Talisker whisky is fiery, peppery and smoky, but does it work with food? We hosted our first Talisker-themed food-pairing night five years ago at the TWE shop, so a sequel was long overdue. Diageo brand ambassador Colin Dunn was on hosting duties, and began by announcing that of all of the company’s 28 whisky distilleries, Talisker offered the ‘most breadth of flavour’. So, on to the tasting…
Talisker 57° North with Jersey oysters
An intriguing start, given the high strength of the whisky, but this turned out to be a great match. Bottled at 57% ABV, the Talisker delivered a fearsome whack of peppery spice, but the saline-rich oyster stood up to it, adding up to a tasty combo of salt and pepper.
Colin Dunn: ‘The DNA of Talisker is red-hot chilli pepper’
Talisker Storm with venison chorizo
Heading into choppier waters now. Storm is a turbo-charged version of Talisker, with more pepper, spice and smoke. And just as well, as the venison chorizo it was served with had a big kick of chilli heat at the finish. The Talisker stood up to the meat, but overall the heat from both sides battled it out rather than complementing each other.
CD: ‘This is spice and pepper in HD!’
Talisker 18 Year Old with Stichelton cheese
After all that vim and vigour, this third pairing was a much calmer affair, and many people’s favourite of the night. Talisker 18 Year Old is a thing of beauty, offering a honeyed richness that paired wonderfully with the piquant, creamy Stichelton. The perfect match.
CD: ‘The distillery manager once told me that Talisker doesn’t age – he said it should all be released at eight years old…’
Time for a halftime break, with Talisker Skye served on its own, followed by a Skye Rocket cocktail created by top mixologist Andrea Montague. Skye is the newest Talisker release, and is a gentler expression with less of the peppery heat that typifies the distillery’s output. Combining Talisker 10 Year Old with lemon and apricot, as well as rosemary-and-rocket-infused sugar syrup, what lifted the Skye Rocket was the addition of a rocket-leaf garnish, delivering a peppery hit to balance out the sweetness of the liquid.
CD: ‘Talisker Skye was designed to break people in gently; it’s Talisker with two sugars’
Talisker Port Ruighe with almond and orange cake
We’re pushing the pepper to one side briefly, and trying a Talisker much more on the fruity side. Port Ruighe is finished in ruby port casks, adding a red-berry note and slight jamminess to the whisky. We tried it with a sticky almond and orange cake, and despite my reservations about the red fruits in the Port Ruighe fighting with nutty, citrusy cake, it actually worked well, primarily due to the similar sweetness levels in both.
CD: ‘We’re moving into dessert time…’
Talisker 2002 Distillers Edition with salted caramel praline
Something of a surprise, this one. If you matched a Talisker finished in amoroso (similar to cream sherry) with praline, you’d expect the results to be a sweet, sugary overload. Not a bit of it. What made this pairing was the delicious salinity in both the whisky – juicy and refreshing – and in the salted-caramel praline. Neither were particularly sweet, and the two worked beautifully together.
CD: ‘Talisker in a leather coat on a bed of oaky spice’
Talisker 30 Year Old – served solo
A fitting way to end. Rather than a long speech, Colin instructed the room to take a mouthful, close our eyes for 30 seconds and contemplate it. Despite a few sneaky peeks, the room did as they were told, with all attention firmly on the whisky. Over those 30 seconds, the whisky was rich, refreshing, lip-smacking and soft, with bitter-orange-marmalade notes blending with the soft, salty peat.
CD: ‘Talisker acoustic. A volcanic whisky from a volcanic island’
Whisky tastings with food always go down well, and this was no exception. Many thanks to Colin Dunn for (another) bravura performance, and also to the top-notch Borough Market team who supplied the delicious pairings and introduced them to guests.