Say wax to any whisky enthusiast and an almost a guaranteed response is Clynelish. This distillery sits alongside the great Brora and has developed its own reputation since its arrival in 1967. Producing a style of whisky that finds favour with many and offers a clutch definitive characteristics.
I still doubt whether Diageo really understands how valued Clynelish is by many, or at least they underestimate the allegiance that many friends display. The staple release remains the classic 14 year old Clynelish that you can purchase for around £41.99 and it remains a solid example. The Clynelish Select Reserves were total folly and seriously overpriced. Needless to say after 2 attempts Diageo hasn’t tried again and the bottles are still widely available and gathering dust.
The distillery exclusives have been hit or miss in my opinion and underlining a youthful vitality that may come across as uncouth. Solid but nothing spectacular or invigorating enough to purchase a second bottle. Much of the Clynelish reputation has been built upon the independent bottlers who have unleashed several marvellous casks and recently we reviewed an impressive Signatory 21 year old.
From an official perspective, Clynelish can certainly do better although it is not alone in this regard within the Diageo portfolio, or across the Scotch whisky industry as a whole. At least now Diageo has recognised its potential by developing the visitor facilities as part of the forthcoming Johnnie Walker Experience. A recent visit to the distillery confirmed the arrival of new specific rooms and a visitors shop to entice any whisky fan. I do miss the old way of driving around the back of the distillery and stepping into the let’s say homely room where most of its history and wares were crammed into.
More concerning is the total refurbishment of the distillery which prompted its closure for a year until it reopened in 2017. Clynelish was showing its age and hadn’t received much attention since 1967. Improvements and replacements were overdue and giving a distillery a little TLC is never a bad thing. Worryingly, Clynelish is an oddity and one that does deserve extra care and attention when it comes to refurbishing the internals.
Essentially the waxiness is believed to be as a result of how the distillery handles and stores the low wines, foreshots and feints. The common practice in distilling is to just combine these offshoots into a single tank until required again. It makes sense and keeps things simple. Clynelish is different in this regard as it has 2 tanks that keep the low wines and foreshots/feints separate until required. These spirits are not reunited again until they reach the spirit still charger. It’s this period apart and a stationary aspect that encourages the build-up of the famous waxiness.
New equipment and the introduction of computerisation means the waxiness will take time to return. This was always going to be the case. The whisky grapevine chatter is that while a degree of waxiness has returned, the team are struggling to truly revive this characteristic. Clynelish-lite? This is the concern many had prior to the renovations and there isn’t much delight in saying I told you so when you’re dealing with a potential loss such as this.
Perhaps more time is required? Time can be a healer after all. The step away from a human hands-on approach to distillation by computers could also be a factor. You can talk all day about efficiencies and consistency. Both are boring words to many onlookers and the mundane pitfalls of whisky today. If the old character isn’t uncovered, then expect demand to soar for what we’ll be calling Clynelish-A1. That’ll make the already convoluted history of the site and name changing between both distilleries a degree course on its own merits.
Meanwhile, we have a Clynelish from Signatory that should display our beloved wax. A little younger than the classic 1996 vintage this was distilled on 1st March 2008 before being bottled on 17th August 2018. These details are very important. A couple of weeks prior to this bottling, Signatory released another 10 year old but an odd sooty Clynelish; a talking piece. This is a different beast and comes from 2 bourbon barrels (800130 & 800131). Bottled at 46%, with natural colour, it forms part of the Un-Chillfiltered Collection. Expect to pay around £35-£40 for this bottle.
Signatory Clynelish 2008 10 year old – review
Colour: 8 carat gold.
On the nose: Apple strudel followed by a waxy lemon sponge and withered cinnamon. A very fruity bouquet and after time modelling clay is noticeable. A heathery aspect with suet and more time reveals red apples. Fresh, clean and with kumquats, limescale, peaches and a touch of smoke. The wax-factor is heightened with water alongside vanilla sponge, white grapes and a floral lightness.
In the mouth: A fruit burst initially subsiding into orange sherbet, grapefruit and sugar cane. A gentle waxiness moves along into a spicy finish. Green apples, a handful of sour sweeties and cream crackers. Elements of pineapple, melon and with water green bananas.
A lovely, satisfying balance on the nose and palate. Neither is hugely rich and evocative yet both remain thoroughly enjoyable. Proof that Clynelish is quality at a young age, but you more than likely knew that already didn’t you?
Another well priced and timely Signatory reminder of why many enjoy Clynelish. Let’s hope we have casks galore left to enjoy in the coming years.