“The king o’drinks, as I conceive it,
Talisker, Isla, or Glenlivet!”
Robert Louis Stevenson
“We do not Sow”
House Greyjoy Motto
Game of Thrones returns to our screens soon, and whisky fills our glasses now. Today we are looking at the Talisker Select Reserve, the House of Greyjoy expression of the Game of Thrones Edition. The Greyjoys inhabit a stark, desolate landscape, a blasted island bereft of comfort and full of hardships. The whisky expression chosen to emulate this is Talisker, coming from the Isle of Skye, north western Scotland, a dram full of salt, spice and the longing to make any worthy glass a home. While the Greyjoys may dwell on an inhospitable island, Skye instead gives bountiful flavour and depth to its whiskies, the terroir of the island clear in the dram. Touched by briny maritime character, with water from Cnoc na Speireag (Hawkhill) and the peaty saddle of Carbost Burn, Talisker shows us how a stricken island can give great character to an amber drop. Were the Greyjoys to plunder the Isle, their hearts would surely be taken away by the evocative notes in the whisky, as they pay the Iron Price and praise to the the Drowned God to have one more drop.
The smoke of a burnt out village recently taken for plunder rises to greet our nose, as our treasure come forth in wooden chests. Peppery fudge unknown to us soon gives way to dark chocolate with a scattering of salt and chili flakes. Dried spice lies within there too, all wrapped in dried seaweed to keep away from the harsh elements. As we venture forth to the beach we are struck with the scent of salt waves driven hard against the shore, and we find one more reward nearby; some fool has left a bundle of fruit cake in their beach hut, stuffed full of orange rind, apricots and raisins, dried over peat charcoal and doused with alcohol to keep for our long voyage. We burn the hut to the ground, and the smell of burning wood and hay envelopes us as we sip on a plundered bottle of nectar.
And that first swig reveals the islands true beauty. Dried fruits straps run over our tongue, a peaty and woody smash sprinkled from on high with cinnamon sugar, aniseed, Cajun spice, chili and thick slices of chorizo. We follow this meaty palate to lamb biltong, nduja and pork scratchings. Touches of salt water drift in and out like the rising tide, with dark chocolate moving through us, and sticky cooked fruits hanging from the roof of our mouths. At last, we find a touch of toasted soda bread, scorched by fire and smeared with lavender jam. And then the finish, wide and powerful as the sea, a peaty thump with spicy pepper. Over time the salt flies away, revealing touches of brilliant sugary sweetness, and suddenly the dram ends, a reminder of how quickly the sea can take everything away.
Talisker has always performed well, no doubt why Robert Louis Stevenson loved it so, and in the Select Reserve we see those qualities that makes Talisker a worthy addition to any shelf. Brilliantly spiced, well salted and peated, the dram is a highlight of Diageo’s extensive portfolio, and of the Game of Thrones series. It seems odd at first that they have chosen such a rich and bountiful dram for a house so bereft of flavour, yet that first sip shows us just what a Greyjoy and the Drowned God can give. Bottles of the Game of Thrones series range from high to low, with Ireland seeing precious little of these drams, yet talk has been heard of a few lucky stores with some left in stock in Dublin, and others too yet to host tastings of the drams. In the meantime, I’ll be raising my dram now and then, at least until my bottle runs out I need to plunder another.