In 2018, Diageo played a marketing master stroke by teaming up with HBO to create a collection of Game of Thrones branded whiskies in advance of the final series of the TV show being released. First there was the White Walker version of Johnnie Walker, which was instantly gobbled up by fans, and then, the big reveal came as there was a series of eight single malt whiskies to be released. For each bottling, a different distillery within the Diageo roster was chosen to represent a different House (a.k.a. family) or establishment within the Game of Thrones canon.
For this review, we’re looking at the House Stark branded release, which is a new expression created by the Dalwhinnie distillery for the series: Winter’s Frost. (Not to be confused with Dalwhinnie seasonal release Winter’s Gold).
With the exception of the 9yo Lagavulin (House Lannister) and 12yo Royal Lochnagar (House Baratheon), the Dalwhinnie follows the series’ pattern of being a no age statement release. No further information is provided about the whisky’s origins or maturation, but as part of the fan service paid to each bottling, the decision for Dalwhinnie to represent House Stark is described as follows:
In the vast cold expanse of the northern lands of Westeros, the lords of House Stark ruled as King In The North for generations. Stoic, noble and pragmatic, House Stark swore allegiance to the Targaryen crown and kept faith for nearly 300 years and to House Baratheon when the Targaryens fell. However, overly noble stoics can be vulnerable and the Stark words heard often in the halls of Winterfell ring true. Winter is coming.
The Stark’s resilience, strength and ability to thrive under the most intense situations are greatly shaped by Winterfell’s frigid temperatures. Like House Stark, Dalwhinnie is made in one of the highest and coldest distilleries in Scotland, and it’s extreme conditions are responsible for shaping its signature honeyed sweetness and spicy warmth. Naturally, it’s best served chilled or over ice.Winter’s Frost
Now then, to the whisky itself and does this 43% ABV spirit deliver on its own hype and earn the name of representing the most ardent, respected and loyal House in all of Westeros?
Winter’s Frost? More like winter’s desserts. Good ones too. The immediate smells here make me think of truly indulgent puddings – ones filled with cream, vanilla, chocolate. These puddings have been laced with booze too. Think Sherry trifle or a Tiramisu – there is a masala wine note to it in particular. Just a little cinnamon, ginger and oaky spice in the back too rounding it out too. A big delivery here.
Oooh, a silky start – it coats the mouth with a soft and creamy palate. Really soft actually. All the same flavours are now just popping off of the tongue with the alcohol content really adding volume to those flavours from the nose. Collectively it puts in mind a very specific memory of a Nigella Lawson pudding, with cream, chocolate pistachios, pomegranate seeds and lots of booze. Niche but these are my tasting notes after all. There’s a good tingle of oak spices at the end once the sweetness has had its chance to shine.
The lasting flavours are milk chocolate and soft oak spice with a brilliant fizzle of alcohol. Good length on the finish too: not too long, not too short.
With the whole Game of Thrones tie-in, I was expecting something of a watered down Dalwhinnie 15, to be honest. This is not what I expected and I’m glad with what I got. The indulgent sweet flavours don’t really sit with the grim depictions of Winterfell in the North, but I’m not sure that I would want to drink something harsh like that anyway, and this is very much a welcome drink. It does seem to lose its sparkle after a second glass or so once your tastebuds have been through the mill and got used to the sweet dessert offerings.
Going back to the malt again though on another night and it does go back to delivering lots of dessert-like and sweet treat experiences. It actually reminds me of Tuaca – an Italian brandy flavoured with orange and vanilla essence. For all of the dessert notes above I should note that there is a good malt character to it too. I think overall, it doesn’t exactly wow but delivers a good malt.
With regard to the GoT tie-in and the alliance between Dalwhinnie and House Stark: yep, I can kinda get on board with it. They are both certainly used to the cold! Is it a steely and dependable whisky that will get you through the tough times? Maybe not quite. Within the Diageo family – thinking particularly about the single malts within the famous Flora and Fauna range – maybe the Benrinnes or Dailuaine single malts could have been better suited, although my money would lie with the Mortlach, were it not then matched with the post-GoT release of the Six Kingdoms release – especially as any Mortlach malt release appears to be revered by fans and critics alike for its robust and hearty character. That certainly suits the rugged image of Eddard Stark, right? I can easily picture old reliable Ned with a Mortlach in hand in Winterfell anyway!
Back to the chosen malt itself though, and the recent drop in price means that this is easily a good purchase for any whisky drinker and is a fair price at that level but maybe wouldn’t make for a return customer. It is probably more befitting of a Game of Thrones fan though – I mean which self-respecting GoT fan who likes whisky wouldn’t want the Direwolf standing proud in their drinks cabinet? We’ll leave the comments about being served chilled or on ice for another time, but for now Winter (Pudding) Is Coming.
Sample disclosure: bought it myself and all notes are intended as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky itself and not a promotion. Please drink responsibly and wisely.