is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.  For some reason I hearken back to the Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only bottling as the closest approximation of juicy sweetness and deep, dark smokiness.  Different malts, to be sure, but similar in their incredibly succesful marriage of disparate flavours. 

Saying this whisky is unique and compex is not enough, however.  This one is almost ethereally beautiful. 

Before anyone out there gets too excited and starts scouring the local shops, I should note that this is a long-gone dram.  Born in 1981.  Tragically left us in 2002.  Now…much mourned.  This is the kind of dram that comes along only a couple of times in a lifetime (if you’re lucky and have the resources).   

As I said in the first lines above, I can’t decide whether this or the 35 year old is better, so let’s not split hair on scores either.  Call it a draw. 

Nose:  Crème caramel.  Pepper and mocha.  Smoke.  Sweet and syrupy.  Salted caramel.  A neat barbecue note, from the sweetness of the sherry mingling with the peppery peat.  Touch of rubber.  Dark rich fruits (cherry, blackberry, etc) in dark chocolate.  Peaty and smoky.  Some lemon and salt too.

Palate:  Oily and viscous.  Barbecue notes again.  Red ju-jubes.  Charred honey ham skin.  Peat, pepper, smoke and salt.  A lot of vibrant red fruits.  The delivery is like velvet.  There is no way I’d ever peg this as boasting an abv of 62%.  Gorgeous drink with a looooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Amazing.  Stunning really.  Right in my wheelhouse.  If only this were still readily available.  I’d be doing my utmost to stock up (likely at the expense of my kids’ future university tuitions).  This is a ‘wow’ whisky.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

2 thoughts on “Talisker 20 y.o. (2002) Review

    1. ATW Post author

      Right around the same ballpark. Think only a point or so different (I’d have to double check), but yes…I adored this one.


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