REVIEW: Game of Thrones Single Malts

Last year, the ‘Game of Thrones Single Malts‘ took the world by storm, every fan of the books and HBO Series went mad and bottles of their favorite houses quickly became collectibles, always sold out everywhere. Luckily, DIAGEO heard this global cry of desperation and answered the fans’ prayers: Supplies have been replenished and having a look online or in dedicated liquor stores should easily help you find one or more of these legendary bottlings.

But whether one stands behind Sansa, is loyal to Danaerys or is as devoted as a member of the Night’s Watch, a lot of Game of Thrones-fans aren’t the biggest connoisseurs of Single Malt Whiskies (nothing wrong with that, obviously) and have little to no idea what ‘liquid’ they’d be obtaining when supporting their fav House.

And that’s what I’m here for today: to help you find out which ‘Game of Thrones Single Malt’ you’d possibly fancy the most, because if you’re spending money on one or more of these bottlings, you might as well have a clue about what you’ll be drinking. I’m not here to question your loyalty to your preferred House, but I do feel that at times we all should be a bit more like a sellsword, whose allegiance lies where the best dram is to be poured (Bronn would be proud).

A little bit of info before we commence:

  • The order in which I’m presenting the Whiskies is arranged alphabetically to the names of the great Houses.
  • There is no scoring/rating, but I am adding my humble opinion.
  • I drink and I know things, but I’m not a self-proclaimed know-it-all on Single Malt, add to that, tasting notes are NOT exact science, so interpretations might differ. I sampled each of the Malts at least three times, each time in a different setting and in different company, which also influenced the way I perceived them.
  • No House tried to bribe me while writing this blog post, nor will I let my personal allegiance to my preferred House influence the writing of this piece.

What follows are descriptions of each of the original 8 bottlings of the Game of Thrones Single Malt Series, standing for the 7 Great Houses and The Night’s Watch. This does not include the latest, ninth, bottling (Mortlach – 15 years), which was recently released to celebrate the union of the Six Kingdoms.

HOUSE BARATHEON (Royal Lochnagar 12 / 40%)
_DSC9586A House that set the tone in the beginning of the series, with the Baratheons ruling the Seven Kingdoms and King Robert sitting on the Iron Throne. A Royal House, paired with a Royal whisky, as (Royal) Lochnagar is one of only two active Single Malt distilleries that possesses a Royal Warrant, granted by Queen Victoria, after her visit to the distillery in 1848.

Old gold in hue, with creamy, sweet spices in the nose. It’s tender, yet has, with its 12 years, enough maturity. Influence of wood is more present than in most other expressions and freshly grated lemon leads the way from nose to palate. It’s a sweet, yet vibrant Whisky, with dried grass and some burnt sugar getting more apparent with each sip. The liquid knows elegance and finds itself a medium long finish that turns the burnt sugar into creamy caramel while it fades away.

While, in the saga, the Baratheons were sneakily being played by the Lannisters, this Royal Lochnagar 12 doesn’t get fooled so easily. Even though it isn’t the most powerful or bold of the range, it definitely was one of the two biggest surprises, representing the amiable side of Robert. A whisky fit to celebrate his friendship with Ned Stark.

HOUSE GREYJOY (Talisker Select Reserve / 45,8%)
_DSC9623House Greyjoy, rulers over the Iron Islands, are perfectly represented by a bold Talisker, the renowned Single Malt from the Isle of Skye. Rugged rocks, dramatic landscapes… The biggest and northernmost Island of the Inner Hebrides would easily be called home by these worshippers of the Drowned God.

Talisker breathes power, spice and smoke, yet all of it flooded with its signature maritime character. In the nose, you are greeted by these exact aromas: there’s salted dark chocolate and roasted pepper, coastal woodsmoke slowly burning. Take it to the palate and both warm citrus and ginger are added to this mix of chocolate and pepper, the initial tones never far away. This Select Reserve is sweet and smoky, with fierceness slowly burning, leaving a long finish.

