The word “festival” in this country conjures images of scantily clad young people in Native American headdresses, standing in a field bopping their feathered heads to mundane music while sore jaws grind overworked molars. But as anybody who has already braved Hobart in the winter during this weird festival of sex and death knows: Dark Mofo is not so much a festival as it is a state of mind, and an adventure.
Temporary tents are a scarcity, rather, events take place in established buildings; high heels and mini skirts don’t much agree with the cobblestones and near-freezing temperatures of Salamanca Place by night, and the stereotypical soon-to-be-brown fields of green are passed over for the paved laneways of Hobart city proper as, for another year, Dark Mofo ensconces itself amongst the harbourside city, which braces for an influx of tourists at the unlikeliest time of year: the winter solstice.
And, for the third year in a row, Talisker, the distinctive dram from the Isle of Skye, has supported the event as a liquor sponsor.
Setting up shop in two locations–along the Dark Path through Hobart’s Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and inside the now-iconic Winter Feast–Talisker’s team was on hand to dish up lashings of boozy hot chocolate, ladles of hot-toddies, freshly-shucked Pipeclay Lagoon Pacific oysters and blue-cheese jaffles to chilly festivalgoers. The Wilderness Bar, located next to the site of Hobart’s now-abandoned zoo, provided the perfect mid-walk pitstop along the weird trail of installation and performance art.
But, contrary to the name, Dark Mofo’s charms aren’t reserved for nighttime activities.
Departing the harbour via a stunning 1965 De Havilland Beaver (read: a very old-school Canadian seaplane), a small media contingent was treated to lunch on Satellite Island: a somewhat remote private island in the south of Tasmania, about an hour’s drive south of Hobart, hosted by Sarah Glover. And a lunch consisting of foraged ingredients from one of Australia’s most lush and plentiful parts is a fitting match for Talisker, a whisky from an island almost perfectly antipodean, geographically speaking, to our location, yet with very many similarities.
The icy winds that sweep across the verdant fields of this small island are inherently maritime in their nature, betraying their Antarctic origins in temperature, but carrying some of the sea with them. Wild oysters, served straight from the rock and finished with a splash of the minerally dram and butter over an open wood fire are a perfect match for the surrounds.
Glover’s well-documented penchant for plucking ingredients straight from the land (and sea) and turning them into healthy and sustainable dishes is well and truly on display: her kitchen, a small fire built on pebbles right where the icy water laps the island over its natural rock shelf, is a veritable collection of dishes including freshly caught squid and ocean trout, venison broth (there are 60-odd deer on the island) and potatoes fried in ume butter. Sarah also poaches some thinly sliced black-lip abalone in its own seawater for a few seconds. Like sea urchin, the delicacy grows on the island’s marine doorstep and can be fished out of the water fresh, when needed, though as this writer who will swim just about anywhere can attest, the waters surrounding the island are fucking freezing.
But then when Talisker awaits your return to dry land, it’s bearable. Just.
Talisker’s home on the Isle of Skye is a rugged distillery in a fairly remote part of Scotland, where facing the Arctic winds is wont for the few residents who call that part of the world home, much like the south of Tasmania.
And, though the Isle of Skye might not have a winter festival devoted to fire, music, challenging ideas and our own mortality, it does have Talisker. And Talisker is a suited dram to enjoy during the festival that’s put Hobart on the map, not despite it not being one of the many storied and celebrated whiskies to be produced in the tiny southern state, but for the very reason that it’s from just about as far away as you can get from the Apple Isle, proving that distance means little and whisky is a travelling and evolving story: delicious wherever you may be.