Talisker StormRecently, Talisker took the headlines in the whisky world with the release of its new product, Talisker Storm. The whisky is meant to be a bolder step-up from its industry mainstay, the Talisker 10-year old.

As a NAS (no-age statement) release, the news got some tongues wagging about what this means for the future of age-statement whisky and why the Diageo-owned brand has taken this step.

The Storm, which took 15 months to develop, is created from a mix of rejuvenated (more on that later) and refill casks. It will be slightly pricier than the 10-year old, and is currently selling for around £40. It will be joined on the shelves with a second release – the Talisker Port Ruhige (which means King’s or Royal’s Port in Gaelic) within the next quarter.

I spoke with Dr Nick Morgan, Diageo’s head of whisky outreach, to learn more.

Why have you decided to release this now?

If you think about Talisker and the Classic Malts, the original Classic Malts were launched in 1987 – well over 20 years ago. Since then we’ve released a couple of other Talisker expressions – the 18 year old, the Distillers Edition and 57 North – but they’ve all been significantly premium versions. We’ve not launched anything in those 20 years aimed at the pocket of the mainstream Talisker consumer who makes up majority of business.

Why did you decide to go for a ‘bolder’ flavour profile?

With a liquid so distinctive as Talisker, what you don’t want to do is dumb it down. Talisker is wonderful from the commercial or marketing point of view because it really polarises people; some people hate it, some people love it and that’s a great place to be because the people that love it, really love it. If you’re offering them a drink, then you have to offer them something they will love as equally as the already extreme flavour profile of Talisker so that’s why we decided to play with something that’s going to be bolder that will accentuate the maritime characters – it’s really smoky in a way that’s far more Islay like than Skye like, but it also keeps a trademark you find in Talisker which is that fruity sweetness.

It’s available in European markets now. Any plans to release it globally?

When you plan a project like this, you plan for success so the assumption is it will be successful in western Europe and will be rolled out globally.

Some of the whisky in the make-up is matured in rejuvenated casks. Can you explain further?

Every cask has a natural life, at the end of which the wood activity is very low so if you have a cask that is on its third or fourth refill and leave it for ten years not much will happen. It’s not unique to Diageo but something we’ve done a lot of key research on is how you can bring a cask back to life. At our new cooperage at Cambus [near Alloa in south-eastern Scotland] coopers take the ends off the casks and the casks are scraped on the inside so we expose a fresh wood surface in a measured way to release the wood characters we need. After the casks have been scraped they’re then toasted over a gas flame so the fresh oak is charred. The original cask ends are then reunited with the casks and they’re ready for refilling so the cask has another life for up to 30 or 40 years.

Whiskies from rejuvenated casks have a very specific wood character in terms of nose and flavour. And whether you’re talking about putting together a recipe for a single malt or for a blend, it gives you a very specific flavour profile that you can introduce in terms of a variable for the end product. I think we’ll see more of it generally.

Will the trend of NAS whisky releases continue?

I think you will find that brands are going to release more and more expressions focusing on flavour and how that flavour is achieved – whether it’s through special types of wood, or finishing or peat or no peat – is going to be a far more dominate part of the malt whisky narrative over next five to 10 years. I think it reflects a category that is maturing and reflects consumers who are maturing and have a better understanding of what it is that distillers and blenders are trying to achieve when they release new products.

In emerging markets, age is often seen as an important factor because an older item is more expensive and, therefore, more prestigious. Will we see aged whiskies being sold to markets such as Asia and NAS whiskies saved for European markets?

It’s not quite as straight forward as that. I would point towards the huge success in emerging markets of products such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label which has no age statement. And Johnnie Walker Red Label is our biggest selling product and that has no age statement. That demonstrates that the rule is not hard and fast.

However, I think age has a greater part to play in markets where Scotch is not as understood because it gives consumers some sort of indication about what they might be buying and what they might expect. The whole practice of using age statements was about establishing the legitimacy and integrity of products being sold. I think in mature markets in Europe and North America, Scotch has gone way beyond that point. It’s far less relevant for consumers in mature markets than it is for consumers in emerging markets. But even there, with the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, it’s not essential.

Stay tuned to Miss Whisky for a review of the new release, coming soon.