In this early 2019 Diageo decided to ride along a Dothraki horde the incredible hype for the launch of the last season of Game of Thrones releasing a limited series of whiskies dedicated to the Great Houses of Westeros. And the Night’s Watch, because why not.
Of course people had different reactions to this news: some smirked to the new marketing idea, others screamed of happiness as most of the audience did when King Joffrey died. Others simply decided to buy the whole stock without many thoughts, but the Night’s King is gonna make them regret this decision. I was kind of neutral, as I disliked the idea of a special edition so clearly marketing-driven, but my inner fanboy was sadly and tragically appealed by this stunt. And I was genuinely interested in the whisky, as I often am. I didn’t want to spend a fortune as my surname is not Lannister, so I bought a tasting set from the German shop Tastillery, and I tried them with the fellow whisky (and GoT) maniac Samuel from WhiskyHebdo.
We tried all these malts in one single sessions, but we paced ourselves, in order not to get completely Tyrion-like wasted. Following Tastillery’s advice, we carefully start with the Targaryens, the Starks and the Baratheons.
Cardhu Gold Reserve (40%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Alcohol, apple, sweet caramel. It kind of lacks the fire I would expect in a descendent of Old Valyria. Instead, I smell honey, vanilla, all the typical traits of a bourbon cask. Mead too, surprisingly. Enjoyable.
Taste: Actually, it’s better at the nose. Here it tastes quite bland, watery, unsurprisingly rich in vanilla and apples. It’s not bad, mind me: consistent, not too sweet, a bit delicate. Surely though, from the family that united the Seven Kingdoms riding THREE ENORMOUS DRAGONS I would have expected something more… fiery.
Finish: Warm, very short. Did it wake the Dragon? No it didn’t, other Fabio. No, it didn’t.
Overall: Meh. I’m sorry, but I’m a bit disappointed. 76/100, nothing special here. Neither as blatantly bad as Viserys Targaryen, nor as mad as the Mad King. Just quite forgettable. I wished for Fire and blood, and this one doesn’t deliver either of them.
Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost (43%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Less sweet and more interesting than the Targaryen’s malt I’d say. Pears, herbal notes, more wood maybe? With time it kind of shows its sweeter side, like Ned Stark when he was talking to his daughters. Molasses, white rum.
Taste: Here it becomes more sugary, again with molasses and fruits. Peaches, I think. There is also a very vague salt, along with some spices. I say juniper berries, Samuel thinks I’m already drunk. It’s also quite creamy, definitely easy to drink and to enjoy, but not very complex.
Finish: Not so long, with some sugar and honey notes that linger a bit more than the rest. Very clean.
Overall: I think I like it better than House Targaryen, but this one too is not too impressive, although very drinkable: 77/100. Should I name a Stark I think I’ll go for Sansa, particularly how she was at the beginning of the novels: clean and pretty, but at times a bit boring and vain. Winter is coming, but I won’t take this bottle with me.
Royal Lochnagar 12yo (40%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Very, very shy. I try to nose it with all my might, but I get only the malty and cereal side. Some nuts, I think, and oranges. I have to hunt the smells like Robert Baratheon hunted boars. I hope I won’t meet his fate…
Taste: Again, it insists on some kind cereal sweetness. I taste again those nuts I smelled before, and also some coconuts, I feel like it’s too diluted. Like the two malts I tried before, it’s very drinkable but also very simple. A bit frivolous. Our is the fury? Nah, I don’t believe you.
Finish: Super short, actually, way too smooth. Only some pepper and sugar.
Overall: To me this one is the worst of the lot, sadly: 73/100. I say sadly because I somehow liked Stannis Baratheons’s story arc, but this one kind of combines his personality (“he has the personality of a lobster!” to put it in Loras Tyrell’s words), the courage of Renly, and the depth and complexity of Robert. Not fit to rule!
Samuel and I take a short break, and we both agree that if we did not dislike these three malts, we are not too impressed. We hope that the following trio is gonna surprise us more. We engage then the Tullys, the Tyrells, and… the Night’s Watch? Why the Night’s Watch? And where are the malts of the Arryns and the Martells?? Oh boy, my geeky head is spinning…
Singleton of Glendullan Select (40%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Immediately I find it better than the previous ones. Cereal and something bittersweet, a lot of tropical fruits, with a strong smell of ripe bananas and mangos. The vanilla is there too, and some floral notes reminding me of some florid riverbank in the Riverlands.
Taste: Mmh, it’s a pity because it ditches the tropical side and turns to a more classic apple. There is also some ginger, I think. Honey again, it’s quite simple and likeable.
Finish: Medium length, the honey flavour doesn’t disappear as fast as I expected.
Overall: More interesting than the others, to me. It reminds me of Edmund Tully: well-meaning, but doesn’t completely convince me. Family, Duty, Honor are the words of the Tullys: well, I don’t know about the honour and the family, but this whisky definitely does its duty: 79/100.
