This article is part of a series of luxury spirits articles sponsored by Diageo.
From exotic woods to zero-gravity aging, single malt producers have long sought the next big thing for their most coveted releases. But now, one of Scotland’s favorite distillers has turned to its own history to create what might be the ultimate bucket-list single malt — a unique spirit that ranks beside hiking the Inca Trail or traveling the entire Trans-Siberian Railway.
Called Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge, this new release from Talisker uses ocean-seasoned barrel staves to echo the founding story of the beloved whisky maker on the Isle of Skye. At 43 years of age, Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge is the oldest whisky Talisker has ever released.
According to global master of whisky at Diageo Ewan Gunn, those ocean-aged staves managed to further heighten the unique flavor profile for which Talisker is famous.
“The first thing I would say about Talisker is that it’s a particularly distinct style of whisky,” Gunn says. “It has signature spice, it’s got smoke, but it’s got a lovely sort of maritime, coastal nature as well. And I think for fans of Talisker, that’s one of the reasons why they love it so much — it’s just that really distinct style that it has. We’ve actually chosen with this release to really amplify and highlight that coastal style.”
That said, the brand has already seen major acclaim for younger releases, and at this year’s San Fransisco Spirits Awards, Talisker 18 Year Old won Double Gold as well as Best Distillers Single Malt Scotch up to 13-19 Years, while also stealing the show at the Ultimate Beverage Challenge 2021. There, the spirit’s pure tongue-coating sweetness coupled with nutty smokiness to bring home a 98 score, the Chairman’s Trophy, and rank within the Top 100 Spirits.
Now, the 43 Year Old release rivals the already popular Talisker 25 Year Old. Formerly the distillery’s oldest release, Talisker 25 shows smoky notes with a smooth, sweet, salty depth before leaving characteristic traces of the single malt’s famed chili pepper spice. Yet Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge takes those famous flavors even further and offers more than just a bolder age. Instead, its production marks the distillery’s commitment to thorough storytelling and offers a journey no whisky lover can refuse.
Lashed by the Waves
To build on Talisker’s sea-kissed flavors, the distillery teamed up with adventurer James Aiken, who sailed solo across the Atlantic Ocean, tracing the route of the brand’s celebrated trans-Atlantic rowing race — Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge — with his boat, Oaken Yarn. Aiken’s cargo on his 24-day solo journey? Oak staves from Talisker whisky barrels.
“He followed the same route that the rowers who compete in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge do every year — 3,264 miles,” Gunn says. “He actually sailed across the Atlantic with a hundred cask staves lashed to the deck of his boat. They were constantly soaked by the waves. They went through a process where they were soaked by the sea salt, then dried in the sun, and that was repeated multiple times.”
That journey paralleled a bit of Talisker’s own history, when the MacAskill brothers rowed from the Isle of Eigg to the Isle of Skye to create the Talisker distillery in 1830.
After Aiken’s voyage, the ocean-seasoned oak staves were used to construct just 10 whisky hogsheads, small barrels of about 66 gallons. A special well-aged Talisker whisky was then selected for those barrels.
“We matured the whisky first of all in a combination of refill hogsheads and European oak butts before then moving it into those Atlantic-seasoned hogsheads for a period of secondary maturation,” Gunn says. “Each one of the 10 casks that we used for the secondary maturation of this whisky was built using 10 of these staves, along with other staves.”
Oysters and Driftwood
According to Gunn, the result is as stunning as the island setting where Talisker is made.
“It’s a whisky that genuinely was made by the sea, which is a term we often use to describe Talisker,” Gunn says. “When you nose and taste this dram, there’s a really palpable sense of place. As soon as you smell it, you’re just transported to the shore — the shore outside the distillery. The distillery has the waves of the Atlantic crashing on the warehouse walls pretty much every day of the year.”
Although the whisky in Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge was aged and conditioned for over 43 years, Gunn says that lengthy period hasn’t diminished the spirit’s distinct house character.
“It’s obviously over four decades old, but I don’t think those four decades have actually really tamed that full, spicy flavor that Talisker’s known and loved for,” Gunn says. “I’d say it has layered in an element of richness, which gives you a really spicy and intense whisky, but it’s also quite rounded and quite elegant. It’s a really good combination of intense distillery style, but then great maturity as well.”
“There are lots of those maritime notes,” Gunn continues. “Sea air. A few people have mentioned a sense of warm sand — how sand dries in the sun, that type of aroma. You get slightly elemental notes coming through, definitely some canvas and varnished wood. A lot of folks have also highlighted a kind of waxy creaminess on the nose as well.”
“On the palate, a lot of the same flavors carry across,” he says. “There’s a bit more spice. There’s definitely that sort of maritime quality, almost a sort of oyster-brine sweetness comes through. There’s also, for me, a hint of the dying embers of a driftwood bonfire in the distance. The smoke is still there, but it’s more subtle. It has all the elements of Talisker you’d expect, but it’s just beautifully rounded and really elegant as well.”
A Piece of History
As unique as it is, this new release shouldn’t be impossible to find. Unlike many distillery-only and duty-free exclusives, Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge will be available in fine spirit shops around the world, which means interested Talisker fans should have the chance to cross it off their bucket lists. Two small caveats: The suggested retail price is $4,000. And in honor of the distillery’s founding year of 1830, there are just 1,830 bottles available.
Each one of those bottles will be accompanied by a section of a stave that actually traveled across the Atlantic, Gunn notes.
“When you buy this, you’re not just getting a great whisky in a stunning package, but for me, that accompanying piece of cask that you get really marks quite a historic and groundbreaking moment,” Gunn says. “I think it’s quite nice when you buy a bottle of this whisky, you also own a piece of that story as well.”
After this, crossing off other bucket-list items should be a piece of cake. Next up: Machu Picchu.
To secure a bottle for yourself head to ReserveBar or your local whisky retailer while supplies last.
This article is sponsored by Diageo.