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Talisker Distillery | The King Of Drinks

Last Updated: June 21, 2023

As part of Diageo's £185 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism, Talisker Distillery underwent an extensive makeover in 2022 with a complete upgrade of the Visitor's Centre (the old one barely coped with the number of visitors they got each year). There are now two bars, a full-sensory tasting room/educational experience. The expanded visitors centre shop is stocked with Talisker whisky and other wares from the Isle of Skye.
Black and white vintage worn paper style wide angle photograph of Talisker Distillery main building including talisker distillery logo

Talisker Distillery Est. 1830, Isle of Skye, Scotland

How To Pronounce Talisker

Where is Talisker Distillery

A car is by far the easiest way of getting to Talisker Distillery, which is located in the town of Carbost, on the Isle of Skye, north-west Scotland (57.302107, -6.353981), roughly 30 minutes drive from Portree, or 50 minutes from Kyle of Lochalsh.

Please note, Talisker Distillery is not in the region of Talisker - make sure you enter ‘Talisker Distillery’ and NOT simply ‘Talisker’ into your navigation system, like we did the first time, or you’ll end up 4 or 5 miles out of the way.

If bus is your only option, the 608 from Portree to Fiskavaig stops at Talisker Distillery but is not a feasible option on weekends and has a varied timetable throughout the week.

Taxis and private cars are another option good option if you can't/don't want to drive yourself, such as Skye Magical Tours.

One Day Portree - Skye Tour

Tour Skye have a one-day tour from Portree that stops at the Talisker Distillery Visitor Centre for a tasting (does not allow time for a tour) in addition to visiting the other main attractions on Skye, such as the Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr and Quiraing.

Talisker Distillery Tours and Bookings

Talisker Distillery Visitor Centre is open 7 days a week (Monday to Sunday) from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm March to October, and from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm November to February. Note: during winter months the distillery may have to close at short notice due to poor weather conditions.

Talisker Distillery Tour

An expertly guided one hour tour of Talisker Distillery plus a tasting of three (3) drams of Talisker whisky. Children 8 years old and over are permitted on the Talisker Distillery Tour if accompanied by a paying adult. Adult tickets (18+) are £20 per person, and children aged 8 - 17 years are £10 per person (children under 8 are not permitted on distillery tours). Tours are generally at 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm daily. Online advanced bookings are highly recommended as Talisker is a very popular destination for visitors to Skye (especially if it's raining!) and they're often booked up weeks in advance.

Talisker Made By The Sea Tasting Experience (no tour)

A tasting of three (3) drams of Talisker whisky in the Distillery's brand new highly immersive tasting room where you will learn about the history of Talisker Distillery and how their maritime location on Skye contributes to their whisky. Children 8 years old and over are permitted to accompany their parents at this tasting (but not join the tasting obviously). Adult tickets (18+) are £15 per person, and children aged 8 - 17 years are £7.50 per person (children under 8 are not permitted). The tasting and educational experience is highly immersive and uses a combination of light, media, music, sensory moments and special effects that may not be suitable for all audiences. Approximately 30 minutes duration, tastings are generally at 11:00 am daily. Online advanced bookings are highly recommended. Maximum 22 persons per tasting.

Cask Draw and Tasting Experience (no tour)

A premium tasting experience for Talisker Enthusiasts - this 90 minute tutored tasting session will see you sample five (5) Talisker whiskies straight from the cask. An adults only experience (18+), tickets are £150 per person. Tours are generally at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm daily. Online advanced bookings are highly recommended. Wednesdays only at 2.30 pm during winter (Nov to Feb) but daily at 3:00 pm from March to October. Maximum 18 persons per tasting.

Talisker Distillery with a grungy textured overlay

Talisker Distillery Est. 1830, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Useful Visitor Information

  • The little coffee shop across the road from the distillery (Caora Dhubh Coffee Company) does rather good cakes, slices and coffee.
  • If you’ve had a few too many tasty drams and need to hang around Carbost for a bit, or, you caught the bus and have a few hours to kill, check out the Oyster Shed on the road behind the distillery (not a restaurant, take away only).
  • As with all Diageo distilleries, photos are not allowed in production areas, which is most of the distillery. Ethanol is highly flammable, and electronic equipment poses a potential source of ignition. As such, they’ve implemented a policy on all their sites – no electronic devices to be in use in production areas, or where ethanol is likely to be in higher concentrations (like warehouses).

Talisker Distillery Accessibility

Talisker is a relatively accessible distillery (see their Euan's Guide profile) - there is ground level wheelchair accessible entry to the Visitor's Centre and Shop, and a platform lift is available to access the main part of the production areas of the distillery on tours. There are also accessible bathrooms, parking spaces, and carer discounts are available. Telephone Talisker on 01478 614308 or Email talisker@malts.com for more information.

