Review: Game of Thrones Whisky Collection

My inner whisky geek and Game of Thrones geek unceremoniously collided with the announcement of the Game of Thrones whisky collection by Diageo.  The collection is comprised of eight different single malts representing seven houses from the show and the Night’s Watch.  Diageo already released a separate White Walker by Johnnie Walker, which I thought was pleasant enough.

The reaction for the single malt collection seemed to be that of excitement, with fans of both whisky and the popular show running out to collect all eight bottles.  There has been a little criticism, however, calling this release nothing more than a marketing gimmick.  When you think about it, the term “marketing gimmick” can be applied to every whisky release, making it an invalid argument.  This collection gives the US market a chance to not only taste new expressions from popular distilleries like Lagavulin and Talisker, but also to try official distillery bottlings never-before-released in the States.  I’m looking at you, Royal Lochnagar 12-year-old.

Obtaining a bottle or eight might be harder than you think. Diageo isn’t announcing how many bottles were produced, but I can tell you it’s not many. Several stores I visited only had one complete set to sell, and most bottles sold out rather quickly. Below are my thoughts on each expression, which will hopefully help you decide what to purchase.


HOUSE TULLY: SINGLETON OF GLENDULLAN SELECT

Water is important for both the House Tully and Glendullan, and both share the same sigil – the fish.  Catelyn Stark was a Tully until she married into the Stark family.  I have to admit – she was an extremely annoying character.  Thankfully, the whisky is a lot more approachable.  Bottled at 40% ABV, Glendullan Select features candied apples, spice and some fresh citrus on the nose.  When I mentioned ‘approachable’ earlier, I meant it.  Glendullan is easy-drinking, with hints of crisp apple, vanilla, and a sprinkling of clove and nutmeg.  Sweet malt shows up on the short, clean finish.  When I saw the $29.99 price tag, I thought I was going to taste some really young whisky. Though there may be some younger whisky here, that “green malt” note doesn’t really show up as prominently as I thought it might.  It’s vibrant, crisp, and rather well balanced.  7/10

HOUSE STARK: DALWHINNIE WINTER’S FROST

Dalwhinnie is one of Scotland’s highest distilleries, and shares some of the same frigid temperatures as Winterfell – home of the Starks.  Winter’s Frost is bottled at 43% ABV and available for $39.99.  The nose carries honey, sweet malty notes, and a little red fruit.    Taste-wise, that honeyed malt character continues, adding some dried fruit and slight spice.  The finish is medium length, leaving behind a nice orange-tinged honey note.  Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost is a honey lover’s dram.  It certainly delivers a better finish than that of Ned Stark.  7.5/10

HOUSE BARATHEON: ROYAL LOCHNAGAR 12-YEAR-OLD

Royal Lochnagar isn’t available in the States as an official distillery bottling, so this is a treat.  Royal Lochnagar received a Royal Warrant after the royals visited in 1848.  When Game of Thrones begins, Robert Baratheon is king of the Seven Kingdoms.  So it’s fitting these two were paired.  Royal Lochnagar 12-year-old is one of only two whiskies in this collection featuring an age statement.  Bottled at 40% ABV, the nose delivers deep, rich aromas of dried fruit, anise, and oak spice.  The palate starts with hints of honey, vanilla and cocoa followed by anise, oak spice, and sherried fruit.  The finish is a bit sweet with stewed fruit at first, becoming dry as an oak note becomes more prevalent.  Even at 40% ABV, Royal Lochnagar presents itself as a bit of a decadent whisky.  One of my favorites of the collection.  8.5/10  $64.99

HOUSE TARGARYEN: CARDHU GOLD RESERVE

Both the House Targaryen and Cardhu distillery share strong female leadership – Daenerys Targaryen and Helen Cumming, who founded the distillery in the 1800s.  Cardhu Gold Reserve is bottled at 40% ABV and available for $39.99.  On the nose, Cardhu Gold Reserve is full of toffee, baked apples, and spice – an official tasting note I agree with!  The palate sees layers upon layers of creamy caramel and baked, spiced fruit.  It’s almost dessert-like.  The medium finish sees some maltiness and spice come through.  I can see Cardhu Gold Reserve served as an after dinner dram, especially during the winter.  It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so. Its richness reminds me of a sort of apple pie or baked apple dessert.  7.5/10

HOUSE TYRELL: CLYNELISH RESERVE

Clynelish distillery and House Tyrell have one thing in common: both are located in lush, green regions.  Clynelish Reserve is bottled at a high ABV of 51.2% and is available for a suggested price of $59.99.  The nose has big aromas primarily consisting of tropical fruit, orange essence, and light toffee.  Flavors are surprisingly a bit light overall, with hints of fresh pineapple, oak spice, salted caramel, and vanilla cream.  The floral finish retains a certain lightness about it.  I expected Clynelish Reserve to be a favorite, but it slightly disappointed.  The flavors are enjoyable, but the whisky lacks some depth and that lovely defining waxy fruit I adore in Clynelish.  7/10

THE NIGHT’S WATCH: OBAN BAY RESERVE

Oban distillery and the Night’s Watch share one thing: both are small in size but important.  Both also share a place that separates lands.  Oban sits  beneath a cliff separates the land and sea, while Castle Black sits at the base of the Wall separating Westeros and the land north of the wall (read: Canada). Oban Bay Reserve is bottled at 43% ABV and is available for $62.99.  The nose features rich fruity aromas alongside a helping of baking spice.  The robust palate has hints of salted dark caramel, candied fruit, freshly baked pie crust, and oak spice.  There’s also the slightest wisp of smoke here. That oak note comes through a bit more in the elegant, dry finish.  Oban Bay Reserve is fantastic, and one of the better selections in this collection.  8.5/10

