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Thompson Bros. Clynelish 2010

Yeah, it says Clynelish right up there, so most of you will just skip to the bottom of this piece for the score and convenient online link to make your commission-free purchase. For the minority that remains, let’s talk about Clynelish, and how something average should be welcomed with open arms.

Simply, because this whisky is average. The label from Katie is frankly epic, and I’d give an 8/10 any time of the day. Beyond that glorious exterior, though, is a Clynelish that is solid and unspectacular. I know it’s a hard thing to say and hear, but we’re MALT, and we do deal in the communication of truth. Our scoring system reinforces this, with a 5/10 being deemed average—isn’t that a huge surprise? We’ve even got a scoring guide to underline the fact a 5 is average and not a 7. Yet we have to explain this time and time again to industry folk.

Industry types have grown accustomed to the cosy nature of the 100-point system, a format that is biased towards the industry and camouflages the real meaning of a score. Apparently, on the 100-point scale, the main pivot point is 50, but when was the last time you actually witnessed an average score given for an average whisky?

I’ve tried many average whiskies, and I’ve been stunned when you see scores elsewhere in the lower 80’s, when apparently an 83 means 83%. Really? Can that be so, and if so, why? The mathematical average on 100 is 50, just as, on our 10-point scale, the midway point is 5. I don’t care who has the 100-point scale before, or where it came from. If something is fundamentally wrong and misleading in any other realm, it is corrected and improved upon.

Take engineering. A flaw is identified, and do the engineers accept that it’ll do, as it has always managed to do the job, or do they set about improving upon what exists already? We’re a consumer society. We are programmed to purchase upgrades, new models and editions to keep the economy and world turning. Why not improve upon the flawed 100-point system as it currently stands?

Now, I’m not saying that ours is the best or the final edition. It is, however, a step in the right direction for you, the consumer. Apparently, the 100-point scale is easier to use. Really? Can you explain the difference to me between an 82 and an 85? Or how about an 86 or an 88? I expect many are unable to do so, or we’re splitting hairs so much that it becomes pointless. If only that was the case.

I remember when I first got into the world of whisky and read the early books from Michael Jackson, with scores consistently above 70 and into the 80’s. You were given the impression that 70ish means very good and 80ish showcased something excellent. It’s a shame we were robbed of a great writer far before his time, as I’d want to know if he felt that the scoring system had run its course. He certainly used more of the range, with scores into the 60’s and 70’s, I recall, on a regular basis. Nowadays, is whisky truly better for all the throngs of releases you see marked with a score of 80 plus? We’ve reached a point where, arguably, scoring doesn’t matter anymore. It’s become so stale and inept that many just go on word of mouth.

All that said and done, we do have a Clynelish today from our friends at Dornoch distillery. I say “friends” because this never means a favourable review. It is difficult not to be swayed by cosy industry relationships and the promise of freebies. This is why we remain truly independent and realistic. We don’t pay lip service to brands or friends. Give us a good whisky: it’ll be scored as such, and a bad one will receive the representative mark as well. It’s also worth considering what whiskies aren’t being reviewed—or even why high scores are being given to whiskies you know are inept. Some sites and magazines rely on advertising revenue. For instance, Edrington would be a major account for any magazine or site. Giving one of their whiskies a lukewarm or even negative review might prompt phone calls and the threat of the account going elsewhere. This pressure is arguably reflected in the scores, and I’d suggest why many see the Whisky Magazine, as being little better than starter fuel.

Then there is a sense of selective reviewing. Only the best bottles from the SMWS (or another big-name indie) are showcased. You don’t want to upset the apple cart and the prospect of any future paid work for their magazine by lambasting another inept whisky outturn. It is only human nature, and somewhat the way of things. Once you go full-time or become employed within the industry, you’ve become part of the machine, and your role is clearly defined; you don’t rebel or cause friction. You’re part of the fabric and muted.

Clynelish is very much in demand. The Whisky Exchange seems intent on charging an ever-increasing price for anything from 1995 or 1996 because the masses will sweep it up with glee. Other bottlings of Clynelish are few and far between. For a prized Diageo malt, we’re left to chase a classic vintage or to experiment with a younger whisky. In my experience, Clynelish needs time: into the teens and beyond is the sweet spot. Bottling in single figures runs the risk of untapped potential, and in some cases, a very disappointing Clynelish experience.

This particular Clynelish was bottled at nine years of age from a first-fill bourbon barrel that resulted in 240 bottles at 58% strength. The asking price was £70, reflecting the scarcity of casks from this distillery. As always, it is naturally presented and available here.

Thompson Bros. Clynelish 2010 – review

Colour: white gold.