What Other Distilleries Are Near Talisker

While there were initially seven registered distilleries on Skye, Talisker is the only original distillery still operating. Talisker's new neighbours include:

Talisker Whisky

photograph of 20cl Talisker 10 year old bottle and outer packaging box

"On the nose cleanly phenolic ... ashy, smokey ... savoury spicy peaty-ness. The finish cuts off a little bit, it could deliver more if the resources were put into it. Taste wise, plenty of barley sugar, and a good bit of peat reek - definitive but clean phenolic signature." - Ralfy Review 982

photograph of Talisker 12 year old independent bottling from Douglas Laing

A 2009 Talisker single malt from independent bottler Douglas Laing that was matured in a single refill hogshead for 12 years, before being bottled in March 2022 as part of its Old Particular series. Aromas of damp bonfire embers, barbecued mango, charred oak and liquorice fill the nose, complemented by notes of toasted barley, sea salt, citrus fruit, Victoria sponge cake, stewed strawberries and sweet pears throughout the palate. Natural colour and not chill-filtered.

Talisker Distillery Images

Worm Tubs and Kinky Wash Stills

The wash stills at Talisker are unusual, in that the lyne arm (pipe leading from the top of the still) is ‘swan-necked’, with 90 deg turns forming inverse U shapes. The wash still lyne arms bend before entering the wall, and then again outside before entering the worm tubs (see pictures below). Furthermore, at the point where the lyne arm goes into the wall, a purifier pipe returns some of the spirit vapour back to the bulbous wash still for redistillation.

The combination of bulbous wash stills (lots of reflux/greater copper contact/purity) and lyne arm kinks (increased copper contact) would usually result in a ‘light’ spirit. However, Talisker’s continued use of worm-tubs (versus more modern shell and tube condensers) means less exposure overall to copper, than many other distilleries. Therefore, much of the sulphur remains, resulting in the ‘heavy’, peppery, slightly sulphurous characteristics for which Talisker is known.

An Odd Ratio

Talisker Distillery has three Spirit/Low Wines stills, yet only two Wash Stills. Most distilleries have a 1:1 ratio Spirit Stills to Wash Stills. In his visit to Talisker in 1887, Alfred Barnard noted that there were three stills, which makes sense, as Talisker was triple distilled until 1928.  For some reason, even with extensive upgrades and refurbishments since then, the number of stills continues to remain ‘odd’.

In 1960 a Stillman accidentally left one of the Spirit Still covers off. As the still began to heat up, it spewed its flammable contents out through the opening and onto the flaming coals below. Consequently, a fire erupted and ripped through the still house, destroying the stills, though surprisingly the worm tubs were undamaged. The stills were rebuilt again using coal fire as the heat source, but in 1972 this was upgraded to internal steam coil heating.  Also in 1972, the malt floors were demolished and the malted barley acquired from Glen Ord, as it is today.

Talisker Distillery has 3 low wines stills (pictured) and 2 wash stills. An unusual combination, given stills are usually found in pairs (1:1 wash:spirit).

Talisker Distillery has 3 low wines stills (pictured) and 2 wash stills. An unusual combination, given stills are usually found in pairs (1:1 wash:spirit).

Copper tinted photo of Talisker Distillery wash stills and one of the low wines stills

The wash stills are quite unique in having a swan-neck style lyne arm that bends several times before it dips into the worm tubs outside. There is also a purifier pipe extending from where the lyne arm enters the wall, back into the ball-necked wash still.

Black and white photo close up of Talisker Distillery spirit stills

Low wines stills No. 1 and 2, Talisker Distillery

Black and white photo of Talisker Distillery wash and spirit stills

Two of three low wines stills (left) and both wash stills (right) at Talisker Distillery. Talisker was triple distilled until 1928.

Talisker distillery spirit still worm tubs

These are the tubs for the 3 low wines/spirit stills - they have straight arms, unlike the 2 wash stills which have a u-bend.

Talisker Distillery worm tub and lyne arm from wash still

Talisker Distillery Worm Tubs. Timber tubs filled with water cool the spirit vapour back into liquid form as it snakes its way around the copper pipes spiraled inside the tubs. Note the u-shaped line arm leading from the wash stills and into the tub.

Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine washbacks at Talisker Distillery

Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine washbacks at Talisker Distillery

The six Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine washbacks. at Talisker Distillery

Talisker has 6 Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine washbacks. The washbacks hold 53,000 litres but are only charged/filled with 37,000 - 38,000 litres of wort from each mash cycle. Once the yeast is added, the wort will foam and 'grow' as it ferments - the washbacks must not be overfilled or they may flow over.

Golden toned close up of Talisker Distillery copper top mash tun

Stainless steel mash tun with a copper lid. Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye

Stainless steel mash tun with a copper lid. Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye

Stainless steel mash tun with a copper lid. Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye

Talisker distillery spirit safe and stillman Mike

Talisker's spirit safe, feints receiver, and Stillman Mike.

Talisker distillery's bright red porteous malt mill with grungy overlay texture

Porteus Patent Malt Mill, Talisker Distillery

Accommodation On Skye

The widest range of accommodation options on the Isle of Skye is in the town of Portree / Port Righ, otherwise the next biggest town is on the mainland - Kyle of Lochalsh.