The Ironborn have themselves a beautiful creature in their hands. Nothing to drown, only to drown yourself in, preferably on a cold Winter’s night. It’s one that can stand its ground; definitely more Yara than Theon. Or as the latter would say about his sister: “She is a reaver. She is a warrior. She is ironborn!

HOUSE LANNISTER (Lagavulin 9 / 46%)
_DSC9598House Lannister, rulers of the Westerlands, are one of the most powerful families of Westeros. They are loved and hated for many reasons and by many people. No family seems to be as torn and as loyal at the same time. For the range, they’ve been paired with the legendary Lagavulin distillery of Islay, known for its bold Single Malts. “Hear me roar”, befitting both the House and Whisky!

This nine-year-old ain’t a minor: it’s a mature, rich and brutal whisky. Upon nosing it has the signature ‘sweet & smoke’ the Islay Distillery is known for. There’s so much fruitiness to it, as if a basket with drupes, orchard fruits and tropical fruits is being sliced open left and right. All seems then charred, covered by a blanket of smoke. The fruitiness doesn’t leave the palate: It becomes creamier, thicker and bolder. The whisky covers a wide array of flavors, followed by a long finish. Ultimately, the fruit fades away, with thick, appealing, smoke lingering on.

The Whisky represents the family of Lannisters quite well, it has Cercei’s patience and anger, Jaime’s loyalty, Tyrion’s love for life and Tywin’s experience. A Lannister always pays his debts, and so does this 9 year old Lagavulin!

NIGHT’S WATCH (Oban Bay Reserve / 43%)
_DSC9568The Night’s Watch, who reside in Castle Black, overlook the lands beyond the Wall and protect  Westeros for what lies beyond. They get paired with Oban, a distillery overlooking the bay that separates the Scottish mainlands from the Islands, a village surrounded by rugged landscapes. A perfect scene is set!

Coming in pitch black bottle, with the Oath of the Night’s Watch printed on it, this is a more than stunning release. The liquid inside, a new golden Whisky, has a lot of richness in the nose. There’s dark bitter chocolate, being drizzled over brandied cherries, all served on a wooden plate on which spices seem toasted. The burnt spices, think nutmeg and cinnamon, get accompanied by both candied and fresh orange peel, the latter adorned with a crown of cloves. In its finish, the drizzled cherry returns, dense, fearless and covering the entire palate.

With this Bay Reserve, the Night’s Watch have something to keep them warm in their barren surroundings. This bottle holds comfort and strength, and while maybe a bit too dense for some, it’s A Whisky worth heroic efforts. Hey, if the Royal Navy used to receive a daily ration of Rum, the Watchers on the Wall definitely deserve a daily dram of this Oban… for this night and all the nights to come!

HOUSE STARK (Dalwhinnie Winter Frost / 43%)
_DSC9577House Stark are good, strong and righteous people, living in Winterfell, in the barren North of Westeros. Befittingly, they’re paired with Dalwhinnie Distillery, located in one of the coldest villages in the entire UK. Much like the Starks, Dalwhinnie Whiskies are trustworthy, good and shaped by frigid temperatures.

As cold as it is in both Winterfell and Dalwhinnie, as heartwarming is the Single Malt that’s bottled for the range. The copper gold liquid immediately shines brightly, its characteristics of honey and soft winter spice the first thing you smell upon pouring the liquid in your glass. On the palate, there’s an abundance of dried and honey-glazed fruits. It’s followed by some custard and freshly zested orange. The palate evolves and brings more malt, with a sweet, freshly-baked bread finish.

All is comforting, yet (maybe a bit disappointingly?) all is very tame. ‘Winter Frost’ truly embodies Ned Stark, it’s ‘the good guy’ of the range. And while you want to love it with all of your heart, you also want to shake it to wake it… now it feels more like it’s rocking you to sleep, under a comforting blanket safe behind the castle’s walls. And with that, it just doesn’t do justice to many others of the family, nor the way their personalities evolve throughout the entire storyline.

