Cigar Aficionado

Straight From The Barrel: Two Tempting Taliskers and A New Oban

Alistair Robertson, the distillery manager for Talisker on western Scotland's remote Isle of Skye, may be out of his element in New York City, but he knows how to draw a gaggle of thirsty journalists out on a record cold day: offer them a finely crafted selection of very old whisky new to the spirits market.

Yesterday brought the uncorking of Schiefflin & Somerset's classic malts collection, including a 20- and a 25-year-old Talisker, as well as a 32-year-old Oban. All were offered at cask strength and all are quite limited in availability.

The Talisker 25 is the oldest limited release from that distillery, the only one on the Isle of Skye. (Talisker's standard single malt is 10 years old.) At 59.9 percent alcohol (119.9 proof) it is the most formidable of the trio. It is also the most limited at 1,500 bottles ($200) available in the United States. The color of honey, it noses with notes of creamy vanilla and bread dough and a medium peatiness that reflects its pedigree. In the mouth, it shows the marine character of its upbringing with a fusel-oil snap that smacks of a boat hull right after it's been caulked. There's also a lingering taste of anise and a chocolaty sweetness. The briny sea and more peat come through on the long finish.

The Talisker 20 distinguishes itself from other Talisker whiskies in that it was aged in sherry casks. (Talisker normally uses first-refill American oak for its malts.) Nearly as strong as the 25-year-old (59.7 percent alcohol, or 119.4 proof), it will be offered to the United States. in a lot of 2,130 bottles, each retailing for $150. The sea is immediately evident on the nose, which while sweet, tells of tar and brine and salt spray with a back note of leather. That leather grows on the palate, while being joined by hickory and nuts. The finish brings on Talisker's signatory pepperiness. Surprisingly, this, the youngest whisky of the tasting, was the woodiest.

The Oban, the oldest limited release from its distiller, came in at 55.1 percent alcohol (110.2 proof). Robertson also said that the whisky came from the Western Highlands distiller's oldest existing casks. (Regular Oban, at 14 years old, is 18 years the junior of this release.) Three thousand of the 6,000 bottles ($350) will be sold in the States. The whisky is the color of Champagne, light and slightly green. The nose, while slightly peaty, is sweet with peaches and a licorice note. Medium-bodied, it moves to the palate with flavors of creamy peaches and butter, but also becomes tarter with salt and the edge of fresh parmesan cheese. The finish floats off on a bed of flowers with a hint of candy.

Schiefflin & Somerset also imports Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, Cragganmore and Glenkinchie malts as well as the Johnnie Walker line of blended Scotches.