The wee town of Plockton is also a lovely spot to find somewhere to stay, though more limited on options as it is rather tiny (and popular, as it was the filming location of the Hamish Macbeth TV series).

Organised Tours to the Isle of Skye from Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow

Talisker Distillery History

Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill founded Talisker Distillery in 1830. They took the lease on Talisker House and farmland, owned by the head of Clan MacLeod, John MacLeod of Dunvegan Castle, and set up the distillery to diversify their income. Hugh MacAskill worked as a ‘tacksman’ through the 1820’s and 30’s for Laird MacLeod – collecting rents and clearing the land of the families that comprised the tiny scattered townships and small farm holdings.

Clearance and Temperance

Like Clynelish, Talisker is a clearance distillery – sheep farming and whisky were far more profitable than the taxes collected off the human inhabitants. Once evicted, the crofters (small farm renters) were expected to move into the newly formed townships of Carbost and Portnalog, else leave Skye, and in some cases, leave Scotland altogether. Some were able to find work in the new distillery, but those that remained mostly did so in poverty

Clearance activities aside, the MacAskill’s distillery initially had a strong local market, and Talisker whisky developed an excellent reputation. Talisker was a favourite tipple of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, which he immortalised in the poem The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad – “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Isla, or Glenlivet!”

The MacAskill’s prowess as farmers and distillers aided them through many years of poor weather and bad harvests. However, farming and distilling expertise was of no help as the Temperance Movement took off, and the consumption of spirits in Scotland fell. By 1848 the distillery had been seized by the North of Scotland Bank.

Fraud and Frustration

Donald MacLennan took on the lease in 1857, but he was bankrupt by 1863. Anderson & Co took control in 1867, but Mr Anderson was found guilty of fraud in 1879. He’d advised merchants that their whisky was in bonded storage when it wasn’t.

Alexander Grigor Allan and Roderick Kemp & Co. acquired Talisker in 1880 and commenced the petitioning of their landlord for the construction of a pier. One of the biggest difficulties for the distillery was (and likely still is) its remote location, which was made worse by the grave difficulty in accessing it. There was no pier until 1900. The landlord, then Norman MacLeod of Dunvegan, refused to build one, so the casks had to be floated 300-400 yards out to ships in Loch Harport.  Likewise, any supplies such as barley or fresh casks towed in.

The refusal to build a pier put many lives and the cargo at risk, as the boats would often arrive at night, and in stormy seas. It was a great source of frustration to the new owners, to the point where Kemp sold his share of the business to Allan in 1892 and went off to buy Macallan Distillery.

In 1894 Allan formed the Talisker Distillery Company, which subsequently merged with Dailuaine-Glenlivet Distillers and Imperial Distillers.  They would form Daluaine-Talisker in 1898.

A New Century and a New Beginning

Talisker Distillery was now in the hands of Thomas Mackenzie who had successfully overseen the enlargement of Dailuaine.  In 1900 he proceeded to upgrade Talisker, building the pier, a connecting tramway to the distillery and distillery workers houses. Notably, Laird Norman MacLeod had died in 1895 – the works approved under the lordship of his son Norman Magnus MacLeod.

Thomas Mackenzie died in 1915, which coincided with a decline in the overall whisky trade, fixed pricing on blended whisky, and World War 1.  These trying times lead to the merger of many smaller distilleries trying to pool resources to stay alive. In 1916 a consortium of distilleries including John Dewar & Sons Ltd, DCL, and John Walker & Sons Ltd purchased Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries.

In 1925 Talisker Distillery was brought fully under the DCL fold as a wholly owned subsidiary. 1925-1928 also saw a significant process change at Talisker, in that they moved from Triple to Double distillation.

DCL would eventually go on to form Diageo, the current owners of Talisker Distillery.

References & Further Reading

This is an affiliate link: if you click this link and make a purchase we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

photograph of glass of whisky and book title World Atlas of Whisky

By award-winning author and whisky expert Dave Broom; explore over 200 distilleries and examine over 400 expressions. Detailed descriptions of the Scottish distilleries can be found here, while Ireland, Japan, the USA, Canada and the rest of the world are given exhaustive coverage. There are tasting notes on single malts from Aberfeldy to Tormore, Yoichi (and coverage of the best of the blends). Six specially created 'Flavour Camp Charts' group whiskies by style and allow readers to identify new whiskies from around the world to try. With over 200 beautiful colour photographs and 21 colour maps locating distilleries and whisky-related sites, this is a stylish celebration of the heritage, romance, craftsmanship and versatility of whisky.

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek. 

About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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  • MrSottobanco says:

    When did Diageo buy Talisker?

    • A really long time ago! In 1916 a consortium of distilleries including John Dewar & Sons Ltd, DCL, and John Walker & Sons Ltd purchased Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries. In 1925 Talisker Distillery was acquired fully by DCL – DCL would eventually become Diageo.

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