You can’t deny that the Game of Thrones range of single malts, released as a collaboration between HBO and Diageo, has made something of a legacy for itself within the whisky world. And why wouldn’t it?
At the time of the whiskies’ release, one of the most globally revered TV series was about to reach its finale and we (the fans) did not want it to end, and were feverishly snapping up any paraphernalia and insights into how the series and whole show would end. Add into that mix that the Diageo back catalogue of distilleries can offer up a collectable range of differing whiskies, and they were prepared to effectively create (or repackage) an introductory expression to display each distillery’s character and make them widely available at a cost at the cheaper end of the scale: winner, right? Well, its got us writing and opining away anyway!
Over a year on, and the forums for both GoT and whisky fans still continue to talk about their respective passions and continue to divide opinion. Despite their initial limited run, the whiskies are still available, should you want to find them, and, having now completed the set, we continue to write about them (see others here).
Like each of its siblings within the series, this Clynelish has something different to offer the engaged drinker, and not only does it look to offer an introduction to the distillery’s unique profile, but this whisky also stands out as the only high batch strength release. Whilst each of the other releases dwell within the 40-46% ABV bracket, this Highlands single malt weighs in at a sizey 51.2% ABV.
Unfortunately, we are not really told any more information about the composition of the whisky, but as with each of the series, there is a loose tie-in and connection explained between the distillery choice and their chosen House or establishment from the GoT canon:
House Tyrell of Highgarden rules over the Reach, the lush and fertile region of Westeros whose abundance feeds the realm. The Tyrell golden rose is beautiful but hides razor sharp thorns beneath the surface. They have lived up to their house words of Growing Strong, defending their position of power with weapons of sharp words, sharp minds and sharp actions.
Like the Reach, Clynelish is positioned among green pastures and rolling hills, with scenic views of the North Sea. The fruity, waxy and sea-spicy flavours of this single malt are said to come from the water of the Clynemilton burn, which runs over seams of gold in the rock. And while this vibrant, golden Scotch is light and floral, like House Tyrell, it’s not to be underestimated with its underlying complex combination of Highlands and maritime qualities.Clynelish Reserve – House Tyrell
The packaging is emblazened with the House Tyrell motto (“Growing Strong”) and sigil: a golden rose. I couldn’t help myself, as a fan of Lady Olenna Tyrell, for adding in a quote that the bottle reminds me of every time that I look at it:
Another golden rose, how original. I eat from plates stamped with roses, I sleep in sheets embroidered with roses, I have a golden rose painted on my chamber pot… as if that makes it smell any better. Roses are boring, dear.Olenna Tyrell
For that reason alone, this bottle does not look boring to me, and so onto the drinking…
The line about the Clynelish signature “waxy” flavour has led me down a merry path here – I was awaiting the waxy texture on the finish but here I’ve managed to smell it before even sipping the whisky because there is an immediate sweet, cloying note upfront that reminded me of both candle wax and play doh! The other image that pops straight into the mind’s eye is a big mixed bag of jelly beans from the Jelly Bean Factory! It is damn sweet coming back to the glass, actually. Popping candy, more jelly beans, pear drops, strong honey, toffee apples, dried papaya pieces, and cereal notes just jump out of the glass. Despite all of that, it remains quite light and flowery too – like roses (presumably from Highgarden) and parma violet sweets. It really does seem to have an old-school sweet shoppe feel to it – spelled that way too!
The lead players from the nose are still standing to attention when this hits your mouth, with the apple, pear and papaya notes taking centre stage. Despite being 51% it’s not a massive hit either. There’s something a bit cakey and sugary about it too. Like a cherry bakewell cake without the cherry – just think of that thick fondant icing and delicious crumbly pastry. Baking spices appear at the end.
Pretty long with a warming, nice and spicy feel – though not a full throttle spice that might make you feel like your biting on peppercorns. It needed something like this too and only on the finish does it seems that the oak spice and alcohol strength really make an appearance. Which is a good thing as otherwise this stuff would be lethal.
Now this is the one bottle that made me forego my initial reservations and go on to complete the set. I’d bought the big names only at first – that’s both the names of distilleries and names of the Houses in Game of Thrones. A big batch strength Clynelish at £33..? It didn’t take long to break… Then I had over half the set and I had nowhere to go but to complete it when I could. Interesting to think whether or not I’d have justified it differently somehow if this was at a basic 40%, but thankfully no need to worry. Speaking of which, adding water to dilute this did ease off the spice and smooth it all out to a clean set of apple and caramel flavours, but then it just seemed quite boring by comparison. I now trust and understand the decision behind the percentage on this one.
Going into this I kinda wish that I didn’t know about the waxy profile and would like to have gone into it blind. Maybe I would have recoiled at the initial smell, just like I did the first time I smelt an Edradour 10 and wondered if a wax seal had somehow got into the bottle! This definitely has that signature note from Clynelish though, as it then seems to stick to and dry out the teeth somehow. On the note of the Clynelish characteristics though, it might just be me, but I did not really get that maritime note which the marketing talks about. I guess that there is a sort of salinity to it, which usually equates to ‘maritime’ but it was so led by the sweet, sugary, fruity and floral flavours that any coastal features seems to have fallen by the wayside.
On the subject of the marketing behind this whisky: what a great connection between the Clynelish and House Tyrell! Initially, when the whisky series came out, I was sceptical, as I thought that they were just digging into less significant families/houses (!) to pad out a range, but when tasting the whisky it just made sense. You get all that sweetness and charm upfront but then discover the solid, complex and firey heart that lies beneath, just like Old Lady Olenna! Without revealing any spoilers: when she revealed her secret to Jaime Lannister – bam! Was I proud of her! A lady of gumption. That fits this whisky perfectly. A dangerously easy sipper that belies its percentage.