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Game of Thrones is an American TV series, produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for HBO. Based on ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, a series of novels written by George R. R. Martin, the show premiered on the 17th of April 2011, while the final series is due to begin later this year on the 14th of April.
Set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, the series follows the struggle for power as various noble houses battle to control the ‘Iron Throne’. Thanks to the extensive work done by author Martin in creating a rich and detailed backstory for both his world and the characters in it, there are few, if any, fantasy series that can match Game of Thrones for sheer, gritty realism. No mean feat, for a show that features zombies, direwolves and dragons!
To celebrate the impending arrival of the show’s final season, HBO have teamed up with Diageo to release a series of whiskies honouring the occasion. First came the White Walker, a new and exclusive Johnnie Walker blend, named after the shows main protagonists. Then came a range of single malts, produced at some of Diageo’s best loved distilleries, each of which is paired with one of the noble houses of Westeros… There’s Lagavulin representing House Lannister, Talisker for House Greyjoy, Cardhu representing House Targaryen, Dalwhinnie is House Stark, Clynelish is House Tyrell, The Singleton for House Tully, Royal Lochnagar represents House Baratheon and Oban is for the Night’s Watch.
I must confess that the Whisky / TV tie-in idea has never seemed particularly appealing to me but when it is a show that I love as much as Game of Thrones, paired with distilleries as renowned as these, I couldn’t help but take notice. Alas, many of the expressions struck me as a little bit pedestrian, with low strength abv on display almost universally across the board.
Two expressions stood out however. First was the 9 year old House Lannister Lagavulin which was bottled at 46% and second was the House Tyrell Clynelish Reserve, bottled at a tempting 51.2%. For me at least, the choice was clear and thanks to the Bottle Club, my two pre-ordered bottles were delivered the second they became available.
House Lannister Lagavulin 9 Year Old
Lagavulin was founded in 1816 by John Johnstone. The distillery stands in the shadow of the ruined Dunyvaig Castle, one time home to the MacDonald’s – ‘Lords of the Isles’ and scourge of Scotland’s western coast. Their core expression, a 16 year old, has long been a fixture on Diageo’s classic malts lineup and is commonly cited as one of the finest examples of a single malt you can find.
For this new range, Lagavulin was paired with House Lannister, the wealthy yet dastardly family who have spent much of the series ruthlessly clawing their way into power. The family motto may be ‘Hear Me Roar’ but they are better known by the slogan ‘A Lannister always pays his debts’.
Bottled at 46% and aged for 9 years, the Game of Thrones Lagavulin retails for around £65 in the UK.
Smell: Peat, Ash, Smokey Bacon, Grilled Apple, Lemon and Vanilla Cream, Barley Sugar and Brine.
Taste: Smoke, Pepper, Liquorice, Smokey Bacon, Bitter Oak, Chewy Bourbon Vanilla.
Value for Money: A rich and enjoyable Lagavulin that is unfortunately a little overpriced. Worth noting, that the addition of water failed to create any scotch mist, suggesting that it has been chill filtered, despite bottling at 46%. A bit of a shame, but perhaps not surprising given the widespread appeal this series is likely to hold.
Any new Lagavulin will be welcomed with open arms in my house and I am certainly enjoying this version but I can’t help but feel that the price is too high and would have been happier to see it closer to £50, on par with the current 8 and 16 year old versions.
It is at least, different to either of those expressions, lacking some of the complexity of the 16, but offering a richer, more intense delivery than the 8. Overpriced but ultimately, still delicious – it is Lagavulin after all!
For more on Lagavulin.
House Tyrell Clynelish Reserve
Clynelish distillery stands on the coast of Sutherland in the northeast of Scotland. Originally built by the Marquess of Stafford in 1819, the distillery famously moved to a new location across the road in 1968, with the old building continuing to produce spirit under the name of Brora. Brora eventually ceased to operate in the great distillery cull of the 1980’s but news emerged a couple of years ago that Diageo were planning to re-open the site and begin producing spirit once more.
Clynelish meanwhile has carried on producing whisky in its new location and is well loved amongst connoisseurs for it’s distinctive character.
Clynelish is paired with House Tyrell, the wealthy family of Highgarden, most of whom were last seen (SPOILERS) exploding in a fiery inferno at the hands of the Lannisters.
The Clynelish Reserve is bottled at 51.2% and retails at around £50 in the UK.
Smell: Vanilla, Honey, Candlewax, Sea Breeze, White Pepper, Caramel, Pear, Peach and Peat Smoke.
Taste: Pineapple, Orange, Toffee, Cinnamon, Pepper, Subtle Brine and Peat Smoke and Gingery Heat on the finish.
Value for Money: Much more sensibly priced at around £50 a bottle. To date, I have never tasted a bad Clynelish and while this is some way short of the best, it still manages to at least maintain the level of quality I’ve come to expect from the distillery.
Clynelish is a true character malt and the decision to bottle this version at a higher strength has allowed for a rich, spicy and intense experience. I can’t help but wonder what inexperienced whisky drinkers lured in by the Game of Thrones label would make of it, but those who like their dram full-flavoured and long-lasting should be satisfied.
For more on Clynelish.