Winter whisky is coming — Diageo in late November will release a series of eight new single-malt Scotch whiskies to celebrate the epic final season of HBO’s landmark fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” Representing seven Houses of Westeros, along with those stoic wall-huggers, the Night’s Watch, this fan-focused collection serves as an entry point to popular and atypical single malts.
“Scotland, much like the Seven Kingdoms, has a diverse and varied landscape,” says Dan Sanborn, senior vice president of culture and partnerships at Diageo. “Each distillery has its own unique character and produces a distinctive whisky representative of the local Scottish terroir.”
We set out on a quest to taste all eight, but which one will be worthy of being sipped on the Iron Throne?
The Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old represents House Baratheon. At 40 percent alcohol, $65 is a bit rich for this toffee, plum and currant elixir, distracted by Stannislike dreams of royalty.
At House Tully, the $30, 40 percent alcohol Singleton of Glendullan Select is sherry-influenced and all-nose, with muted flavor components as trapped as Edmure Tully, prisoner of the Freys.
Daenerys Targaryen might appreciate the 40 percent alcohol, $40 Cardhu Gold Reserve. Permeated by a cornucopia of apples, from green to red to the crabapple finish, this Valyrian is spicy enough to smelt a golden crown.
Across the map at House Stark, Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost, at $40 and 43 percent alcohol, delivers malty orange notes through its remarkable grapefruit finish, with a hopeful, needle-sharp brightness as tenacious as young Arya Stark.
The 43 percent alcohol, $63 Oban Little Bay Reserve takes the black with the Night’s Watch. Less malt-forward than standard Oban, its impressive body resolves into a medium, marmalade-caramel finish that, like the King in the North, is somewhat blunt.
Fierce, seafaring Yara Greyjoy would be proud of this collection’s best value, the 45.8 percent alcohol, $45 Talisker Select Reserve. Its fresh peat nose and palate, with a lemony roasted-fruit kabob finish, produces an affordable introduction to Talisker and a fine offering to the Drowned God.
Diageo’s “hold the door” surprise is the $60 Clynelish Reserve. Its unsullied 51.2 percent alcohol enables an infinite nose of graham crackers, malt and golden biscuit, and a few drops of water open elements of light treacle and lime through the finish. As confident as the Queen of Thorns herself, this honors House Tyrell with dry complexity.
Moving mountains, House Lannister takes the throne of this collection with the $65, 46 percent alcohol Lagavulin 9 Year Old. This Islay mainstay pays its debts with a peat nose that is sweeter and subtler than its kissing cousin, Lagavulin 8 Year Old, with late-finish wildflowers and Cersei-approved sour threads. Along with the Clynelish Reserve, this is a must-buy.
True victory, though, is a matter of personal palate, making this smorgasbord worth exploring. As Dan Sanborn says, “Only the three-eyed raven knows who will sit on the Iron Throne!”
Jim Brucker is a freelance writer.