The word ‘talisker’ can be derived from the High Scots word Talamh Sgeir and refers to the echo cliff which lies close to the distillery. In Gaelic, Talisker is spelled Talaisgeir and has a Norse origin. The distillery was built in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, two sons of a local doctor on the Isle of Skye. Talisker was located a fair distance from other distilleries which meant that the workers lived more or less isolated on the island. For a time the distillery actually crafted their own coins which the workers could ‘spend’ for food and other necessities.
In 1843 the distillery was moved to its current location on the beach of Loch Harport. After the MacAskill brothers died the distillery was run by a relative who unfortunately was not so good with money. He ended up being bankrupt after slightly more than a year and the licence was passed on to J R W Andersson. His flair for business also proved to be inadequate and he soon ended up in prison for selling un-existing casks. Apparently he had not taken into account that the customers would expect their ordered whisky to actually be delivered.
During the second part of the 19th century the distillery finally began to prosper again under the care of its new owners. Production was increased and the annual output was raised to between 200 000 and 300 000 litres. By the turn of the century a pier as well as some iron tracks had been built. The pier was built so unloading could take place regardless of whether the tide was high or low. Several new buildings were also erected.
At the beginning of the 19th century Talisker joined forces with the Dailuaine Distillery thereby strengthening their position in the market. Talisker tried triple distillation for a time during the 1920s but soon reverted to double distillation. Like so many other distilleries Talisker had to shut down production during WW2 due to the governmental restrictions on barley.
In 1960 the distillery was completely destroyed by a fire. It is believed the fire happened because someone had forgotten to close a hatch on one of the stills. The distillery was rebuilt with exact copies of the destroyed stills. The owners probably felt some apprehension during the first run of the new stills, but they proved to be up to the task and production was soon back to full capacity. In the mid-seventies Talisker ceased malting their own barley. Instead they began to buy their malt from some of the emerging specialised malting companies. During the years Talisker has passed through many hands and are now owned by Diageo.
A significant part of the production at Talisker is used in the popular Johnnie Walker whisky. However, the number of official single malt bottlings has increased in recent years. Talisker is known primarily for their 10 year-old single malt which is also included in the ‘Six Classic Malts’ collection. Talisker is currently the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, although plans exist to build a new distillery somewhere on the island.
Production at Talisker
Talisker use water from adjacent underground springs. Their water is very peaty which contributes to the powerful taste of Talisker in spite of the moderate phenol level of the malt that is used (25ppm). Since 1972 Talisker have bought their malt from Glen Ord Maltings, one of the specialised malting companies in Scotland. The mash tun is made from cast iron, has a diameter of 6 metres and holds eight tons. Talisker’s six wooden washbacks each hold 37 000 litres. They use two wash stills of the Boiling Ball model with a volume of 10 000 litres each. Unlike most other distilleries Talisker do not use paired stills; they have three spirit stills instead of two which each holds 7 500 litres. All stills are directly steam-heated. Another interesting fact about the stills used at Talisker is that the lyne arms (through which the distilled spirit leaves the stills) are bent like an upright horseshoe. Talisker claim this adds to the complexity of their whisky. The whisky is matured in used sherry and bourbon casks. The casks are stored on the grounds in three different warehouses.
Isle of Skye, IV47 8SR
Phone: +44 (0) 1478 614308
Visitors: The distillery has a visitor centre which is open all year round.
Opening hours are April-October: Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5pm.
November-March: Monday-Saturday 2pm-5pm.
Admission is £4 which is refundable upon purchase.