So I made myself a little online “alcohol dilution calculator” (in Google Sheets), and you know what – it totally works! Not just the math [that, of course, is solid], but the actual process of diluting whisky to the precise specifications of the desired ABV really does make it better! Want yours? Type out these headings in cells A1 through D1 in this order: Amount, Current ABV, Target ABV, Add Water. You only need one formula, and that’s in cell D2: “=(B2/C2 * A2) – A2“, and there you go. I also calculated the amount of my measuring devices (a bottle cap which I use to add water), so I know exactly how much to use. For example: to get 35ml of the 8-year-old Talisker bottled at 59.7 ABV down to, say, 45%, you need to add 11.43ml of water (almost a third!). Science! Let’s do that now to get this going, but first, we need music! Now playing: Taylor Deupree – Harbor.
I’ll let the 8-year-old mellow out for a bit with the newly added water and turn to the 10-year-old Talisker, a staple from this distillery on the Isle of Skye, owned by Diageo. This particular dram comes from a 50ml bottle stash which I picked up [somewhere], and although it states clearly that it is at least 10 years of age, I cannot tell you from which batch it is. There are some cryptic numbers on the label, which I’m sure, reveal the answer, but I wouldn’t even know where to start to look them up. And the reason I’m focusing on that is because this Talisker [or rather, almost any bottling from any distillery, unless it’s a single cask] can vary from one batch to the next, especially over a long period of production. In other words, the 10-year-old Talisker from, say, 2000 won’t be the same as the 10-year-old Talisker from 2020. Makes sense? Lately, I’ve heard that this particular brand has gone down in quality. It’s probably related to the ageing stock of their reused ex-bourbon American casks. But, honestly, it’s very recognisable and pretty popular [“one of the most awarded single malt Scotch whiskies in the world” as per the website], and the distillery can afford to continue and take some shortcuts because, inevitably, it will still sell. And so, this single malt has added colouring and is chill filtered and bottled at a higher 45.8% [and that’s much better than the 40% ABV we see from other mainstream brands]. It’s nice and smoky on the palate, with more soot than the peat on the nose. There is some unexpected sweetness, which now comes and goes, and I will add a little water to see if it needs space to open. Talisker’s prominent marketing tagline is that it’s “made by the sea“, but to be honest, nearly every distillery on Islay is located on the shores [for transportation in the old days], and the actual spirit is shipped to the outskirts of Glasgow where the casks are filled and stored in a warehouse. Yes, lots of marketing, folks; how is the whisky?
I’ll let the 10-year-old sit for a bit and move on to the 8-year-old. As I already mentioned, it is indeed bottled at a punchy 59.7% ABV which is of “natural cask strength”, albeit I don’t think I understand how they can take all these casks in numerous batches and have all bottles come out from them at a uniform ABV. I would accept if they married them in a single tun, but for the number of bottles produced of this particular release, surely there have been more than a single marriage. I just don’t know. Leave me a comment? Meanwhile, this bottling is a limited release as part of Diageo’s 2021 Special Releases Whisky Collection (along with Oban and the Lagavulin, which I’ve profiled before). Distilled in 2012, this single malt has been matured in heavily peated refill casks [note: the casks are peated with their previous occupiers!] and should be left uncoloured and unchill filtered, but neither the bottle, the canister it came in, nor the website can confirm that statement. I’d like to think that it is pure – the colour is much lighter than the staple 10-year-old, although, and this is a telling sign, there is no “scotch mist” with all the added water – it is clear and crisp, so… yeah, probably chill-filtered. Such a shame. It’s got a much stronger aroma than the 10-year-old – it’s smoky, floral, pungent… and it’s nice! It’s still a young and ruthless whisky and bites a little on the tongue, but it feels clean and almost fruity on the edges, especially when all the smoke cuts through. It’s not the Islay peat, though, that’s for sure – but it does begin to resemble a younger Caol Ila with all its youthful playfulness. I quite like it, to be frank, and am starting to pick up on some notes of banana among the sweetness imparted by the casks.
I return to the 10-year-old, and now, the more pronounced notes from the 8-year-old are echoed in its character, but it is subdued and lacks the substance of its sibling. With water, it has mellowed out, just a little, but it also became more diluted rather than “open”, like many other “standard” distillery bottlings tend to become – meaning, if it needed more water, the distillery would probably dilute it more themselves before they pitch it to the masses. So I’m starting to think that the bite of 45.8% is precisely what this whisky needed in the first place. I know you’re not supposed to add whisky to the water [why is that, exactly?] but I’ll go the other way now and drop a bit more spirit in my glass. It’s now just a tad rougher again and peppery on the finish, so it’s challenging to find the balance that I want – either it’s diluted or just scraping down my throat. This tells you something, doesn’t it? Also, since I’ve been mainly nosing the 8-year-old, when I return to the 10-year-old, I almost cannot smell it. Its scent is simply gone, leaving behind a faint trace of a ghost. The 8-year-old is still as vibrant, and whereas, previously, when I drank it at cask strength, it nearly knocked me out, diluted to (what did I say it was?) 45%, it is a very lovely dram! I wonder now how it compares to the recent Caol Ila. Anyway, I’ve said enough, especially in this conclusion. I’ll call the 8-year-old a clear winner and wish you a good night!
[Update 7/21/2022] I recognize that I may have come off a bit harsh on the brand here. If you really read between the lines, my dissatisfaction is mostly due to the overall marketing – where I think the product shall speak for itself. That being said, the 8-year-old reviewed above is a superb single malt. I had it on its own the next day, and it truly brought my love back for this Island whisky. The spark is back with cask strength dram! I’m now curious about how it will compare next to Lagavulin, Caol Ila, or Ledaig.