Xpedition Oak: a spirit with a sense of adventure

Talisker is set to release its 43-year-old Xpedition Oak single malt – a whisky with notes of the Caribbean, says Chris Carter.

Here’s one for the log books of serious whisky collectors. Next month, an intriguing new single malt leaves these shores, the essence of which has been to the Caribbean and back. Adventurer James Aiken voyaged solo across the Atlantic, from La Gomera in Spain to the sunny island of Antigua, carrying wooden staves secured to the deck of his sailing yacht, Oaken Yarn. Over the course of the 24-day, 3,264-mile journey, the wood was seasoned by the salty air and sea spray.

“Most of my life is focused on the ocean, and the variety of ways that we can interact and learn from it”, says Aiken (pictured below). “This expedition taught me even more and allowed me to connect with nature’s elements in an entirely new way… I cared for the wooden staves aboard, ensuring their safe passage. The crossing was an almost meditative experience in nature: both challenging and a joy.” The staves were then returned to Talisker’s distillery on the Isle of Skye for the final maturation of a very important whisky – the 43-year-old Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge. It is Talisker’s oldest release.

James Aiken aboard the Oaken Yarn

Only 1,830 bottles will be released, the number in homage to Talisker’s founding year, and each accompanied with a piece of the staves from the oceanic crossing, the route of which traced that undertaken by the rowers of the annual Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The first bottle will be auctioned later this year for the benefit of Parley for the Oceans, with the aim of restoring and protecting 100 million square metres underwater forests along coastlines by 2023.

Talisker is also inviting outdoor enthusiasts to register their interest to join James Aiken on an “Ultimate Rewilding Adventure” on the Isle of Skye in 2022 (date to be confirmed). Over three days, one lucky adventurer and a companion will embark on a three-day coastal sailing and wilderness expedition led by Aiken, reconnecting with nature and enjoying a private tour of the distillery. For details, head to taliskerultimateadventure.com before 21 August 2021 (UK and US residents only).

So, what’s the whisky like? According to the tasting notes, the Xpedition Oak has a “deep clear amber appearance” with “excellent beading”. The nose is “mellow overall and very slightly spicy, with a fruity top note of bruised apple and a smooth, aromatic hint of wax”, beneath which lie “notes of canvas and varnished wood [mingled] with maritime hints of sea-air and warm”. The body is “full” and the palate projects “a smooth texture and a vibrant, juicy start [introducing] a sweet, rich, intensity with a fresh, balancing splash of ocean salt spray”.

The effect is “lightly drying before an expected volcanic warmth envelops the palate”. “Mesmerising overall, like a distant waterfall in sunshine, it cascades with smooth, rich flavour” – in other words, a whisky worthy of its £3,500 recommended price tag. And maybe it was just me, but the notes of sugar cane I got from a wee taste recalled to mind the sunny afternoons of a few years ago I spent at English Harbour in Antigua, the far-end destination of those deck-bound staves. Warming notes indeed.

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