Talisker 20 y.o. (2003) Review

Talisker 20 y.o. (2003)004

58.8% abv

Score:  90.5/100


This may be a review not worth reading, in some senses.  Not because the whisky isn’t worth reading about, but because I can’t guarantee that the whisky I’m writing about was pristine at the time of sampling.  This Talisker 20 year old was tasted as part of a brilliant stratospheric range of Talisker limited releases.  I think it was the first malt of the night, and it definitely stood out from the rest in some rather conspicuous ways. 

This one had a slightly more aggressively peaty and farmy side to it than any of the other Taliskers we tried (or that I’ve tried before or since).  In and of itself?  No big deal.  Let’s face it, there are many malts out there that have a presto change-o kind of personality.  But here’s the rub…even as this bottle was opened, the fellow who owned it voiced immediate concern about the condition of the cork.  It looked dark, sodden throughout and…let’s just say ‘less than immaculate’.  If this was a ‘nowadays’ bottle, it likely could have been returned to the shop and spelled out for another.  As it stands though, this was a bottle from about a decade back, long gone and probably sourced intercontinentally to boot.  All you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best in these sorts of situations.

So…if this was indeed a compromised bottle there’s not a lot of value in sharing notes on it.  On that I’m quite sure we agree.  But the question lingers…was it a faulty cork or is this simply a very different Talisker release with a cork that only looked like it had been through the wringer?  Without a second bottle to compare to, there’s no way to be sure.  Here’s my opinion though:  The cork was certainly ugly, but the whisky was proably pure.  I say this because the malt was exceptionally bright and vibrant in terms of nose and taste (no ‘dead bottle’ dullness to it), and because it was a damn good drink, showing no signs of off-notes.  Unique in the portfolio, yes, but not ‘off’.  And all the more special for it. 

Think about how ‘Revolution 9’ stood out from the the rest of ‘The White Album’.  It may not be everyone’s favorite track, but it certainly struck a dissonant chord that resonated and lingered long beyond the final fade.  Here’s my reaching analogy for the day: This Talisker 20 = Revolution 9. 

Whether what I drank that night was the whisky that was originally bottled is now incidental in my mind.  What matters is that I enjoyed the hell out of it.  This indifference is the reason I suggested in the first line of this review that it may not be worth reading.  I leave that up to you.

Nose:  Whoa!  What have we here?  Brora?  Longrow?  Nope.  It is indeed Talisker, but wow, what a variant.  Peppery and farmy.  Some smoke and peat, to be sure.  Notes of eucalyptus and spruce.  Damp hay.  Crabapple tartness.  Salt black licorice.  Lots of spice.  Salted caramel.

Palate:  Earthy and peaty.  Pepper and licorice.  Very salty.  Notes of damp hay and sour apple.  Almost a wine-like note towards the back end as well.  Finishes with long and pleasant oak overtones.

Thoughts:  Very Brora-like.  Surprising as hell.  Yes, there was some concern about the quality of cork that came out of this one, but if this is a flawed bottle (and I’m not sayin’ it is), I’m more than ok with this kind of blemish.  Way better nose than palate, I should add.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

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