Whisky Magazine Issue 6
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Powerful but elegant, Talisker is a prince among whiskies. Margaret Rand went over the sea to discover what makes the magic
Drive round the Cuillin Hills and you'll come to a huddle of white buildings looking out over Loch Harport, where the sea draws back at low tide to reveal a foreshore laced with bronze seaweed.
Surrounded by the grand scenery of Skye is the Talisker distillery, birthplace of one of the world's greatest malts.
Indeed, if there was ever a whisky that conveyed a sense of place, it is Talisker. It's a big malt, but shot through with elegance, with a balance - what some drinks writers would call 'breed' - that marks it out from every other island malt.
Talisker, the name is Norse for 'Land of Stones', mirrors the bare splendour of Skye, but like the island it also demonstrates a depth and refinement. Indeed, the distinguished man of letters Dr Johnson found Skye full of surprises when he visited in September 1773. Delighted to find a library in his room at Talisker House, he observed: "that it was one of the remarkable things of Sky [sic], that there were so many books in it."
The Talisker distillery was founded in 1830 by High and Kenneth MacAskill from the nearby island of Eigg. They acquired Talisker House in 1825 and infamously set about clearing their land of crofters. This was common practice at the time by landowners in the region and was part of what history now calls The Clearances. The massive waves of emigrations that resulted founded the Scottish populations in North America and Australasia and no doubt spread the word about the pleasures of whisky drinking.