Winter is coming! In honor of the last season of Game of Thrones, the Diageo company (who owns a good chunk of the distilleries in Scotland) has decided to put out a series of scotch whisky bottlings branded with the emblems of each of the major houses of Westeros. Today we’re drinking the House Stark edition from Dalwhinnie and mentally preparing ourselves for the Battle of Winterfell.
The distillery was originally founded in 1897 as the Strathspey Distillery, but the first business venture failed within a year. In 1898 the distillery was purchased by A.P. Blythe and renamed to the Dalwhinnie distillery.
Between 1905 and 1919, the distillery was owned by an American company who used the Dalwhinnie product and blended it with other spirits for export back to the States. Following the enactment of prohibition, a Scottish whisky blender named Sir James Calder put the distillery back into Scottish hands.
Much like other whisky distillers in Scotland, Dalwhinnie was purchased in 1926 by the Distillers Company Ltd. — which itself was eventually purchased by the English Diageo company.
Originally the entire process of making whisky was completed on site, but beginning in 1968 Dalwhinnie began purchasing already malted barley from a specialist third party company.
According to Diageo, the reason why this particular distillery was chosen for their House Stark edition scotch is because it is the highest and coldest distillery in their portfolio. Not only does that sound fitting to represent the northernmost of the Seven Kingdoms, but the real-life location in the highlands of Scotland influences the taste of the spirit as it ages.
This spirit starts as a traditional Dalwhinnie Scotch whisky. Malted barley is brought in from a third party distributor and combined with natural water from a local source to produce the fermented mash. From there, the spirit is distilled in the same copper pots that have been used for ages and placed into barrels.
Much like the French owned Glenmorangie of the same region, the spirit is placed into previously used American bourbon barrels, which are white oak casks that have been charred. The fact that they are previously used means that the casks don’t impart quite as strong of a flavor as they did initially, making for a more delicate spirit.
The normal Dalwhinnie scotch bottle is shorter and fatter, but this version is more of a traditional design. There’s a round body that tapers to a bulged neck and topped with a wood and cork stopper.
The most prominent aspect of this product is the Game of Thrones tie-in branding with the House Stark sigil prominently displayed on both the bottle and the decorative tin that the bottle comes in.
The whisky itself is amber in color with a good consistency, just like a good delicious scotch should be. In the glass it smells sweet with a little bit of peat — I get a touch of pear, or perhaps some apple, and some floral aspects as well. It’s a good solid highlands scotch blend of scents.
Taking a sip, the spirit is smooth with a bit of a bite at the end as an aftertaste. The flavor itself is almost pitch perfect for a good scotch whisky, with some dried fruit and vanilla being the most prominent flavors.
Adding a bit of ice actually makes this spirit much better. The bitterness is gone from the finish, and the fruit flavors are more forward. Whatever peat flavor was previously present has nearly disappeared.
I appreciate the Game of Thrones tie-in, and that it seems like Diageo actually put two seconds of thought into picking the right distilleries for each house. But judging it on the spirit alone, it’s a downright average product.
Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Production: Dalwhinnie, Scotland
Classification: Highland Single Malt Scotch
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $40/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
It’s a fairly average scotch whisky. Nothing to write home about. Yet here I am writing about it on the internet because their marketing team did their job well (and I’m also stressed about the outcome of the next episode).