Tasting Notes: Lagavulin – 9 Years Old (Game Of Thrones – House Lannister)

You would imagine that the circles in a Venn diagram of whisky enthusiasts and Game of Thrones fans would be pretty close to overlapping! [ed: He says writing as a big fan of the TV series, half-committed reader of the books, and whisky blogger]. It came as no surprise therefore that when Diageo announced a collaboration with HBO to release a set of limited edition GoT single malts, people went bananas for them. Flash forward to “sold out” appearing on numerous sites when the initial pre-orders could be made and then an announcement that a second complement of the series was to be released widely shortly afterwards. Well, here we are 2 years later and now there still seems to be some limited stocks still available, and thankfully (for those not as deep of pocket) they are appearing at a discounted rate – as I worst there is 30% off if you order direct from Diageo’s malts.com. One of the highest ones in demand… the Lagavulin 9 year old.

Until the [somewhat ethically dubious] addition of the ninth bottle to the eight bottle set [but they were cashing in on us already, right?] the Lagavulin release was the only new whisky created for the series with an age statement. And they’ve got form: back in 2016, for the official 200th birthday of Lagavulin, the distillery showed that they were not afraid to put a younger age statement on one of their releases, with the launch of the 8 year old single malt. A release that has certainly served them well. For the GoT series, we have something where it’s Laga components have been aged for no fewer than 9 years, and has been bottled at (my personal favourite) 46% ABV. Unfortunately, there is not much more information available about the actual makeup of the final whisky, but with the name ‘Lagavulin’ on it, do you need to know much more?

Each bottling within the series has a link with a certain house or stronghold of the GoT series, and the Lagavulin 9yo has been linked with House Lannister – pretty much the antagonists of the GoT series (or at least the main antagonists, as there a hundreds of them within the canon!). Their family motto is “Hear Me Roar!” and their family sigil – just like Lagavulin’s own logo – is a roaring lion.

As the one of the richest and oldest dynasties in the Seven Kingdoms, House Lannister will stop at nothing to retain its power, influence and hold on the Iron Throne. Their voracious intent is befittingly represented by a clawing lion on the House’s banner. If you cross them you will indeed hear their thunderous and violent roar, which has left many houses in ruin. After all, a Lannister always pay his debts.

The Lannister’s rise to the Iron Throne required years of meticulous calculation and tenacity, much like Lagavulin’s rise to legendary status, which has taken over 200 years in the making. Lagavulin is a roaring single malt that leaves its intense smoky flavour on your palate with every sip. The golden liquid recalls the Lannister’s riches and is best served neat or with a single drop of water.

Lagavulin 9 Years Old
Lagavulin 9 Years Old

Nose

All sweet smoke and loveliness up front. A Laga for sure. Delivering smoke, salinity and sweetness by the bucketload and in that order too. Rather than a medicinal peat smoke it has drying charcoal kind of smoky quality to it. A little briny-ness. Toffee apple sweetness – both the burnt, caramelised sugar and fruity tartness. There’s some orange zest in there too along with some red berries and cherries – a lot going on.

Taste

Really soft on the tongue – sweetness and fruit flavours roll over the tongue and then the classic Lagavulin smoky rasp really kicks in. It reminds me of the char that you get on a burger from a proper charcoal-lit barbecue. That burger seems to have been seasoned well too as the coastal/briny sea salt note is there followed by lots of pepper – the alcohol and oak delivering a real flash of white pepper heat to tongue.

Finish

The Lags kinda trails off but sweet oak lingers for a while and actually the lasting flavour seems to be the base ingredient of the whisky itself: malt. There’s a lovely sweet grist like flavour left behind until you breathe again after the dram has gone and that signature smoke just billows back.

Verdict

Let’s talk about the whisky first here: this lion may have had its claws slightly clipped when compared to the landmark Lagavulin 16yo that I know and love, but is a damn good whisky when standing on its own – and an absolute bargain if you can get it at the often-available discount price! On that note, throughout 2020, from what I can see, the whole whisky collection has pretty much been in some form of offer or discount online. That’s certainly why I’ve been buying up a bottle or two here and there and now have the full roster. Back to the whisky and this has all the hallmarks of Lagavulin but is just a little thin on the finale, compared to the robust full bodied blow that you get from the extra years in the barrel. It’s hard not to compare it to the classic, but you are comparing something with greatness here and let’s just put it this way: this Lagavulin 9yo is probably more of an autumnal drinker rather than the regular releases’ winter association. After several glasses of this over time I have however come to appreciate it in its own right and it is a delicious smoky whisky.

When it comes to the Game of Thrones series of whiskies, I don’t quite understand why this one wasn’t chosen for House Targaryen. Yes, Cardhu was founded by two female trailblazers, and Lagavulin and the Lannisters have the whole lion thing but when it comes to the whisky, you’d expect the rugged island signatures profile and smoke to be associated with the Mother of Dragons – particularly so when you consider that House Targaryen was paired with the Cardhu Gold Reserve – and the Lannisters were known for their gold, their refinery and, of course, always paying their debts.

The Lannister family signup shows the Lion and their motto is “Hear Me Roar” and, to be fair, this whisky does roar more ferociously than others in the series, and like I say, it is a great little whisky in its own right. If you are partial to Lagavulin, or smoky whisky in general, this will be right up your street – GoT fan or otherwise.

M

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