Due to various touring responsibilities it’s been a fair while since I was able to turn my hand to what really matters – whisky deathmatch, but finally I have time to give the third of our second round face-offs the attention it deserves, and ARRRRRR but it’s a mouth-pummeling heavyweight clash between two tough and hairy, smoky, savoury, salty sea-dogs in Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Talisker 18. Shiver me timbers.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan – 57.1% ABV, £61.95
Talisker 18 – 45.8% ABV, £58.49
Ardbeg Corryvreckan employed demonic arts to overcome Bruichladdich Infinity in a tightly fought Islay grudge match. That Bruichladdich surely was a great all-rounder, but the Corryvreckan was something else. It smelled, “like paint stripper meets wet earth at a barbecue and they have beautiful salty babies together” and upon tasting, “the magic portals are flung wide and the mysteries of the cosmos revealed. An utterly strange array of tastes. You know that sweet Willy Wonker does that’s a whole meal in one go? Like that. Ruggedly savoury and fearsomely dry. There’s pine in there, liquorice, maybe? A hint of those disinfectant capsules you used to get in urinals. Not that I ever ate one, but, you know … then there’s spicy pepperiness, coffee and bitter chocolate, smoke throughout and lingering long after. Odd, odd, odd, but in a good way. A very good way. The very opposite of easy drinking – challenging, difficult, baffling, endlessly surprising. An evil genius. A dark lord. The most eccentric of Bond villains. A mighty sorcerer driven insane by experiments with forces from beyond our dimension.” It is the strongest, most expensive, and most uncompromisingly challenging whisky among our twelve contestants.
Talisker 18 was in fact the loser in a no-holds-barred seaside duel with fellow Island giant Highland Park 18, but came through as a wildcard. I said of the Talisker, “Very rich, almost gloopy, very fruity, very — KERPOW! It explodes in your face with a ripping broadside. Huge spiciness, almost hot chilli-like fires of Mount Doom. Muscular, merciless, a hairy-chested, tattoo-forearmed pirate captain. Avast ye, me hearties. Big smoke. Big beach bonfires. Everything about it is big. Ships aflame, down to Davy Jones’s Locker, full fathom five thy father lies. Almighty, tongue tingling finish with a lingering memory of smokey salt. Zounds.” Truly it is a warming bear hug of a whisky and there’s a lot to like – the very thing for an arctic expedition, but for me the Highland Park had the edge in cleverness, subtlety and versatility.
Ouch. Two powerful and uncompromising rivals here. Those with mouth ulcers need not apply, and I suspect a good deal of palate cleansing will be required between tastings. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do…
The Corryvreckan has perhaps lost some of its crazy edge with further sampling. At least you go in knowing something of what to expect, but there’s something new every time. That strange heat, that fearsome atacama dryness, that earthy seaweed raw alcohol tang, that baffling mixture of tastes with the dark chocolate bitter coffee finish. Some of its unholy power is in the high strength, but even with a dash of water it takes no prisoners and makes no apologies and dares the witchfinder general to hunt it down and burn it at the stake if he thinks he’s hard enough.
In this intimidating, if not to say insane company, the Talisker seems almost easygoing. A friendly, jovial, welly-booted old merchant seaman. More Captain Birdseye than Captain Blackbeard. More peppery than super spicy. It’s amazingly heavy and gloopy, given its lower strength, though 46% is certainly nothing to complain about. It remains a very nice, classy whisky, the perfect thing for a chilly winter evening before the fire with a tartan blanket pulled up to your neckbeard. It’s been unlucky in its opponents, without a doubt. It’s certainly more drinkable than the Ardbeg but in the end the gobsmacking strangeness of Corryvreckan cannot be caged, cannot be controlled, understand this as you die, ever pathetic, ever fools!
Bonus points to anyone who can identify the source of that classic quote…