Diageo’s line of Game of Thrones single malts was nothing if not opportunistic. Not only was the show at peak popularity when the bottlings were introduced, but interest in whisky was also on the rise (still is). Scotch drinkers on the internet tend to be an informed bunch, however, and many could easily see through the ostensible allure of these allegedly limited bottlings. Setting that factor aside—along with the usual criticism that Diageo tends to draw, arguably the most common criticism of this line as a whole was the mismatching of Westeros Houses to Scotland distilleries.
With one exception.
Both in the show and books, House Greyjoy call the Iron Islands home, an area that all but feels like a stand-in for Talisker’s own location. According to the cannister:
“The Ironborn make their home on bleak and blustery islands off the west coast of Westeros whose unforgiving, desolate location shapes their lives. Unable to subsist solely on rocky land, these reavers take to the sea to make their fortune amidst salt and smoke…Situated on the shores of the Isle of Skye, one of the most remote and rugged areas of Scotland, Talisker’s layered flavors and signature maritime character are the results of its wave-battered shores.”
The pair sound like a natural fit, which has me hopeful for this particular expression, even after the almost completely unimpressive Cardhu Gold Reserve. Time to see if this is worthy of the Drowned God’s consideration:
Nose: Nice and smoky upfront layered with some sea salt over mildly tropical fruit. Once the peaty exterior wears off, a thin breeze of caramel gives way to honey and more of that fruity backbone. Grilled pineapple meets standard, unassertive pear with a subtle return of smoke. Bit of a yeasty component buried within.
Palate: Starts light but develops some viscosity. Juice-like. Mildly sour green apple, honey, and pears. Lightly syrupy melon note perseveres. Some pepper spice throughout.
Finish: Quite lengthy thanks to the building spiciness. Smoke billows back over the fruity notes followed by more pepper transitioning to a light, general brininess.
Time for a little backstory. The aforementioned Cardhu Gold Reserve was my first exposure to the Game of Thrones scotch line, but it was through a friend who shared a level of enthusiasm for the show. We’d gotten into a groove of occasionally sharing whisky with each other, and one thing I proposed was trying the Game of Thrones scotches completely blind. The only one he didn’t have at the time was the Mortlach 15-Year. Long story short, the Talisker was my third favorite that night, but I also remember it being perhaps the most intriguing; I found myself most interested in revisiting it compared to my second favorite (Clynelish) and favorite (Lagavulin).
This story is to say that I must admit, as someone who still has fairly limited scotch exposure, this impressed me. Peaty scotches have generally been my favorites up to this point, but even those can come across as slightly homogenous, depending on the expression. And yes, I do realize the irony of this statement coming from someone who primarily drinks bourbon. Yet I would argue this lends further credence to Talisker since the salty nature of the whisky adds a wonderful layer that I’ve yet to find elsewhere. The level of depth and complexity this offers, even without an age statement, is so uniquely welcoming that I can’t help but be won over every time I pour and sip it.
The cherry on top of the experience for me is that the cost of entry isn’t unreasonable. Scotch isn’t exactly budget-minded, and many expressions I’m more interested in are particularly expensive in my neck of the woods. This bottle is easily the least expensive Talisker expression I’ve found, with Storm costing about $10-$15 more and the 10-Year commanding $80. Considering the distinct and enjoyable experience I can find here at roughly $45, I’d say this certainly has a place in my market while it remains available. Is it top-tier? Probably not. But for price, I have little room to complain.