The marriage between Diageo and HBO’s Game Of Thrones (‘GoT’) series has been something of a whirlwind for the crossover of GoT and whisky fans. It started in the run up to the final TV series, with the White Walker – a Cardhu and Clynelish-led Johnnie Walker blend that was designed to be served from the freezer. Unusual. Marketing-heavy. A wild success. Sold out everywhere. Tasted awful [ed: obviously, that’s just like my opinion, man, and ok, it’s pretty good-ish in a long cocktail]. Then the single malts series was announced. 8 single malt scotch whiskies released, each from different distilleries, all in matching bottles and themed packaging. EIGHT! Without questions, the whisky web warriors warmed up their fingertips to pound their keyboards and buy buy buy. GoT fans and whisky nerds everywhere were pumped. Thankfully, the whiskies were good (and I’m making my way through them now!).
Then the final TV series happens.
Despite the truly epic battles and story arcs (and a rogue coffee cup that upset a lot of people), the final result just didn’t seem to be what fans wanted or what the build-up of 8 years of awesome storytelling seemed to deserve.
Then Diageo announced a new, ninth and (absolutely, positively, definitely) final release to join the eight strong single malt scotch whisky series. After the disappointment of the final TV series, and the virtual groan of a follow-up whisky, all social media lit up with the same message worldwide: this better be bloody good! With a wealth of distilleries to their name, Diageo revealed their hand and dealt one of their cult classics to fit the bill, and here we have that release: a Mortlach 15 year old.
Available for an RRP of £120, the Mortlach 15 – Six Kingdoms has been packaged in a shimmering gold/metal effect tube [ed: it’s a covering around a cardboard tube], brandishing the Three-Eyed Raven – a pivotal and ominous character and device within the GoT folklore. As with the rest of the whisky series, there is a description of the whisky and it’s tie to the GoT dynasty.
The three-eyed raven, a human who once lived along the Children Of The Forest beyond the Wall, has the power to see beyond the constraints of time to uncover the past and present stories of Westeros and even reveal flashes of the future. As those stories unfold to impart wisdom and knowledge, they are intertwined and woven into the tapestry of the Six Kingdoms, all while beyond the horizon and above the clouds the three-eyed raven watches with a thousand eyes, and one.
Mortlach, Dufftown’s first legal distillery has equally been influenced by the people in its history. George and Alexander Cowie were integral influenced for both the distillery and surround community, with George holding the esteemed title of Provost and Alexander developing Mortlach’s signature method to distill the liquid exactly 2.81 times – a complex process as unique as the three-eyed raven itself. Evocative of the past, crafted for the future, this fifteen year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky has been finished in ex-bourbon casks, imparting a bold, smooth taste with notes of vanilla and spice befitting of those with a noble palateMortlach – Six Kingdoms
Though this release is also “Mit Farbstoff”, we know a little more about this whisky than others in the range: this single malt has been matured in first-fill sherry casks for the majority of its time before a short finishing period in those American Oak ex-bourbon casks. The whisky has been captured at 46% ABV, and has been especially crafted for release in this Game of Thrones series of single malts.
That’s one pretty damn big nose hitting you. Thick and musty. Once you acclimatise though, there’s apples, oranges, raisins, sultanas, all of the baking spices, and some rich, woody flavours. After a bit more time there’s a bourbon astringency and saccharine note that appears and seems to help round out the sweetness of the fruity flavours.
An initial soft texture and creamy vanilla flavour starts to roll across the tongue but then the heat is turned up almost immediately before you fully get to appreciate it. There’s lots of oak spice driving through this but it’s just tempered enough to avoid totally blowing your head off. Crisp apples and orange zest stand out amongst the heat and deliver a real sweetness, zest and chocolatey profile.
That big hit of flavours, oak and spice manages to intensify further on the way down. For all the fire and brimstone, once that heat has finally subsided (along with any associated heartburn) there are remnants of the apple and cinnamon tastes and a return to the baking/pastry flavours from the nose. And raisins comes to think of it. Oooh. I’ll be damned if the final flavours don’t remind me of Eccles cakes!!
Well this is a pretty feisty little thing. I can see why they refer to Mortlach as the ‘Beast of Dufftown’. If this is intended to fit the brief of the GoT single malt series as a whole, then this is supposed to be an introduction to the distillery too, so I’d love to see what kind of intensity that other Mortlachs have. On the point of the distillery, due to the price and rarity normally associated with a Mortlach, I’ve only really had the chance to drink two or three of their whiskies and I really did enjoy them – but then, that’s the thing with whisky isn’t it? It is a drink, and for all the fanfare, once it’s drank, it’s over and done with, but for the associated laughs, feels and good company that having a dram is usually accompanied with! What I’m saying is that we are talking about a drink here, at the end of the day, and this is a good one.
Going back to Mortlach, I don’t get the maths behind the 2.81 thing. So they triple distill some but not all of it and the liquid mostly goes through all of the stills that they have, so if you average out the final distillate then it comes out at 2.81 times distilled?! Whether you care about that or not, you can’t deny that it creates both a decent marketing angle, and something of a firey ‘beast’. What is also remarkable is that you do get used to that beast. A few sips in and you’re not fighting with it. You’re getting along with it. Maybe the beast is all bark and no bite. Well… maybe just a playful bite. Anyway, it makes for a damn fine single malt scotch whisky experience, that’s for sure. Definitely a distillery that the whisky enthusiast will want to tick off on their list.
As for the GoT tie-in – strap in. Mainly because I find myself annoyed at it. I didn’t want to like it. Well, I did. I’m a completist. Many of us are, and they’ve played on that. The fact that this is the late ninth release in an eight part series annoyed me. The fact that the collector then has to shell out nearly twice as much as the range’s previously most expensive whisky, annoyed me. Bran the Broken and the three-eyed raven annoyed me (and the world, it seems) in the TV series. The fact that the tube was gold and not white or black as per the existing series annoyed me. The fact that the title is a sort of spoiler for the climax of an 8 year long TV series annoyed me. The fact that I (like the three-eyed raven) should have seen it coming, but didn’t, annoyed me. Despite all of that, I liked the whisky. Which is the main thing, right? Luckily. As it happens, I waited for the right time to buy it too – it was on sale (£50 off as part of a Master of Malt Father’s Day sale) and the fact that we were in lockdown and no longer spending £100s on fuel and the like, loosened the WU purse strings a little. Plus, at the discounted price, it was also in league with the RRP of the recently refreshed core range of Mortlach single malts that I was eager to try (12, 16 and 20). In short, the outlay was worthwhile and I now have a quality whisky to show for it. I’d be foolish to ignore that quality too. It has a freshness, fullness and an inherent something about it that the other GoT whiskies that I’ve tried don’t necessarily have. For the price and the 15 years maturation, you’d hope so. The ferocity of the dram makes you take your time with it too, so this bottle will not be fully slaked any time soon. Putting up with that ferocity is worth it too, as it feels like you are indeed getting quality and there are delicious flavours at the end of that spice road. Overall, despite the circumstances of its release making the whisky world roll its collective eyes, I can’t deny that this is a very good whisky and a delicious sipper that sits happily in the cabinet and, like the three-eyed raven, oversees the GoT legacy.