There are quite a few whiskies that often blend into each other and become quite hard to differentiate: sometimes you’ll be able to tell from our reviews that a whisky from one distillery appears almost identical to one from the other side of Scotland; almost as if it was the alcoholic form of Kazimir Malevich’s White on White. Some distilleries, however, have their own character and are so unique that you can’t help but think “Yep, I know it!” as soon as the first vapours hit your nose. Talisker is one such distillery, and Arran is another.
Their Devil’s Punch Bowl release is inspired after a hill of a similar name on the island. Unsurprisingly, the distillery have released – you guessed it – 6,660 bottles of the stuff (well, maybe you thought 666, but that would make it hideously expensive). Intriguingly, on their rather grand looking box they also reveal not only the exact ages of the whiskies used, but also the cask type. In Chapter II, the whiskies (coming from some two dozen barrels) were all distilled between 1997 and 2004. The 1997-98 casks were sherry hogshead, the 2002 barrels were ex-bourbon and those from 2004 contained peated whisky. If that has made no sense to you, it can be summed up quite simply: it should make for a complex dram!
And so it proves. The nose is the strongest element of this whisky, and is so complicated that it requires at least fifteen minutes of concentration to extract all the elements from it. It begins with a slight waft of smoke, followed by the usual sensations that arise from a bourbon cask: fresh apple, juicy pear, soft vanilla. The apple predominates here – when I say fresh, I mean fresh – and interacts quite wonderfully with the whisky’s more subtle characteristics. The grain lying at the back crashes together with a great spice kick that in turn becomes tangled with orange. It’s done with aplomb, though, because it’s still quite possible to pick out each component flavour as easily as if it were in the glass on its own. The sweetness that predominates on the nose in the first ten minutes becomes wonderfully creamy as the vanilla becomes stronger and softer simultaneously. All in all, it’s breathtakingly complex, and a true example of a whisky whose main pleasure can be derived simply from its nose.
The taste is excellent, leading with sugarcoated, stewed orange and apple which then becomes devilishly spicy. The elements that serve to keep it grounded – the twin forces of grain and grape – come into play with perfect timing, allowing a gentle floral note to surface just for a moment before it’s washed over with more of the enormous spice notes. The finish is quite dry, and the fruit takes more than a moment to arrive. In time, however, the apple and pear of the nose do make a welcome return but by this stage it’s ever-so-slightly started to disintegrate; the balanced complexity of the nose has, unfortunately, trailed off and disappeared somewhere. It’s the slightest anticlimax to a stunning whisky – one whose nose is of quite superb quality.
Nose 23 Taste 21 Finish 19 Balance 22