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.
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.
Image and sample provided by the Thompson Bros.