So I’m half way through the Scottish part of this journey, with only a few distilleries left. After the tranquil Spey distillery near Kingussie we leave the mainland for the first of my two island distillery choices. I believe these next ones are a bit like Marmite in the way people react to them, most of my friends and family either love them or hate them. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground from them, thankfully I love them and a lot of my fellow bloggers do to.
The Isle of Sky is my next destination for one of the most well-known distilleries, I am of course talking about Talisker. Now this is a distillery I’ve always liked since I first tried it, even when I really didn’t like Peated whisky in general. Founded in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill sons of a local doctor, having arrived just five years earlier from their native island of Eigg.
The history of Talisker is as robust as the malt they produce, having been on the island only for five years the brothers bought some agricultural land. This included Talisker house and the area was to become the home to the distillery, despite local clergy opposition to it’s construction. This was the start of what was to become one of the UK’s most famous distilleries, even as early as 1898 it was one of the best selling malts in the UK. Like most distilleries it has it’s ups and downs, the ownership is one example of this, with John Anderson being imprisoned for selling non-existing whisky casks in 1879.
The subsequent owners Alexander Grigor Allan and Roderick Kemp brought a much better level of management to the distillery. With Kemp selling his share of Talisker 1892 so that he can buy the Macallan distillery instead, leaving Allen to form the Talisker Distillery Ltd in 1894. With further changes in ownership happening over the years until it becomes part of the DCL group (now called Diageo) in 1925.
Now ownership is always something that can cause problems and benefits to a distillery over the years. This is never more true than when something happens that puts the whole distilleries future at risk. One such dramatic episode happens on the 22nd November 1960, when a valve on one of the coal fired stills was left open. The spirit escaped from the still and caught fire, burning down the still house and destroying the five stills along with it. Thankfully a complete reconstruction programme was initiated straight away, with the five stills being replaced with exact copies of the originals and reopened two years later in 1962. Thanks to the owners willingness to rebuild the distillery after this disaster, shows how popular it was and again in the 1980’s when they were deciding which distilleries were to be closed from there portfolio, Talisker was one that was to remain open for business.
Like most distilleries Talisker shut down it’s own floor meetings in 1972, the same year they converted the stills from direct heating to steam heating. Instead shipping in it’s malted barley from the Glen Ord maltings in Inverness-shire, the malt is peated to around the 18-20ppm. This is lower than most of the other island distilleries, giving a ppm of around 5-7 in the new make spirit.
Talisker has had many upgrades over the years from the still heating source to a visitors center opening in 1988, one other area upgraded was the traditional wormtub condensers, with a system installed in 2014 that draws water from approximately eight meters below the sea surface to cool the wormtubs before going to a heat exchange and back to the wormtubs. A similar system was also installed in the Caol Ila distillery.
Talisker has gone through many changes over the years but all seem to have made it more popular, in 2014 it became one of the top ten best selling malts in the world with around 2.3 million bottles sold. With few new expressions being released over the past few years, like Storm, Skye and Port Ruighe, which have all done well but have not impacted on the sales of what is probably one of the best 10yo single malts around.
So set on one of the most beautiful islands of Scotland what could you not love about visiting Talisker, I think that this is possible my favourite island malt. My only regret is that I’ll probably never be lucky enough, to try a dram of the original triple distilled malt they produced up until 1928 that’s if any still survive.
So on to the next distillery and a trip to Islay.