Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hebridian Sharker with Talisker Skye

There are many things I enjoyed about Tex Geddes' 'Hebridean Sharker', which is a real curiosity of a book. When it was reissued about 5 years ago I was mostly interested because Geddes had worked as a harpooner for Gavin Maxwell, he features in 'Harpoon at a Venture', Maxwell's first, and arguably best book, and I wanted to know more.

I was even more intrigued when I read that Geddes (by all accounts quite a character, and once described as a sort of cross between Ivan the terrible and Popeye) wrote this book partly to have a bit of a (I think friendly) dig at Maxwell and the success of his book. Geddes isn't the writer that Maxwell was, and 'Hebridean Sharker' is a less complex affair than 'Harpoon at a Venture' - it's straight boys own adventure and biography - but then all things considered Geddes was probably a better balanced personality.

Accounts of shark fishing won't be for everybody, but this book also documents life on the west coast at a very particular time, and there are some great anecdotes in here. Reading out one of them to D, it turned out I was telling him a story about his uncle, which was an added bonus, though it's the almost opening scene as Tex sets out with a lifeboat crew (pretty much on his wedding night) which is most remarkable. It's certainly genuine heroism. (Original review is Here)

Anyway, 'Hebridean Sharker' particularly came to mind as I see all the updates from Shetland friends currently being battered by Storm Caroline tonight, and contemplate our chances of snow in rather less storm lashed Leicester (calm, but temperatures dropping). In either location it's a night for getting cosy and reading about other people's adventures.

Talisker, distilled on Skye, is an obvious choice, not just because of its physical location, but for its peppery, smokey, character. My preferred expression of Talisker is the distillers edition, where the spirit spends a bit of time in ex amoroso Sherry casks - it's a politer, toned down version of Talisker. I like the 10 year old too with its peppery kick, it's a great sit by the fire after a walk in wild weather malt. Skye, along with Storm, are relatively recent additions to the Talisker stable, and both of them accentuate different characteristics of the Talisker malt. With Skye there's a real chilli pepper note that comes through, especially if you hold the spirit under your gums for a moment (a sales rep made me do it, I wouldn't necessarily recommend the exercise).

One of the surprising things about single malt is how relatively modern the concept is - the form we're familiar with only really dates from the 1970's, before that blends were far more common - brand names being a guarantee of both style and quality. Since then the whisky market has continued to evolve, and demand has continued to increase. This can cause problems for distillers, whisky isn't whisky until it's 3 years old, and the age statement on a bottle refers to the younges spirit in there. To get consistency in your 10 year old whisky (each barrel of spirit will be different depending on how wood and liquor have reacted to each other) there will be much older whisky in the mix. It means you have to guess your market a decade or more ahead, and the current popularity of whisky has meant that those age statements are rather limiting. They've also taught customers that age equals quality.

It doesn't necessarily do so, older whisky is more expensive because the production costs are higher; more of it has evaporated into the angels share and you have to store it. Young whisky has a freshness that can be really appealing, but who would pay the same for something that says 5 years old as they would for a 12 year old malt? The No Age Statement (nas) whiskies have been the answer to that. I also wonder if they have more in common with the single malts of earlier years when it was more of a niche product.

Either way this particular malt, like the book, won't be for everybody, but if you don't mind a few rough edges both have a lot going for them.


  1. I may have said it before when you did your Gin series, but I can't overstate how much I enjoy your book & drink posts. There is something so very satisfying about the concept and the writing. Have you ever thought of publishing them elsewhere? Anyway, just wanted to say how much they are appreciated and enjoyed. Thank you!

  2. Thank you! I can't tell you how nice that is to hear. I like the books and drinks matches, they're fun to write and as good a way as any if brushing up my wine and spirits knowledge. I'd love to find someone else with a different taste in wines/drinks and literature to do them with to widen out the book choices - all suggestions would be gratefully recieved!