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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Diageo's Game of Thrones single malts, Part 1

Thanks to two Columbus Scotch Night events, I have samples of all eight of Diageo's Game of Thrones-branded single malts. Rather that going through all eight whiskies in one sitting, I split the collection into two tastings:

Sexy distilleries 

Not-sexy distilleries
Royal Lochnagar

The not-sexy distilleries are first.

Singleton of Glendullan Select (House Tully), NAS, 40%abv

It noses like a blend. A cheap blend. Apples, VOC paint fumes, rice, oats, barley and cinnamon. After a while it smells like a park bathroom in summer, all urinal and soap. Like the nose, the palate is cheap blendy. Apples, vanilla, alcohol and American cheese. It trends towards vinegar the longer it sits in the glass. The finish matches the palate, with some extra bitterness.

This is has to be one of the weakest Diageo releases ever. It's as if they had a stash of (extra) limp Glendullan casks that they didn't throw into Johnnie Walker Red Label, because they knew they could make more money off of them this way. I think we're all learning to stay away from NAS single malts with "Select" in their name. This one is a mere one step above JW Red.

Rating - 68

Cardhu Gold Reserve (House Targaryen), NAS, 40%abv

Again with the VOC paint fumes on the nose, but at least there are pineapples, pears, cinnamon and anise. Then a layer of vanilla, cotton and cardamom. A cardboard note comes and goes. The thin palate starts with vanilla, grass and something very buttery. Then lemons, grain whisky and a slight phenolic note. It get sourer and sourer with time. The shortest finish of the four. It's buttery, grassy and sour.

While nose provides some hope, the palate and finish dash it asunder. There was a previous, short lived Cardhu Gold Reserve unleashed during the NAS-heavy days of 2014. Why they chose to resurrect that flop here, I don't know. If you're forced to drink either the Cardhu or Glendullan for free, I'd say take the Cardhu. Give it some club soda to turn it into vanilla thing. Don't waste your liver with it neat. Diageo has a host of better blends.

Rating - 72

Dalwhinnie Winter's Frost (House Stark), NAS, 43%abv

The nose starts off all cardboard, flowers and orange peel. It gets more sugary and vanilla-y with time, also picking up a horseradish note. The palate is grassy and sweet with hints of lime. There's also ginger, pepper, vanilla and a slight bitter edge. Its mildly sweet finish has tart limes, vanilla, grass and cloves.

Once again, whisky name seems to be recycled. Winter's Gold was (is?) Dalwhinnie's NAS release this decade, a whisky that was intended to be kept in the freezer like a vodka but at thrice the price. Brilliant. Anyway, the GoT version is called Winter's Frost. While the nose and palate are barely there, it tastes fine. The finish isn't ugly. Those extra three points of alcohol probably help in some way, but there's no need to pick this over the regular 15 year old.

Rating - 76

Royal Lochnagar 12 year old (House Baratheon), 40%abv

A proper nose: apples, lemons, toasted oak (cloves), good cinnamon, vanilla bean and white grape juice. It gets fruitier as time passes. The palate has a simple balance of barley and oak. The vanilla stays in the background. It's lightly grassy. Lots of tangy citrus, especially limes. Mild sweetness and bitterness. The longest finish of the four. Ginger, limes, grass and toasted nuts.

The oldest(!) of the GoT malts, this Lochnagar is the best of these four by some distance. That's not to say it's better than decent. Had it been bottled at 46%abv, we might actually have something here, but you've heard this song before. And I guess it's nice to see a Royal Lochnagar in The States. If you do buy and *gasp* elect to drink it, I recommend letting it sit for a bit in the glass. It takes time for the fruits to appear.

Rating - 81

While I didn't expect much from these four, this was an especially crappy tasting. The winner, Royal Lochnagar, may have gotten a generous score because I was excited that it didn't suck. And it doesn't. But it's also not a great whisky. A lot of effort was put into the graphic design on the tubes and labels. It doesn't seem like a fraction of that care was put into the liquid inside the bottles. In fact, this group does seem like a dumping ground. Hopefully the sexy distilleries' malts are better.


  1. I do believe the Dalwhinnie is House Stark.

  2. Also I just read MAO's review of the Cardhu and I have to agree. Why did the most mellow whisky get paired with House Targaryen?

    1. A curious lack of effort and thought went into certain areas of this release. It's strange and a little lazy.