A decision was long overdue. There I was standing in a local wine merchant confronted by 2 potential worthwhile whiskies; both firmly in hand and proving difficult to seperate. Using my seventh sense to sniff out a bargain, on paper I knew that both represented value and came from a reputable independent bottler. What to do next was the provoking conundrum?
The solution is recognisable to any whisky enthusiast. I bought both bottles and left the shop content with my acquisitions, eager to open and discover. We’re reviewing the first of these here and I’m sure the 21 year old Glen Elgin from 1995 will follow at a later date. Both come from the solid stable of Signatory; a bottler we should be reviewing more here on MALT given the opportunity. For the record, both 21 year olds were bought for the respectable sum of £103 in total.
Signatory is a well established independent bottler nowadays, having leapt into existence in 1988 on the outskirts of Edinburgh before upping sticks and moving to Edradour distillery in 2002. Without the heritage of Cadenhead’s or Gordon & MacPhail it has grown in stature amongst enthusiasts. Often the source of wonderful obscure casks and releases, it also offers whiskies at a reasonable price; something that Gordon & MacPhail has moved on from with changes to its Connoisseurs Choice range. Both bottles form part of its value based Un-Chillfiltered range with the core principles being no messing other than the alcohol strength being reduced to a consistent 46% for each release.
How to buy is almost as important as what to buy? Oddly, I’m often asked the latter rather than the former. I guess that’s a reflection of the flipper secondary market antics we’re seeing nowadays with the folk intent on causing traffic jams and camping out overnight for a bottle of whisky. How to buy is far more fun and enjoyable to contemplate. Word of mouth is just as important as who the bottler is. Take into account not only online resources but speak to the staff who may have tried the whiskies themselves or possibly have an opened bottle beneath the counter.
The distillery itself is often a good marker for quality but don’t dismiss the lesser known producers here if you’re dealing with a single cask or vatted format. These often show an Auchentoshan or a Glenlivet for instance in a whole new light. Price comes into consideration as well as acknowledging we all have our limits. Cask type and your own particular preference around this are of relevance and for the geeks, the year of distillation can offer a hint of what to expect.
This is a Clynelish so already we are on solid ground. Arguably the Highland’s most classy single malt it comes from my favourite whisky region. 1996 is also a solid year for this distillery and we have a refill butt here rather than a 1st fill. The colour is more suggestive of a 2nd fill as well, hopefully meaning the classic distillery character isn’t swamped by sherry notes. My favourite bottles from this distillery are from ex-bourbon casks with the 1997 Archives 2017 Gathering release being a particular highlight.
This Clynelish was distilled 18th October 1996 before being bottled on 23rd November 2017 at 46% strength. Residing in a refill sherry butt #8796 for 21 years, it is natural colour and minus any chill-filtration. I picked this up for £55, which on paper is a pretty good deal and representative of this Signatory range in general.
Signatory Clynelish 1996 21 year old – review
Colour: gold leaf
On the nose: a satisfying arrival of fruit and nut chocolate before that characteristic waxiness kicks in. Some sweet tobacco, baked apples, cinnamon and lemon oil. Just a splash of water is needed to be beneficial to reveal vanilla. However, I prefer it without, leaving the resin-like quality untouched along with toffee and figs.
In the mouth: a gentle caress from the sherry cask, perfectly balanced with the Clynelish spirit. More of those traditional elements with chocolate digestives, walnuts, toffee apples, orange peel, honeycomb, tobacco and a lovely creamy buttery nature towards the clove finish. Water brings out nutty qualities with hazelnuts and oddly coconut flakes.
A very drinkable and enjoyable Clynelish. Nothing more, nothing less. A bit of a bargain for a 21 year old that doesn’t scream its age in the glass in terms of complexity. There are bargains still out there if you use your instincts and avoid the overpriced releases we’re seeing nowadays. Imagine what price some companies would charge for a Clynelish of this age from a sherry butt?
We’ll strive to offer more Signatory releases soon. I’ll try and pop in at Edradour distillery next month when I’m passing.
Lead image from the Green Welly Stop.