Two hundred years ago, two brothers crossed the Atlantic for Scotland’s wave-battered Isle of Skye, where they founded the picturesque Talisker Distillery. Today, a typical visit to that storied distillery concludes with a five-minute stroll through peaty countryside to the Oyster Shed, where the morning harvest from nearby waters is served on the half shell. Two drops of Single Malt on a freshly shucked oyster instantly merges the briny landscape, the whisky, and the nearby sea. It’s that symbiosis that inspired Talisker, a sustainably focused spirits brand, to expand its conservation efforts to New York Harbor. The project? It, too, pairs whisky with oysters—about a billion of them.
Oysters Aren't Just For Shucking
One of the world’s most sustainable species, oysters are crucial to oceanic health. A single organism can filter 50 gallons of water per day, and their beds—reef-like deposits of shells and living oysters—provide critical habitat to myriad other species while buffering coastal erosion. Before pollution from industrialization nearly wiped them out, oyster beds—comprising trillions of oysters—covered as many as 200,000 acres in New York Harbor, and New York City was the world’s oyster culture epicenter.
Enter the Billion Oyster Project
What began as a science experiment on Governors Island has morphed into an ambitious goal: to reintroduce one billion oysters to the harbor by 2035. And since 2013, with the help of some 10,000 volunteers, the aptly named Billion Oyster Project has already introduced 30 million oysters on 13 reefs over seven acres.
To further bolster the project’s momentum, Talisker is funding a crucial shell recovery effort. "Our ability to collect shells is critical to our long-term restoration efforts," says Madeline Wachtel, the project’s deputy director. “With Talisker funding the shell collection program, we’re able to ramp up collection at more restaurants—we’d love to collect all the shells in the city one day." For the uninitiated, here’s how the process works: Refuse shells are gathered from area bars and restaurants (1.5 million pounds have been collected to date) and taken by boat to Governors Island, where they cure in the sun. Later, they’re set in brackish water tanks and seeded with oyster larvae, which anchor themselves to the shells in search of crucial minerals to form their own encasements. Once that happens, the newly established oysters are placed in reef structures around the harbor.
What You Can Do to Help
Altruism keeps the project moving forward. (A volunteer day of shoveling shells by the Talisker crew launched this partnership.) Visit billionoysterproject.org to donate or learn more about volunteering. Or catch an event: “We are planning on hosting Oyster Socials with Talisker and Billion Oyster Project later in the year,” says Jamie Young, Diageo North America’s director of single malts. “The whisky and oyster pairings with friends are the draw, but driving awareness about how good oysters are for the environment and our oceans is the ultimate goal.”
Founded in 1830, Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky is the oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye, one of the most remote and rugged – yet beautiful – landscapes in Scotland. Talisker’s maritime and briny notes are like a warm welcome from a wild sea.