One of the classiest distillates and most adored names in whisky, is Clynelish. Casting aside the historical uses of the name and any confusion, we’re dealing purely with its modern incumbent, which stands proudly opposite Brora distillery.
Now fully refurbished, we await confirmation that its key waxiness has returned to the distillate. However, there does seem to be a new confidence and drive from Diageo to showcase its most northerly distillery. Sure, Brora might soon take that mantle by a couple of hundred yards in the near future, but there will be a centre of whisky excellence developing on the fringes of this coastal village.
I’ve been fortunate to visit the distillery on numerous occasions over the years, and there was something rustic about the old shop around the back. It felt as if you were stepping into heart of the operation and back in time. Nowadays, Clynelish has a more modern visitor experience and welcome, but seeing the old bottles and history on display remains as rewarding as ever, and there’s less prominence of the Johnnie Walker connection. Today, there’s more bravado and a sense of “this is our 14-year-old single malt, and we’re damn proud of it.”
Whether this translates into new Clynelish expressions remains to be seen. The new Highland Whisky Festival in May was a celebration of several distilleries across the region. Clynelish made its mark and was rewarded with two exclusive bottlings for visitors who ventured north. One was a 20-year-old 200th Anniversary release that would have set you back £350; feedback from folk I know who tried it was merely solid, slightly critical. Price is always a key consideration, and this failed to live up to the price tag. This raises the question: are we now seeing distilleries charging secondary market prices? “Excessive” is a fair summary, and it’ll be interesting to see how these perform at auction in the coming months. Because let’s face facts: this is where many of the bottles are destined, alongside festival releases from Campbeltown, Islay and Speyside.
As rich as this Clynelish sounds, Glenmorangie took the biscuit by demanding £650 for a mere 16-year-old, which was a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Finish. An outturn of 636 bottles, it offered plenty opportunity for any golfer brave enough to jump off his golf cart while ensuring his branded baseball cap stayed firmly in place. Again, excessive doesn’t cover it; taking the proverbial seems more apt.
Thankfully, the other festival Clynelish was more affordable and half the age of its older brother. The price was more realistic, and given that this was the first Clynelish BYO, a welcome tonic with all the festival pricing excesses. Demand was high for this release given the love that many have for Clynelish and its scarcity outside of the official 14-year-old expression.
It feels like we’re seeing fewer independent bottlings of Clynelish in recent times. When they do reach the market, those affordably priced by Signatory tend not to hang around for long. Other releases—such as a 24-year-old Carn Mor touching £200, or a Douglas Laing 21-year old at £317—tend to languish at retail, proving in my mind that the market is becoming savvier and saying enough is enough when it comes to excessive pricing.
Where do you go for affordable Clynelish? A consideration might be the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As a current member, I can vouch that releases from this distillery are rather thin on the ground. Even once prominent and regular showings like Bowmore have vanished beneath the onslaught of Speyside distilleries, Caol Ila and Ardmore. Regular readers will know that I’m still debating whether to continue my membership, and more appearances from Clynelish in the monthly outturn would sway my decision.
A 7-year-old Clynelish is a rare thing indeed, and does come at a premium. The asking price stateside of $110 isn’t cheap, but we have to acknowledge the premium of exporting to a foreign branch. In saying this, other similarly matured releases are available for circa $80, underling the Clynelish premium once again.
This Clynelish was distilled on 24th September 2010 and bottled at 7 years of age from a 1st fill barrel. This provided an outturn of 233 bottles. This particular release is available for SMWS USA members.
SMWS 26.123 Attractive, lively fun – review
On the nose: very spirity with limoncello, vanilla and wood shavings. Talcum powder hints at a chalky aspect and then there’s fresh wood shavings, an artificial soap bar and a stale white bread. White sugar cubes, icing sugar, a rubbed mint leaf and a sweet pastry dough. Water reveals more fruits with ripe apples and flour.
In the mouth: robust and youthful with more of that spirit emphasis. The cask hasn’t had an opportunity to deliver its influence fully, uncouth with waxed lemons, a dirty vanilla and limes on the finish alongside cask char. Returning, there is banana skin and more wood chippings. Water is beneficial showcasing more fruits with pears, apples, Kiwi fruit and grapefruit on the finish.
Mixed emotions about this Clynelish. In some respects it reminds me of the distillery exclusive from a few years ago; similarly youthful and rugged to put it politely. I wasn’t a huge fan and felt for an official release, Clynelish should be doing better.
You can certainly play with it, by adding water which does prove beneficial. However, there’s no getting away from its youthful emphasis and that it should have had a few more years in the cask to truly develop that Clynelish class.
A dram for more of an experienced enthusiast. There are better distillates at a younger age which I’d point you towards instead; such as Miltonduff or Dailuaine.
My thanks to @fromwhereidram for the sample and photographs. The album artwork is Lorde whoever they are. And there are commission links within this review if you wish to make a purchase. Such things never influence our opinion.