HOUSE TARGARYEN (Cardhu Gold Reserve / 40%)
_DSC9607The Targaryens, in the series almost exclusively represented by Daenerys, carry a name that strikes fear into the hearts of men and women. The pairing with Speyside-located Cardhu Distillery seems a bit ‘tame’, in comparison to the Mother of Dragons, until you discover that from its inception in 1824, Cardhu was led by a woman, Helen Cumming, who stood her ground in a male-dominated world.

On the nose, the Cardhu Gold Reserve is soft,  there’s sliced fresh fruit and oats, drizzled with some floral honey, reminiscent of a granola bowl. On the palate there’s more of the same, though there’s some spices, mainly pimento, coming through. The fruitiness disappears and leaves a short to medium bittersweet finish, mainly kept alive by hints of burnt caramel.

A Single Malt that sadly doesn’t contain the fierceness and boldness of Danaerys and her dragons. It knows a promising start and buildup, but doesn’t deliver like it could (and should), much like Daenerys herself in the final season of the series. Yet, before you think I’m completely writing this off, I do think there’s something to it, there’s definitely some life and fire to it, pairing very well with Vermouth in a classic Rob Roy.

Dracarys”? Maybe a little bit, let’s say Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion haven’t grown to full force.

HOUSE TULLY (The Singleton of Glendullan Select / 40%)
_DSC9621House Tully, rulers of the Riverlands, are not as legendary as the other Houses represented in this range, but they’ve proven their worth. The pairing with The Singleton of Glendullan is a top notch one, as the Dufftown-based Speyside distillery is fully powered through means of a waterwheel installed on the Fiddich River.

This ‘Singleton of Glendullan Select’, a whole mouthful (but hey, nothing wrong with a mouthful of Single Malt…) starts as a great winter dram, there’s marmalade and vanilla, the latter kept in line by cloves. On the palate, the cloves evolve, get more complex, turning into allspice berries. It becomes maltier and softer. The orange makes way for oven baked apples and applewood, some raisins. The finish is, sadly, not as lengthy or complex as one would desire, more a tranquil extension of the palate.

House Tully has a classic Speyside Whisky to its name. It’s not the most, nor the least exciting bottling in the range, which actually fits the House, that lives by the words “Family, Duty, Honor”, quite well.

HOUSE TYRELL (Clynelish Reserve / 51,2%)
_DSC9640House Tyrell of Highgarden rules over the Reach, a fertile region in the South Western part of Westeros. Clynelish, located in the Highlands of Scotland, holds beautiful similarities, their landscape adorned with both seaside views and vast stretches of rolling green hills, a pairing made in heaven.

The whisky itself has a beautiful, gold hue. Upon opening and nosing the 51,2% liquid, there are bursts of candles and exotic fruit to be noticed. Put it on the lips and you’ll get a dry, almost leathery start, yet from the second sip on, the initial fruit from the nose, marches on and brings wave afer wave of juicy, thick, tropicalness. In between sips, it brings vanilla and white flowers. The finish is long, and those initial flavor tones of the first taste return, it’s dry and bodacious.

A Whisky that represents the Tyrells proudly. I can see Olenna be content with what Clynelish bottled in honor of her House. Any fan of the Tyrells and its fierce women will gladly raise a dram of this Reserve. In the words of the Queen of Thorns herself, “It will be served when I want it served, and I want it served now.”. The biggest surprise of the entire range for me!

That’s it!
I hope I was able to shed some light on how the Houses have been represented, leaving you with better insight of what you’re drinking!


ps: I want to thank Nikkie of Palenque for drinking with me through the range a first time at Proof and Arno of Diageo for taking me through them a second time at Whisky Festival Gent, always a pleasure dramming with both of you!

Disclaimer: The bottles reviewed were received as a promotional item, yet came without any obligations. All pictures and text are property of Matthias Soberon / Served By Soberon and opinions are 100% personal unless noted otherwise. Nothing can be used or copied without written permission of the author and the addition of full credits, including link to this article.

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