I’ve spent almost a decade talking and tasting Skye’s only whisky, but have never had the chance to visit the distillery itself. But once my partner and I agreed to spend a couple of nights on Skye as part of our honeymoon, a visit to Talisker distillery was right at the top of my to do list.
Talisker distillery is located on the north-west of the island, on the shores of Loch Harport and with dramatic views of the Cuillins. Despite its location at the end of a windy, single-track road, the distillery welcomes an impressive 70,000 visitors each year. This prompted a renovation and extension of the visitor centre a few years ago, which now has the space to offer in-depth tastings for private groups. No queueing for us though! Instead, Distillery Manager Stuart Harrington was good enough to take an hour out of his day to show us round.
Like many distilleries in rural Scotland, Talisker is rooted in the history of the community in which its based. Founded in 1830 by Hugh and Kennet MacAskill, Talisker provided employment for dozens of men who had been cleared off their lands, with the owners of the distillery also helping the poor and needy during the potato famine of the 1840s.
All distilleries have their own unique features and Talisker distillery is no different. One of Scotland’s smokier whiskies, the distillery takes deliver of both peated and unpeated whisky, before mixing it on site – thus ensuring they get the perfect level of smoke each time. The fermentation process also takes its time – a whole 65 hours – to allow the fruity and citrusy flavours to develop.
Moving into the still house, I was surprised to find five bubbling stills in action. These large, rocket shaped kettles normally come in pairs, with Talisker’s five reflective of its prior commitment to triple distilling – a process which was used up until 1928. The wash stills also have a unique design feature, whereby some of the distilled vapour becomes trapped in a U-shaped bend, before running back into the still where it’ll be redistilled. This partial re-distillation helps to increase the levels of copper contact and ‘reflux’, helping to create the spirit’s light and fruity edge. The spirit is then condensed in a traditional worm-tub, which we got to have a peek at too.
The Final Product
This process – which is replicated enough times to produce three million litres of spirit each year – results in a spirit which is famed across the industry for its quality. It’s then off into oak casks to mature, before being bottled at an unusual 45.8% – higher than most standard bottlings on the market.
But if there’s one thing you can’t call Talisker, it’s standard. Even Robert Louis Stevenson agreed, when we wrote in his poem The Scotsman’s Return From Aboard that “The king o’drinks, as conceive it, Talisker, Islay or Glenlivet”.
Stuart was good enough to share some cracking drams with us during our visit, but you’ll need to pop back later this week to find out my thoughts on those.
Thanks to Diageo HQ for organising the tour and Stuart for taking the time out of his busy diary to show us round. For more information about the distillery and the tours on offer, visit www.discovering-distilleries.com/talisker