Well, who would have thought it that Clynelish would be rejoined by its fallen comrade Brora once again? It seems almost fantasy now looking back on the recent news. Then, pausing to take it all in, reality shows you just how much some are willing to pay for new whisky releases. Combine this Diageo’s glaring lack of a blue-chip distillery at the luxury end of the market – lets not talk about the failed Mortlach experiment – why not resurrect the great one instead?
Of course, we’ll have to see what transpires as Brora itself won’t be back in production for a few years yet thanks partially to Diageo’s failure to keep the site watertight and secure from local wildlife. After all this company only takes up the reigns of protecting such historical sites when there’s money to be made. The region is currently booming with the NC500 route – basically a driving experience for retired, portly gents with little else to do – bringing tourism to the region. However, whisky tourism is only a small part of the equation, as Brora will be a long term project with its whisky not arriving until at least 10-12 years of age. This thankfully gives us plenty of time to start saving for the initial release.
There is a degree of pessimism applied here as market changes will dictate whether this project comes to fruition. Diageo after all has a history of cancelling or suspending previously proclaimed projects when it gets cold feet. At least they never got around to demolishing Brora unlike Port Ellen where more substantial work is required. Until recently Diageo wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the Brora site that sat idle beside its replacement yet still drew regular crowds because of its legacy. Protected by its listed building status, Brora offered a stark reminder of the money that originally flowed into this seaside location to establish a settlement after the dramatic Highland clearances. The all powerful House of Sutherland relegated families to a status below that of livestock- which took the place of their crofts – as the evicted were funnelled abroad or to the promise of employment in places such as Brora.
Its a new type of money that now brings more change to this site. Both distilleries have shuffled and interchanged names more often than Carlos the Jackal, so it does become a little confusing at times.
When I visited these 2 distilling giants last year as part of the VIP Brora experience, Clynelish was receiving its first major refurbishment since it was established in 1967. The still room was cast open to the elements and the renovations took a year to complete when the distillery came back online in June 2017. Clynelish is widely known for its distinctive waxiness characteristic that is believed comes from a build up in residue within the feints receiver. The concern being for onlookers that any changes would upset the balance and character that makes Clynelish so popular today with malt enthusiasts and blenders. With all the whitecoats that Diageo can call upon, it is fairly likely that after a few months the traditional Clynelish character will resurrect itself and all will be well. At least, that’s the idea and only time will tell.
For now we have an abundance Clynelish releases available via the independent sector, whilst the official range in reality focuses on the core 14 year old release. Lets not overlook those 2 dubious No Age Statement Clynelish expressions that formed part of the 2014 and 2015 Special Release outturns. Priced in the realm of £500-£600, neither really set the whisky world alight despite some fanfare from the usual quarters. Honestly, they’re ok but at their asking prices they are hopelessly overpriced for what they deliver. And whilst they were overshadowed by a trio of Brora releases during a marvellous tasting, neither really wowed attendees or underlined what we think Clynelish should taste like.
With this review we’re sitting down with a 20 year old Clynelish bottled as part of the Celebration of the Cask range. Coming from Morrison & Mackay, its one of several whisky labels they operate although as of October 2017, they have become distillers with the Aberargie distillery coming online. Distilled on 11th September 1997, it resided in a sherry puncheon (number 9441) until 11th September 2017 before being bottled. An outturn of 581 bottles were produced at a rugged 57% strength. Retailing for upwards of £150 – depending where you shop – there might be the odd bottle somewhere out there waiting to be discovered. That’s the draw of Clynelish today, being prized by many enthusiasts who seek out releases and especially those of this age and wood type.
Càrn Mòr Clynelish 1997 20 year old – review
Colour: a well worn and victorious champion conker
On the nose: slightly warmed walnuts, that old leather wallet that’s been gathering dust in your back pocket (mine certainly has), a robust sherry influence with raisins, blackberries and liquorice root. Returning there’s beeswax, dark chocolate shards, coffee liquor, all-spice and a rich honey. Pretty standard affair for a 20 year old sherry puncheon that will appeal to many.
In the mouth: it’s the texture that strikes you first with its slick oozing waxy quality. I’m reminded of the classic 1950’s film The Blob with its ability to coat and smother everything leaving a slightly waxy legacy. Thankfully its not terminal and rolled tobacco and chocolate flavours come through. Cloves, I’m definitely picking these fellas up along with vanilla and this is better without water. The balance is very precarious.
Very tasty and if you’re a fan of an active sherry cask then its will be a harmonious experience. For the Clynelish fans or those wishing to seek out the distillery character its a slightly hollow affair. A difficult one to score. The whisky itself is very good, but is it more cask driven than Clynelish? I feel this is the case here as this could be from several distilleries. See sometimes a score doesn’t tell the full tale – always read the small print – after all its called Celebration of the Cask!
My thanks to Michael at the Carnegie Whisky Cellars for the sample.