Each month in the first half of this year I picked up one or two of the Game of Thrones (‘GoT’) single malt whiskies and now have a complete set. Though I love whisky and have loved the TV show, this is not a collection for collecting’s sake – this is for drinking and I will of course be drinking it all! More importantly for this post, the Talisker was one of the first on the wish list!
For those unaware, the GoT range of whiskies was launched in 2018 to coincide with the airing of the final series of HBO’s mammoth TV adaptation of the Song Of Ice And Fire books by George R R Martin. The Talisker Select Reserve is a single malt created for this series amongst a total of what has now become 9 single malts and 3 Johnnie Walker co-branded blends. For the single malts, a House (family) or Institution from within the Song Of Ice And Fire canon was aligned to a different distillery within the Diageo family of whiskymakers.
For the Talisker release, the Greyjoy family were chosen as their representatives (or vice versa) and here’s what the bottle has to say about it…
House Greyjoy rules the Iron Islands and worships the Drowned God. The Ironborn make their home on bleak and blustery islands off the west coast of Westeros whose unforgiving, desolate location shapes their lives. Unable to subsist solely on rocky land, these reavers take to the sea to make their fortune amidst salt and smoke. They acquire their riches not with gold, but by paying the Iron Price.
Situated in the shores of the Isle of Skye, one of the most remote and rugged areas of Scotland, Talisker’s layered flavours and signature maritime character are the result of its wave-battered shores. The Western Isle of Skye is characterised by jagged peaks and windswept landscapes, which create this intense smoky single malt Scotch with spicy, powerful and sweet elements combined with maritime flavours.Talisker – Select Reserve
Not much is said about the whisky itself on the packaging but we do know that it is (disappointingly) coloured with caramel or “Mit Farbstoff / Zuckerkolör” and bottled at the distillery’s preferred alcohol strength of 45.8% ABV. Notes that I’ve seen elsewhere suggest that it uses heavily charred ex-bourbon casks for its maturation, but with no age statement to determine how long for. Now, for the important part…
Caramel, campfires and coastlines. That’s kind of poetic isn’t it? They’re the first notes that spring to mind though. It’s all the classic Talisker signatures: a sweet, sugary, orange fruit sweetness, with that one-two seaside combo of rugged island peat and salty sea spray. After some time in the glass, the peat is joined by the smells of Christmas cakes, raisins and fig rolls.
As the sea-meets-peat flavours continue the whisky just glides through your mouth with a buttery texture and caramel softness and sweetness. With a little time that becomes more of a butterscotch and toffee sensation, with some fig and raisin fruitiness, and gentle warming wintry spices.
A spikier and spicier peppery peat fires up on the way down with a little earthy flourish and a reminder that this is a decent Talisker after all.
This whisky feels very much like an intro to Talisker. And it’s a good one, at that. When comparing the Select Reserve to its brethren (particularly the age statement family members) this feels like a bit like a Talisker-lite but without compromising too much [ed: I’m going to have to compare it with the Tallywhacker 10 in due course!] but as for now, on its own, I’m enjoying this one. It has still got the heat from the distillery’s signature 45.8% ABV and that helps deliver some strength and body to the malt but it still remains very easy sipping. Given that Talisker has such a dedicated following, I imagine that this will have its critics, but I think that this could easily sit alongside the Skye or Storm releases were it more readily available or a permanent fixture.
When it comes to the pairing of the GoT Houses and the distilleries within the Diageo family, this is my favourite of them all. The salty sea dog imagery of House Greyjoy really matches the profile of the whisky and Talisker/Skye itself. I have wanted to visit the Isle of Skye for some time now, not just to visit Talisker at its source, but for the beauty that the isle has to offer. Below is a video of aerial shots of island’s rugged land and mountain-scape and these look just like how I pictured the home of the Salt Throne of Pyke.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of House Greyjoy without thinking of Theon and his story arc – particularly the Ramsey Bolton/Reek element – and I’d like to think that he would not have liked this whisky at the start of his story, but would by the end. What I’m saying is that it’s not exactly for the faint-hearted. In fact the more I think about it, the more it sort of represents his story arc (without the horrible bit in the middle). There’s the buttery, sweet, caramel opening (i.e. when he was soft, childish, selfish and mollycoddled at Castle Black) followed by a smoky and peppery bite at the end of the journey (i.e. fending for others, what is right and for House Stark). Aww. Theon. What Is Dead May Never Die.
Overall, this is probably one of the whiskies within the GoT single malts range that I’ve enjoyed the most. Let’s not forget that the message of the series was to provide a malt that stands as a signpost of what the chosen distillery has to offer – though maybe it’s full RRP price point doesn’t necessarily reflect that – and this whisky certainly offers all of Talisker’s enjoyable hallmarks and tasting notes within a beautifully branded package.
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.