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Tuesday 18 May 2010

Welcome Aboard!!

Last week, I had a mini travel meltdown, much in the same vein as the wonderfully funny film- 'Trains, Planes and Automobiles'
I first got stuck in an unbelievable traffic jam, all for the sake of a seemingly inept team of electricians digging up the same piece of road, which another seemingly inept team from a telecommunications company had dug up and filled in only days before. Then, on my way to a whisky tasting, my train ground to a halt as the driver had 'clocked off' early with no one able to locate his replacement.

The trilogy of travel tragedy was completed by the return of the volcanic ash cloud delaying some friends I had staying. Sadly, it looks like it might return again next week... NOOOOO!
It's times like this, when there's only really a few options left dear readers;

1. Become a reclusive type, only venturing out on foot to procure more whisky.

2. Charter an overnight piggyback from a large muscular gentleman (ala, Geoff Capes- World's Strongest Man, 1983 and champion Budgerigar breeder)

3. Locate the nearest 70ft yacht and slip on a piped boating blazer.

Admittedly, finding a local yacht is not that easy if you live in Tamworth (or central London for that matter) but the feel of a maritime wind rushing through your locks is enough to get me feeling giddy, quicker than you can say 'Howards Way'

All this leads me to a recent excursion I took over in Venice. There are no cars, or trains to screw up your travelling plans, just lots of open water and even smaller water ways, with which you can traverse this diverse and architecturally unique city.
My last visit to Venice was as a small child and I seem to remember becoming bored within 5 minutes of viewing yet another glass blowing museum with my parents. However this time was very different- it involved drinking Talisker, a visit to the legendary 'Harry's Bar' and a short trip on an immaculately restored sailing vessel.

Talisker has a number of associations with the sea. Firstly there's no escaping that wonderfully evocative coastal aroma, which tells us many a tale about life on the Isle of Skye. It is also one of the destinations on the (now famous) Classic Malts Cruise, which takes would-be sailors on a 200-mile voyage through the Inner Hebrides, from Oban to Skye, and back south via the distilleries of Islay. Now the Italians have got in on the act, with their very own 2000km whisky cruise, starting in Genoa on the West coast of Italy, visiting Naples and Palermo on the way, with the finish line in Venice, to the North East of the country.

The boat in question is a wonderful piece of history. Built in 1897, it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory, with all the modern sailing gizmos such as motorised rigging and sonar all hidden beneath the authentic wooden decking.

Our short trip around the Venetian coastline started with several restorative cocktails in Harry's Bar, made famous as Hemingway's watering hole of choice and as the creator of the Bellini. Rain had descended giving Venice a murky character, reminiscent of the film 'Don't Look Now', but little was to dampen our spirits as we took the vessel out of the harbour. If anything, the slightly choppy sea and damp air almost gave the impression that a little piece of Skye had come to Italy, perfect for a Talisker tasting!

As I took the wheel (before downing any drams, I assure you) a real sense of calm washed over me- I've never been much of a sailor (my Great Uncle had the sea legs in our family) and for a brief moment, I began to understand how strong-willed men and women can suddenly abandon their lives on land and take to the high seas, in search of adventure and a sense of the unknown. It is a formidable beast the sea, with the ability to turn on anyone who cares to disrespect its authority in a mere heartbeat. Fortunately for me, the sun had just started to come out which signalled the beginning of our Talisker tasting, which included 6 expressions from the range.

We've reviewed a good number of Talisker's on here before, but never out in the open (and certainly not on the ocean!) so I was keen to see how the briney air and the undoubtedly beautiful background scenery would influence the character of this superb whisky. Here are the highlights.

First up: A liberal measure of the 10 yr old, which as expected, gives out bags of soft peat, mixed with a classic salty mouthfeel and slightly hot chilli finish. To coin a phrase from a good friend of ours, 'it goes down like a waterfall and comes up again like a volcano'. A solid and definitive start then.

Next: the 18yo. I haven't tried this for a good while, since I gave the remaining half bottle I had been keeping to my neighbour, as a forfeit for losing a chess match. Grrr.

Talisker 18 yo - 45.8%

Nose: Sweet candied fruit, almonds, (hint of sweet marzipan) classic Talisker peat and a more pronounced pepperiness, with some lovely coal dust notes emerging.

Palate: Humbugs, more candied fruit, with a sweet peat smoke twisting its way around the tongue.

Finish: Lengthy and sweet, with a hint of salt emerging at the death.

Overall: I think this could have only been bettered by having our own Tenor serenading us whilst we drank it!

Talisker Distillers Edition (2009) 45.8% Distilled 1998 - final maturation in Amoroso Sherrywood

Nose: Toffee apples, with a sweet Demerera sugar note, drier sherry notes and a hint of wet hay and soft smoke.

Palate: Much sweeter on the palate than the 10yo, with red apples, more brown sugar, then into the hint of Talisker pepper and smoke that we know and love.

Finish: Woody notes come to the fore, with a sherry/wine note lingering in the mouth.

Overall: You can see the influence of the Amoroso wood on this, but fortunately, it hasn't dominated the original Talisker too much, just nudged it along in a different direction. Very good indeed.

Talisker 30 yo - 2009 bottling 53.1%

Nose: More candied fruit (Rhubarb and Custards - remember them?) but this time floral notes too- rose petals, mixed with a dose of Iodine, soft peat, Cream soda and some white chocolate. So much more delicate than any of the other expressions. With water, a lighter grassy note comes through.

Palate: An explosion of fruit, with strawberries, plums, with a hint of the Talisker pepper. With water, more fruit notes emerge with a lighter creaminess. Also, hints of Earl Grey tea come through. Fruity and aromatic. Not the first thing that Talisker conjures up, but this never ceases to amaze and delight in equal measure.

Finish: Lingering traces of sweetness merge into pepper and a drying cedarwood note.

Overall: A superb expression, made all the more special by the surroundings.

The sun has finally fully reared its head and we shore up the yacht to the quayside, near to the Basilica di San Marco. Quite a few people are drawn to the vessel and before long, more whisky is poured and the conversation is in full flow. Although this will be the yacht's final mooring place for a while, the entire voyage around the coast (expertly skippered by Captain Davide) has been a real success, not only bringing a taste of Skye to Italian whisky lovers but also a sense of adventure. One thing's for sure, it conclusively proves that Talisker is the ultimate Maritime malt- for those of you that fancy taking to the unknown waters, there's only one dram to fill into your hip flasks with!