On the nose: fresh and vibrant, with vanilla and grapefruit. There’s limescale, melon and fruit pastilles. A lingering sense of sawdust and a hint of wax follow – just a little bit, mind you. There’s some barley, and water reveals a more spirity nature, flour, yeast, and with time, apples.

In the mouth: more approachable, with apples and pears. Very clean cut and lacking that defining waxiness we’d hope to experience. There’s some cask char and a relatively short finish overall. More grapefruit, melon, orange, black pepper and honey. Water reveals olives, talcum powder, lemon peel, and a minty nature.

Conclusions

If you didn’t know by now, this Clynelish has an average mark. There’s potential here beyond the funky label, but not enough to warrant anything higher. It feels as this cask is still in transition, establishing itself and getting ready for the effort ahead—except we have it now. It’s perfectly drinkable, agreeable and talkative, but distinctly average. There’s nothing wrong with being average or middle of the road. There are pluses and minuses, like everything in life. This time, it’s more of a purr than a roar.

Score: 5/10

Image and sample provided by the Thompson Bros.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Roy Evans says:

    Jason, I used to subscribe to video game reviews magazine called EDGE, that’s been going for over 25 years. They famously applied a fiercely strict 1-10 scoring system that got endless criticism from the industry, but was respected by (most) gamers as THE benchmark review to read. Their wealth of experience and incredible impartiality drew praise from die hard fans, and (to be fair) occasional fanboy ire. In their first 10 years, they only gave five 10/10 scores (Super Mario 64, and Halo: Combat Evolved, being notable recipients). I find reviews that routinely clump around 7-10 or 80-100 largely meaningless, as without that 1-5 sub average review context calling a spade a spade, how can they be trusted? Keep it up!

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Roy

      I know the very magazine and you’re correct. When they gave a 10 it was a huge event. Even a 9 or 8 took some doing. You appreciated that honesty, especially as a magazine relies on advertising revenue. They stuck to their guns.

      I’d rather people question a scoring system rather than just accept it. That was a big motivation around this article and highlighting a debate. I’ve seen whiskies on SW.com scoring low 80’s and yet we will mark them a 2. I ask myself is one better than another? At times it is hard to make that call when some other sources clearly have relationships, friends and the need for industry advertising revenue. The boat isn’t rocked and never will be.

      As a consumer and buyer of whisky, I find that very misleading and disappointing. I haven’t bought an issue of the Whisky Magazine for that reason in years, nor visited elsewhere online, because I don’t think some outlets can be trusted. And when I stick a score on something it really does matter to me, because I want our readers to have reliable information that they can base their purchases upon – I’m sure the team are exactly the same.

      Cheers, Jason.

  2. John says:

    I never really could understand or took the time to understand the difference between a 100 point grading system vs a 10 point one. What’s stopping the 10 point system from adding a decimal?

    1. Jason says:

      Hi John

      I think the key things to any scoring system is transparency and fairness. Also, keeping things simple. We can all understand 1-10 and the midway pivot point. Start bringing in decimal points and half scores and you undermine those key values.

      Unfortunately, we see poor whiskies receiving a 70-82 score, which to the majority of people would indicate a good/very good whisky. Yet you read the notes of such a whisky and there’s a disconnect. The score is to massage the industry and you’ll rarely see a whisky sub-70 or even sub-80 nowadays.

      Cheers, Jason.

  3. Anon says:

    The selection of whiskies being reviewed is not representative of all whiskies (as you noted) which is one good reason why the average (i.e. mean) score would be higher than the median on a 100-point scale.

    “Can you explain the difference to me between an 82 and an 85? Or how about an 86 or an 88?”, WhiskyFun explained their scoring system some time ago; the link is http://www.whiskyfun.com/archivenovember11-1.html#121111. I found it helpful.

    I read sites such as this one to learn about bottlings, bottlers and distilleries I missed. Scores have very little to do with the purchase decision for me because taste is so personal.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Anon

      I agree yet we seem to live in a society that loves to score and put everything into silos. Hopefully, we can continue to entertain and educate.

      Cheers, Jason.

  4. Darren says:

    As long as the scorer is consistent and the reader knows the basis on which it is made the system has validity. It also helps the reader to establish whether they share a similar palate to the scorer. I like your scoring which is similar to the Scotch 4 Dummies who often give 2 out of 4 for a whisky they say is pretty good but nothing special. Keep up the good work Jason.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Darren

      Thanks for dropping by. I think that’s the key thing i.e. knowledge. Most take a score at face value. That’s the benefit of our approach and it is easier to follow. Whisky is stuffy enough without complicated scoring that exists to elevate such geeky behaviours.

      Glad you enjoy what we do.

      Cheers, Jason.

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