You’ve got to have an angle to sell your booze nowadays — at least that’s the thinking among many purveyors of said booze. The angle can be mildly horrifying (hey, it’s a peanut butter-flavored whiskey!) or kind of intriguing (hey, it’s a gin made with botanicals from the gardens at Buckingham Palace!) or catnip for spirits writers (hey, it’s a whiskey called Writers’ Tears! — which I’ve somehow avoided writing about thus far). But it’s got to be something besides, hey, this is a noteworthy bottle right here. Which is kind of sad, but in this golden age of really tasty and well-made alcoholic spirits, I get it.
Sometimes, though, there are angles that are hard to quibble with. Kudos, in this case, go to Diageo, parent company of Talisker. They could have made a bundle from the oldest Talisker whisky ever bottled, no questions asked. Instead, they’re using it to bring attention to an ongoing project to benefit the oceans, and by extension the planet.
Made on the Isle of Skye since 1830, Talisker’s best-known and most widely available expression is considered an all-time classic Scotch at the tender age of ten years, so the debut of Talisker 44 Years Old: Forests Of The Deep is quite the big deal. What makes it a big deal outside the world of single malt geeks and collectors is that it’s part of a partnership with the ocean conservation group Parley For The Oceans. Parley and Talisker partnered on an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope to explore and study what’s known as “The Great African Sea Forest,” one of the world’s largest underwater sea kelp forests. On board were scientists, filmmakers, activists… and wouldn’t you know it, 250 barrel staves, courtesy of Talisker. Those staves were later charred using sustainable Scottish sea kelp, and then used to finish the antiquated whisky.
Kelp is hugely beneficial to the global environment because of how much carbon dioxide it stores. Parley and Talisker are working together to support the protection and preservation of 100 million square meters of kelp forests, and what better way to call attention to it than with a very old, very rare (less than 2,000 bottles available worldwide, a mere 102 of them in the U.S.) and very pricey ($4,499 SRP) single malt?
But the folks who buy a bottle, no matter how appealing they find carbon sequestration, likely care more about how the whisky, you know, tastes. And on that count it’s an unqualified success. Everything that makes it Talisker — the creamy, malty sweetness, the light smokiness, the salty seaweed notes — is still there, but concentrated and intensified, with the sweet vanilla toned down and dark fruity notes thrown into the mix. Miraculously, almost four dozen years in the barrel doesn’t add a whole lot of peppery tannins, which would throw off the flavor profile considerably. At 49.1% ABV, it’s very easy to sip — maybe a little too easy, given the price tag. I’m already looking forward to a 50-year-old Talisker, with or without kelp.