“Do you know what legacy is? It’s what you pass down to your children and your children’s children. It’s what remains of you when you’re gone.”
By now most of us know how the legacy of Game of Thrones played out. The above quote spoken by Tywin Lannister during one of the show’s peak seasons is but one of many moments that now rings both hollow and ironic. Case in point: branded merchandise. One of the many attempts at cashing in on the once insurmountable Game of Thrones mountain was Diageo’s announcement of a scotch line tied into the franchise’s great Houses. This line included eight of the company’s whisky brands, including Lagavulin, The Singleton, Oban Bay, and the source of today’s review: Cardhu.
Cardhu’s history involves alleged tales of whisky smuggling and humorous deceit in the name of producing whisky. There’s also a bit of controversy involving the parent company which, according to some, is unfortunately par for the course. Be that as it may, Cardhu Gold Reserve, the label chosen for House Targaryen, is one of the more affordable options in the line, especially when probable markdowns are accounted for. MSRP is around $40, but I’ve seen it sell for as little as $20. Can this affordable single malt outshine its bitter associations? Let’s find out.
Nose: Warm baked apples and pears. Honeyed apricot and orange with light vanilla and caramel notes from the ex-bourbon casks. Werther’s candy. Some sweet, buttery rolls come and go throughout, as well as a whiff of banana.
Palate: Light and a bit watery. Honey, pear, and apple upfront before soon turning a bit sour and grainy. Has an earthy, tannic quality that initially conflicts with the sweet flavors. Generic black tea.
Finish: Short and borderline clean. Mild traces of honey and pear with a little toast and oak.
Here’s a whisky that practically mirrors its marketed source—with one key difference. The beginning is quite pleasant while the middle chunk also has good qualities, but the shortcomings become obvious at this point. Then things suddenly seem to end, but unlike the show, this whisky returns just enough of its pleasing qualities to make it more sweet than bitter.
The Cardhu Gold Reserve Targaryen bottling offers no surprises, even for those only modestly versed in Speyside single malts. Considering the landscape of scotch, getting a minimally serviceable single malt for up to $40 will either be reasonable for casual drinkers, or a question mark for the more discerning hobbyist. A sound enough introduction for scotch newcomers, but little else.