Tasting Notes: Cardhu – Gold Reserve (Game Of Thrones – House Targaryen)

Chances are, if you’ve come to this read this post, then you will know of the collaboration between Diageo and HBO to launch a collection of scotch whiskies to coincide with the final series of Game of Thrones.

If you are familiar then scroll on down but, for the uninitiated however… before the final season of GoT aired, Diageo released one blended scotch under the Johnnie Walker brand (White Walker), followed by EIGHT single malt scotch whiskies. After the series had finished, and our collective GoT fans’ hearts had been broken (for whatever reason – no spoilers here), the series of whiskies continued with a belated additional single malt (Mortlach 15) and two further Johnnie Walker blends (‘A Song Of Ice’ and A Song Of Fire’).

For this post, we are interested in one distillery and one house only: Cardhu and Targaryen, respectively.

Cardhu – Gold Reserve

As with each release in the single malt series, there is a loose connection between the choice of distillery and the chosen House.

House Targaryen, the only house in possession of fire breathing dragons, has proven its resilient nature throughout history. Through fierce determination and force of will, Daenerys Targaryen walked through fire and emerged at the head of the greatest army the known world has ever seen. Under the black and red banner of House Targaryen, she marches toward the Iron Throne and her rivals bend the knee to swear their allegiance to the Mother of Dragons.

Fuelled by this same fiery spirit and courage to conquer all challenges in their way, Helen Cumming and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth, were pioneers in the male-dominated whisky industry during the 1800s and largely responsible for the early success at Cardhu. This single malt scotch celebrates these legendary women and their unwavering perseverance with a liquid that’s rich in texture and a balance of sweet fruit, dark chocolate, toffee and spice.

Cardhu – Gold Reserve

Not much information is provided about the whisky itself, but we do know that it is a repackaged version of an existing whisky from Cardhu: Gold Reserve. So whilst there’s no indication of age, we do know that it is chill-filtered, “MitFarbstoff” (ie with caramel E150) and bottled the industry min requirement of 40% ABV.

Targaryen by name…


Very easy going. There’s little bits of all sorts here: a little oak, a little chocolate, a little orange, a little nutmeg – so all a little Sherry-like and Christmassy at first but very delicate. But then the wintry stuff is balanced by summery stuff too: a little mango, a little apricot and tangerine. A nice bit of balance. With a bit more time a few more lighter flavours takeover and reveal themselves some more, bringing to mind a strawberry cheese cake with the biscuit base, vanilla and sugary sweet strawberries.


Sweet summery fruits and wintry desserts meet again with mango and papaya up front, and then stewed apples – make that apple strudel! – nice biscuity, pastry, flavours with some cinnamon and nutmeg spice coming from the oak. Caramel, toffee and baking spices round it all out.


There’s a sherbet lemon tingle at the back of the mouth (I recognise this from the Cardhu 12) and then a fairly decent oaky rasp to finish it off. These are all light flavours yes, but this is a single malt after all.


All in all it’s a nice little sipper. It’s totally light and inoffensive and delivers lots of little light flavours. It could be a gateway dram on to light malts, and definitely fits its brief as an introduction to Cardhu’s own single malts. Nothing particularly wows you, but it is just a nice tot of whisky at the end of the day. Maybe lending itself to something of a warm-up whisky, or the start or mid point of an evening of whiskies. Almost like a malt based palate cleanser with that lemony/sherbet-y aftertaste – but still there’s enough to discover if you’re ready to go looking for it.

As for the GoT tie-in: I find this partnership somewhat disappointing. Or, at the very least, confusing. For the House it represents I would have imagined something with fire. Or at least smoke. Now I do appreciate the link with the strong female origins to the distillery but when it comes to taste, this is not the fire breathing dragon that the Tagaryen’s sigil depicts – a cynic would say that the dragon’s pilot light is barely flickering. This is more like a case of admiring the dragons for their beauty and the detail in their (CGI) scales, or cooing at the cute little dragons surrounding Daenerys earlier in the story/series before they understood the word “Dracarys”. There’s something there, you just have to look harder for it. Also, the Gold Reserve? Surely the Lannisters would have been better linked with the gold – with their decadence and always paying their debts and all. Cersei is certainly a strong female figure to align with the original founders of Cardhu for a strong heritage (though hopefully that’s where the similarities end). Moreover, I think it should be a straight swap with the House Lannister branding on the Lagavulin release. There’s certainly fire in that dram.

Back to tasting the whisky though and I’ll just take you down a little but purposeful deviation down memory lane: I once took part in a flight of Cardhu single malt whiskies whilst visiting the distillery a few years ago, held within their rather lavish, Johnnie-Walker-themed tasting room. The Gold Reserve was actually within the centre section of the flight (12yo, Amber Rock, Gold Reserve, 15yo, 18yo and then a distillery-only special cask release). Tasting them side by side, you were able to appreciate the differences between them, get to know the distillery character and, what I need to say for this post, really appreciate the nuances between some delicate whiskies. This whisky is certainly a delicate whisky and you aren’t going to be smacked around the tastebuds with bundles of tasting notes – they are in there, you just have to go looking for them. It did stand up for itself in a flight of Cardhu but I’m afraid that it wouldn’t stand out at all in a flight of the GoT series. That said, it is still an enjoyable, if not slightly forgettable, midweeker.


All that glitters…

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.

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