I loved this whisky. I wanted to get that out of the way up front because in addition to today’s review, I’d like to revisit the subject of luxury bottles, high price tags, and consumer expectations.
This 44 year old Talisker—their oldest to date—is an astounding expression that exceeded my lofty expectations for it. Distilled in 1978, this whisky was put into oak 6 years before I was born. While I’ve had the good fortune of drinking whisky that was older than I am many times over the years, the excitement never seems to wane. I think about the fact that this whisky slumbered in a dark warehouse longer than my entire existence. I think about the major events in history and the advances in society that occurred between then and now. I think about what my parents were up to as teenagers back then. I think about what 1970s-bottled Talisker tasted like. Whiskies that come with high age statements, high price tags, and high expectations have a way of skewing our ability to objectively assess what’s in the bottle on its own merit.
As consumers, we’re drawn to the allure of luxury items. Whether it’s designer clothing, performance vehicles, or $5,000 bottles of whisky, the human mind can’t help but associate value with quality. This more expensive item must be better than the cheaper one. This name-brand item must be better than the generic version, right? Why else would it cost twice the price? The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to many goods and services, but it’s not always the case and I find myself in need of that reminder quite often these days. Whisk(e)y as a global category has undergone a massive transformation over the past decade. The value of many bottles in today’s market can be inflated by brand name, ornate packaging, and limited quantities. Sometimes, though, bottle values are market-driven because people gravitate to one particular brand over another of similar quality and taste.
As a whisky writer, blocking out the noise of hype, status, and value for certain releases is a constant struggle. Despite my best efforts, though, it remains a work in progress. This is especially true for whiskies with luxury price tags. Before I review a whisky sample from a really expensive bottle, my mind inevitably wanders to the same thought:
“This better blow me away for the price they are charging.”
Herein lies the problem. The very act of putting a whisky on a pedestal due to age or price tag puts it at a disadvantage on both sides of the coin. If I’m not thoroughly impressed with what I’m tasting, am I bound to score the expression lower than if that same expression had a lower age statement or associated value? If I really enjoy what I’m drinking, am I subconsciously awarding extra bonus points because of the age or price? Maybe I just really liked this 44 year old whisky because really old whisky usually tastes great. All of this goes through my head during reviews like this one and I hope that being mindful of impartiality helps me come to an objective final score.
Let’s get to the details of this release.
Forests of the Deep is the second Talisker release in collaboration with Parley, an environmental organization with a focus on preserving up to 100 million square meters of oceanic ecosystems. Playing off of this partnership, this whisky was finished in “marine charred” casks. What does that mean exactly? Oak staves were brought on board a Parley expedition to the Cape of Good Hope and were taken underwater into a kelp forest. Barrels were then charred with wood shavings from those staves along with sustainably farmed sea kelp. A unique approach to say the least.
Talkisker 44 Year Forests of the Deep is bottled at 49.1% ABV. Just 1,997 bottles were released worldwide with a mere 102 bottles available for the US market. What does the oldest official Talisker bottling taste like?
|Nose||I could nose this for hours. Mixed berry pie filling, brine, waxy, black pepper, green melon, lemon curd, toffee, seaweed, wooden sea ship, grassy, slightly burnt toast with orange marmalade, mossy, cardamon, sour apple, petrichor. With water, the profile shifts to something deeper and murkier. Some smoke creeps around the periphery of this flavor set but never fully takes hold.|
|Taste||Rich and oily, I’m really surprised by how fruit forward this is at first with baked apple, blood orange, green grapes, dried apricot, and lychee. A bit of sharp pepper stings the tip of the tongue along with with hints of pink bubblegum, deep dry oak, salted caramel, fresh green pepper, and lemongrass. With water, honeyed sweetness, ripe stone fruit, allspice, and a hint of chili flakes.|
|Finish||Salty, big oak, more pepper, candied orange peel, hint of black licorice, some minerality, waxiness returns for a bit, soft whispers of wood embers. This is one of the longest finishes I’ve experienced in a long time. Water adds additional notes of cantaloupe, a slightly oakier presence, and Laoshan tea. Wood char, dried berries, and vanilla bean are the last notes to fade.|
|Overall Thoughts||This whisky truly took my senses to new depths (word play fully intended). The Talisker house profile is still there but it’s merely part of a flavor profile that harmoniously interlaces sweetness, saltiness, dynamic fruit, and spice. The minerality and underlying char influence cannot be ignored either. I was struck by how long it took me to assess the small sample I had because I uncovered new layers of flavor every time I came back to it. Despite its age, the oak was balanced and nuanced where it needed to be but the char made its presence known the whole time. A truly incredible whisky.|