Clynelish Reserve (51.2%, OB, 2019)
Nose: It screams “candle wax” with the fury of Loras Tyrell at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Alcohol, beauty, what elegance! I generally quite enjoy Clynelish, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s a nose full of malt, white fruits, and joy. Very good! With water I get something vaguely salty and mineral, too.
Taste: It’s oily, full of alcohol and cream. The typical Clynelish wax appears also at the palate, with that mineral and dirty side that is more prominent here. With water I also get, cream, honey and even more wax. Apples, some surprising blackberries. Growing strong!
Finish: Medium-length, with beeswax, apples, and some dirty and very good bitterness. I like it very much!
Overall: As beautiful as Margaery, as proud and fierce as Loras, as complex and sharp as the Queen of Thorns: 86/100. As a famous lawyer would sayer, it’s the very best… with just the right amount of dirty.
Oban Bay Reserve (43%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Malt, sugar, a hint (just a hint!) of smoke. Some oranges, lemons, limes… I thought they didn’t have citrus fruits at the Wall! Chocolate, sherry notes, some red fruits too. I think you could find something like that more likely in Mole’s Town, rather than scouting beyond the Wall.
Taste: Cereal, chocolate, pistachio cream I think. It’s not too complex here, but it has a strangely sweet and vegetal side too: it makes me think to some beetroot, but it’s maybe because I cooked it today. It doesn’t remind me of the sword in the darkness, as it is more smooth and light than sharp and .
Finish: Medium, not bad. Caramel and coconut oil.
Overall: I expected worse: I think I prefer this one to the first trio, and maybe to the Singleton too. It’s not as wise as Aemon, nor as powerful and imposing as Jeor Mormont: 80/100. It’s more of a good ranger, a food soldier you want to have an easy drink with, before the long night starts. And now my watch begins.
Uff, it’s quite a ride! I really really enjoyed the Clynelish, in my opinion it’s on a whole other league in respect to the others we tried so far. But since the night is dark and full of terrors, Samuel and I really have to continue and we’ll move on with a visit to House Greyjoy and House Lannister, the last two sample that are still standing.
Talisker Select Reserve (45.8%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Mmh, it smells like the roads of Pyke after Robert Baratheon crushed Balon’s rebellion. Smoke, sea, salt. I think that the peat smoke is more intense in this one here than in my beloved Talikser 10. It’s very drinkable, as the other ones we tried this evening, rich in vanilla and spices.
Taste: Very salty, less smoke here than at the nose. The Iron Fleet took home also some lemons from the Summer Islands here. Slightly astringent, dry, lemon-y. We do not sow, say the Greyjoys, but here I definitely taste some cereals! Were they raided from the costs of Westeros maybe? I don’t know, but they complement very well the salty and marine side of this malt. Really nice.
Finish: Medium length, here too rich in smoke and vanilla.
Overall: I really liked it, even if I probably still prefer the usual Talikser 10yo to this Select Reserve. Very well paired with the Ironborns, it’s as mad as “Crow’s Eye” Euron, and as ferocious as the “Kraken’s Daughter” Asha: 83/100. No traces of Theon here, luckily… What is dead may never die!
Lagavulin 9yo (46%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Uuuh, this nose doesn’t sing “The Rains of Castamere“, but it rather cries “LAGAVULIN“. Fat peat smoke, very intense. It’s rich and heavy, with hints of green tea and some wet grass. It’s a bit monolithic, but it’s very good! Vanilla, for sure, and some fruits (pears?).
Taste: Peat smoke, again. Again, it’s not too complex, but it roars to the palate as viciously as Cersei when she hisses at you if she misses her 4th drink before 10am. It’s also sweet, sugary, and maybe a bit thin despite the 46% of alcohol. Apples, leather, salt, it also vaguely reminds me of some kind of tea. Hear my Roar, it says. Yes dude, I heard it.
Finish: Smoky and long, with some vanilla and cooked apples in the back. It’s not as unforgettable as a scolding by Tywin Lannister, but it’s sure more pleasant.
Overall: Very good! Tyrion would appreciate it. Samuel and I debated fiercely, as for him this one was the best malt of the evening. To me, instead, the crown and the Iron Throne goes to the Clynelish. Still, a very good malt, but what else would you expect from a Lagavulin? I gave it a 85/100.
Again, I’m a bit sorry that House Arryn and House Martell (which in the books I loved) didn’t get a whisky, but maybe Diageo will keep this partnership with the legendary HBO show and will give us new treats. Among these ones, I really enjoyed the both the Clynelish Reserve and the Lagavulin 9yo. Third, for me, was the Talisker Select Reserve, also quite good. The rest was a lot of good, easy-drinking whisky: definitely not bad, but sadly not too interesting. For me at least!