Whisky Review Round Up: Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection

, | December 18, 2018

I feel I should preface this review: I don’t know anything about Game of Thrones. I’ve never read the books. I’ve never watched a single episode. While the rest of the world has been going bonkers over “white walkers” and “the Iron Throne”—phrases I learned via Wikipedia—I have been doing…something else. Living under a rock, I guess.

At first I thought that meant I shouldn’t review these whiskies, but then I reconsidered. The Internet is full of commentary, analysis, memes, and other detritus related to Game of Thrones. It doesn’t need more. And perhaps this glaring blind spot in my pop culture knowledge actually gives me an advantage as a reviewer, in that I can taste Diageo’s Game of Thrones releases simply as whiskies, not as some kind of titillating fan service.

Some background, for those who have been living under neighboring rocks. Earlier this fall Diageo announced the release of several Game of Thrones-themed  whiskies, including a range of eight single malts. Whiskies from Glendullan, Dalwhinnie, Cardhu, Royal Lochnagar, Oban, Talisker, Clynelish, and Lagavulin are all accounted for, each one representing a different house or group from the show. They’re bottled at a variety of ABVs, from 40% up to 51.2%. Some have age statements, others don’t.

Here’s the good news: You don’t need to be a Game of Thrones superfan to enjoy many of these whiskies. I think Diageo has done an excellent job on what could have been a cynical throwaway project by choosing a broad spread of distilleries with distinctive house styles, from fruity and simple to smoky and weird, and then bottling whiskies that stay true to those styles. Each of these eight whiskies will give you a very accurate introduction to these distilleries at an approachable price point in fun packaging. If you like any particular expression, you’ll know it’s worth exploring other whiskies by that producer. And if you don’t, well, you’ll know what to avoid.

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So go ahead. Get your Game of Thrones buddies together, tell everyone to buy a bottle, and then taste them all together. You’ll probably investigate some unexplored territory, and you’ll all definitely learn more about what kind of Scotch you like. Let’s get tasting.

Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection

Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection

House Tully – Singleton of Glendullan Select

Vital Stats: 40%, no age statement.

Appearance: Slightly dark gold.

Nose: A simple, fruity, modest nose of apple rings, pear, toffee, vanilla, and malt.

Palate: The sweet, malt-driven palate brings orange, peanuts, toasted almonds, and the crunchy edges around a well-baked chocolate chip cookie. The finish is short and a bit spirit. Easy-drinking and enjoyable enough, this is a solid $30 whisky.

Score: 2.5/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

House Stark – Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost

Vital Stats: 43%, no age statement. Diageo says it’s “best served chilled or over ice.”

Appearance: Mid gold. 

Nose: A very fruity, almost-brandy like nose delivers white grape, pineapple, kiwi, Meyer lemon, and a touch of sherry. Vanilla, brown sugar, malt, and oak are present, but take a back seat to the esters. Over time, toasty malt, fruitcake, and caramel emerge.

Palate: Mellow and malty at first, followed by a wave of high-toned pear, cinnamon, Constant Comment tea, dried pineapple, ginger, honey, and wax. A spiced, warming, slightly bitter finish reminds me of black tea. Thick mouth feel, sharp on the palate. Again, a nice intro to Dalwhinnie.

Score: 3.5/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

House Targaryen – Cardhu Gold Reserve

Vital Stats: 40%, no age statement.

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Appearance: Mid gold. 

Nose: Toasty and savory, like a piece of whole-wheat toast slathered in salted butter. There’s also a pronounced Concord grape note, some grassy/stemmy stuff, honey, and a good dose of leathery vanilla bean.

Palate: Sweet and gentle at first, then slowly ramps up to a modest, grapey crescendo. Graham cracker and cardboard underpins. There’s some bitter tartness too – grapefruit pith. Finish is tingly and warming, with cinnamon, clove, and black pepper, plus more bitter pith and an odd metallic note, like gunpowder. A little funky, a little clunky, and the finish really kills it for me.

Score: 2/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

House Baratheon – Royal Lochnagar

Vital Stats: 40%, 12 years old.

Appearance: Mid gold

Nose: Musty. Old furniture, polished wood. Then blackberries, muscat grape, vanilla ice cream, cut grass, and salty shortbread. Very perfumed and enticing.

Palate: Mild, building to a malt-driven peak with fresh berries and a touch of crisp citrus. Full-bodied and artful. The tapering, malt-driven finish has biscuits with marmalade, nutmeg, and some nice evolved woody tannin. An interesting mix of confectionery, fruit, and holiday baking space, integrated and textured.

Score: 3.5/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

The Night’s Watch – Oban Bay Reserve

Vital Stats: 43%, no age statement.

Appearance: Mid gold

Nose: Orange zest, milk chocolate, gentle peat smoke, apple, pear, lemon, tangerine. Very appealing.

Palate: Again, that classic Oban chocolate-orange thing is front and center, but there’s some extra lactic tang in the finish reminiscent of leesy chardonnay. The finish is strong, with yeasty bread, shortbread, and a drying sensation that invites another sip. Lean and muscular. A little bit plain, but nicely enjoyable.

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Score: 3.5/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

House Greyjoy – Talisker Select Reserve

Vital stats: 45.8%, no age statement.

Appearance: Mid gold

Nose: Mexican chocolate, sweet lacquered barbecue ribs, salt water, and banana.

Palate: At first it’s salty and smoky, like taking in the sea spray from the deck of an old diesel-powered ferry. Then things take a more savory turn—charred meat, grilled nectarines, chili powder—that takes things in a culinary direction. Bold yet approachable.

Score: 3.5/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

House Tyrell – Clynelish Reserve

Vital Stats: 51.2%, no age statement.

Appearance: Light mid gold.

Nose: Shy and nectar-like. Marzipan croissant, cheese Danish, brioche, plus freshly waxed hardwood floor and clean wool sweater. Creamy, toasty, strange, and a bit tingly in the nose.

Palate: Extremely well integrated, with a very crescendo-like feel. Rich papaya, mango, and banana linger on the palate, plus yeated bread and caneles. There’s a touch of very gentle milk chocolate and a whisper of elderflower. The finish is endless, really feeling as if it clings to your tongue. Water brings out more smoky and maritime notes, plus milky white corn and marzipan. Bizarre and lovely.

Score: 4/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

House Lannister – Lagavulin

Vital Stats: 46%, nine years old

Appearance: Mid gold

Nose: Classic Lagavulin here. Banana and dried mango, puffs of wet smoke, sandalwood, incense, rich malt syrup, and that damp wool sweater you wore to a barbecue and left wadded up in your trunk.

Palate: Very sweet and a little earthy up front, with some dried banana, strong smoke, clove, burnt caramel, salty dark caramel, and lots of saline maritime goodness, with mint, cannabis, and lanolin peeking through. The long finish is oddly cooling and refreshing, with spearmint, eucalyptus, ash, and salt. Very fun.

Score: 4/5 [BUY A BOTTLE]

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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...