So, it’s come to this. Yes, it has. Starting today, I will be reviewing one of Diageo’s Game of Thrones single malt releases every Monday after a new episode of the final season of the show. As there are only six episodes but eight of these whiskies, I will end with an all-Game of Thrones week after the finale. No, this is not being sponsored by Diageo or Game of Thrones. I scoffed at this marketing nonsense when it was first released (and available) but later when I had the opportunity to get 50 ml of each bottle from a split, I could not resist. So, here is my first review after a middling first episode.
What becomes obvious immediately is that nobody at Diageo’s marketing actually watches Game of Thrones or reads the books and/or that nobody at Game of Thrones marketing knows anything about whisky. Why? Well, because there is only one heavily-peated, smoky whisky in the lineup and they’ve not given it to House Targaryen, who you may remember have dragons and the habit of setting people and things on fire. Instead, the brain trust has seen fit to make the Lagavulin the Lannister whisky. This despite the fact that the Lannisters are associated with gold and one of the other whiskies in the lineup is the Cardhu Gold Reserve…which, of course, they’ve given to House Targaryen. Clerical error? Well, I guess we should just be happy they didn’t add a House Bolton release to the list as that might have meant having to drink a NAS Glenkinchie (“it’ll feel like you’re being flayed alive!”). I’m not very convinced by most of the other whisky/house pairings either—more on those later.
Total Wine had these Game of Thrones Lagavulins by the case last year but I snobbily ignored them despite the fact that a) Lagavulins are never bad and b) the price was decent. Apart from my general marketing allergy, I was generally skeptical about the likely quality of these releases; I figured they were aimed at people who were big fans of the show but not necessarily into whisky. I didn’t stop to wonder why Diageo would give a Lagavulin bottled at 46% with an age statement to that possible market. Anyway, let’s find out what this is like.
Game of Thrones Whisky: House Lannister (46%; Lagavulin 9; from a bottle split)
Nose: Quite a bit of the heavy Lagavulin smoke but there are sweeter hints underneath it (vanilla and also some fruit). As it sits the smoke gets sharper and there’s some lemon mixed in with it. With time the lemon, vanilla and smoke come into nice balance. Okay, let’s see what happens with a bit of water. The lemon gets pronounced and the vanilla gets creamier—the smoke’s still there too.
Palate: Leads with the smoke here too but there’s a vegetal/leafy quality to it and then it gets quite acrid as I swallow (think a damp, smouldering leaf-pile; no, I haven’t eaten one). Nice texture at 46%. Gets earthier as it goes and there’s also a slightly meaty thing going on. With water the smoke gets ashier and then tarrier—but the burnt leaves are still there too.
Finish: Long. That acrid smoke keeps going. That meaty note shows up here too with time: think the burnt bits on roast pork. As on the palate with water.
Comments: This is really very nice and I am indeed kicking myself for not picking up a couple of bottles when I could have easily done so. Of course it’s not available now, as is true of almost every release in the series. Certainly not Lagavulin-lite. Also, certainly not Lannister-like. I like it better than the regular 8 yo.
Rating: 86 points.
I think the only one the marketing folks got right was Talisker and House Greyjoy. ‘Got right” is probably too generous. More like “ made a lucky guess”
I’d say the Baratheon and Tully malts are fine too—in that nobody cares about the Baratheons and Tullys nobody cares about Royal Lochnagar and Glendullan. The most egregious errors are the House Lannister/Targaryen swaps (unless it’s meant to be literary criticism) and giving House Tyrell (a bunch of southerners) the malt from Diageo’s northernmost distillery, Clynelish.
This predictably came on offer a couple of months ago so I finally tried it, expecting an interesting rival for the 8 year-old. Sadly I was disappointed. There’s not much wrong with it, but Lagavulin-lite is exactly the impression I had, which surprised me as your conclusion was exactly the opposite. I found it quite sweet with a lot of active wood (and possibly a lot of caramel too, judging by the colour?), compared to the more naked and uncompromising 8. I guess it makes for a good Game of Thrones whisky, in the sense that it would be a good introduction for someone with little or no experience of peated single malts, but at best it’s only an average Lagavulin in my opinion.
A pity, because (though I’m not a Game of Thrones fan, nor a fan of marketing single malts as Game of Thrones whiskies) I really wanted to like it, especially as it’s a lot cheaper than the 8 currently.
Interesting. I think there were two separate releases of these GoT whiskies though. I recall stories of people buying up full sets of the original release to sell at auction only to be kneecapped by a fresh release a few months later. If two different releases, that could account for the difference. But it might have been a staggered release of the same batch of each, I suppose.