By-the-by I have few problems with marketing tie-ins. They’re largely harmless (often tenuous) attempts to raise the visibility of a brand or to try to sell you pizza whilst you watch Chester-set soap opera buffoonery. The world of whisky is no stranger to tie-ins -many a golf tournament has had an official bottling produced for it. Powerhouse Diageo have chosen the big and small screens for several of their recent tie-in products – from 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 inspired Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut, to this year’s extensive Game of Thrones partnership. Fortunately, due to a range of sensible advertising laws, we’re unlikely to see a 2020 celebratory bottle of Cbeebies Brora the Explorer.
Game of Thrones is big business. Whilst George RR Martin continues to struggle to finish the sixth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, HBO’s Game of Thrones is nearing its conclusion. Both have developed a large army of fans – particularly the latter. There’s a whole string of GoT tie-ins, Diageo’s is but one in a very long line. And yet, I’m still somewhat confused by it – the inherent link between whisky and Westeros seems nigh invisible to me – but then, I guess a GoT special edition mead is unlikely to have a particularly wide audience. Tie-ins and relevance rarely feel completely natural, so perhaps it’s best to just move on. Diageo have not one, but nine GoT whiskies on the go. The soon to be launched ‘Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection’ features eight of Diageo’s distillery’s represented by the major family houses from the literature – some of these look vaguely interesting, others seem to be re-packagings of pre-existing expressions. But, before these hit the shelves, there’s Johnnie Walker White Walker – a bottle name so obvious, that it’s perhaps a surprise it has taken this long. But, we saw how Jane Walker was received earlier this year, so maybe the wait was a sound idea.
Johnnie Walker White Walker is a blended whisky “with single malts from Cardhu and Clynelish both featuring…”. It’s delivered at a slightly higher than standard ABV of 41.7% and has been chill-filtered - but, in fairness, this is both transparent, and I guess, somewhat thematic. Perhaps the biggest draw for fans of the HBO series is the bottle label - it features both a White Walker Striding Man and a thermochromic print that reveals the text “Winter is here” when frozen. Yep, this is another whisky that has a gimmicky freezer serving suggestion – alarm bells are ringing.
Nose: A simplistic, but not unpleasant array of straight-forward aromas – Plenty of caramel and vanilla alongside quite a generous helping of coconut oil. A scattering of nebulous red berries and nuttiness sits alongside grain-driven notes –intensely sweet, but somewhat synthetic at the same time.
Nose (chilled): Almost nothing! Beyond virtually imperceptible toffee I might as well be nosing an ice-cube of tap water.
Taste: Certainly an improvement – the mouthfeel is better than expected (perhaps that’s the 1% of Clynelish in this bottle? – I doubt it’s the additional 1.7% ABV). Apples, pears and plenty of vanilla caramel – again with quite the vein of coconut. The mid to back palate delivers much more oakiness – sawdust, woodchips and some drying, slightly bitter pepperiness.
Taste (chilled): Well, it’s better than the sub-zero nose, but that’s not any type of achievement. Virtually identical to the room temperature palate, except in regards to balance – the wood is now not only drying, it’s also rather bitter. Both the grain, and the alcohol lose their integration – resulting in a bite and rawness that’s simply heightened by serving this at a colder temperature.
Finish: Short to medium and entirely grain forward.
Johnnie Walker White Walker is not a total disaster – but, it’s certainly heading in that direction. Out of the bottle, it’s a reasonable, if exceedingly boring blended whisky that has little to recommend it over the bottom shelf Johnnie Walker Red. However, Red Label can be picked up for £15 here in the UK, so one does wonder who might think that 1.7% ABV and a thermochromic label is worth an additional £20? Die-hard fans and fanciful bottle flippers no doubt.
I’ve sampled a few whiskies with freezer recommendations and have never once found it to be a good idea – Perhaps White Walker is the bottle to that finally puts the nail in this gimmicky coffin? It’s genuinely terrible at low temperature offering little to no aromas on the nose, and a palate that is inferior to its original self. I’ve scored this at room temperature – it would be substantially less in its anaemic frosty form. And now my watch has (thankfully) ended.