HOUSE GREYJOY: TALISKER SELECT RESERVE

Oh those Greyjoys… ’nuff said.  They do reside on the Iron Islands, and there’s just about no whisky more quintessential “island” than Talisker.  Bottled at the familiar 45.8% ABV and available for $44.99, Talisker Select Reserve smells wonderful with hints of smoke, toffee, and red pepper flakes.  The palate has that familiar maritime nature, presented as seaweed.  Additionally, dried fruit meets black pepper as flavors continue to develop, all the while sitting on a bed of medium-strength campfire smoke.  Sweet smoke and spice define the long finish.  This is a wonderfully smoky Talisker expression at an unbeatable price.  Thumbs way up on this one. 8.5/10

HOUSE LANNISTER: LAGAVULIN 9-YEAR-OLD

The other age-stated whisky in the Game of Thrones Collection, Lagavulin 9-year-old represents the Lannisters.  Both are big, ferocious forces in their fields, and command respect.  This Lagavulin is bottled at 46% ABV and available for $64.99.  On the nose, that familiar Lagavulin peat smoke kicks things off, with grilled pineapple and salted toffee underneath.  Taste-wise, Lagavulin starts things off with salted caramel.  That bellowing  smoke quickly presents itself alongside vanilla, spice cake, and seaweed.  A touch of dark chocolate signals the beginning of the long, sweet, and smoky finish.  Lagavulin fans, peat fans, or those looking for a big, bold whisky should start here.  It’s just different enough from Lagavulin 8-year-old to justify a purchase.  8.5/10


Overall, the folks at Diageo have put together a collection of whiskies that cover the flavor spectrum at surprisingly affordable prices.   I enjoyed them all to some degree, with the standouts being Lagavulin, Talisker, Oban, and Royal Lochnagar.  I imagine these whiskies will be opened up and shared during Game of Thrones Season 8 viewing parties, and nothing beats giving your guests different whisky options.  The question is which one will I pour first for the season premiere?

Thanks to Diageo for the whisky samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Review: Knob Creek Single Barrel (Maisano’s)

Single barrel whiskey can some of the most unique, flavorful whiskey you can taste. These single barrels can sometimes vary wildly from the brand’s core flavor profile. It could come down to age, warehouse location, or even the barrel itself. Store owners, or those choosing barrels, must sometimes make a decision to choose something close to the brand’s familiar profile to please a wider customer base or they can select something more interesting.

In the case of this Knob Creek selection, Jonathan Maisano of Maisano’s Fine Wine & Spirits in Ocean Springs, Mississippi went with the latter. I know because I offered my opinion during the barrel selection. During this year’s New Orleans Bourbon Festival, Jonathan and I tasted through several barrels of Knob Creek with Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe and his son Freddie.

All six barrel samples were varying degrees of delicious. However, for my tastes, one barrel presented itself as ‘the one’ by all parties involved. This barrel, number 6740, matured for 14 years and two months on the third floor of warehouse X. The barrel selection proof was 124.5, which is really close to the final bottling proof of 120.

The nose features hints of spiced cherries, dark brown sugar and caramel, cinnamon stick and sweet toasted oak. Dark notes dominate the palate: brown sugar, dark chocolate-covered cherries, molasses, and vanilla. A touch of burnt orange peel and leather show on the mid-palate, followed by dusty oak and some more spice heading into the back-palate. The finish is long, with barrel char, tobacco and molasses notes lingering.

What I find fascinating about this barrel is the fact that being so old, its oak notes do not dominate in the least. Those dark, heavy notes are here in spades. As much as I enjoyed Knob Creek 25th Anniversary, this barrel blows it away.

Now for the bad news. As of the writing of this post, which happens to be the day after the barrel pick was released, less than 10 bottles remained in stock. That is not only the sign of a beautiful single barrel of whiskey, but of a store’s loyal fanbase. This one is easily the best Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon I’ve tasted. 9.5/10

Review: Chivas Regal Mizunara

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Chivas Regal’s latest addition to their US portfolio is Chivas Regal Mizunara.  Mizunara is a Japanese Oak.  It’s generally not used outside of Japan, which makes Chivas one of the first wave of Scotch whiskies utilizing the oak.  In this case, a portion of this blended whisky is finished in Mizunara.  You might recall a Bowmore Mizunara a couple of years back.  It too was finished in this eastern oak, which tends to add some spice notes.

This new expression from the big blending house is bottled at 40% ABV and available for a suggested price of $45.  Chivas has always been an approachable whisky.  Let’s see how this one fares.

The somewhat muted nose features hints of vanilla, cloves, light toffee, and a greenish grain note, suggesting some young whisky in the blend.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially given the price.  The palate fares a bit better with waves of spiced toffee, sweet grain,  anise, and dried apricot.  The mid-palate does come across as a bit thin.  Chivas Regal Mizunara carries a short, clean finish.

It was interesting to taste spicier notes than what I usually find in a Chivas Regal blend, and that’s thanks to the Mizunara oak finish.  However, the brand only finished part of this whisky in said oak.  What’s in the bottle is pleasant enough, but at the same time non-offensive and maybe a bit bland.  A slightly higher ABV might have made for a better tasting experience.  Chivas Regal Mizunara should appeal to people who don’t like bold whiskies.  7/10

Chivas.com

Thanks to Chivas Regal for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.