Diageo has many distilleries within its arsenal, but arguably the classiest of the bunch with the most swagger and style is Clynelish.
I hate to bandy around words such as “cult,” yet it does feel apt here. When it hits the market – not a regular thing nowadays – Clynelish demands a premium because of its reputation. It has that ability to sell on name alone, which is a marketeer’s dream. Sadly, demand is high for its output, and the majority of its produce goes into Johnnie Walker. “Prized by blenders” is a phrase we often see touted for almost every distillery; however, this is the one that does seem to warrant such an application. Even the overrated folk at Corporate Box seem to form the basis of almost every release with Clynelish. A simple recipe for success, it seems, especially when wrapped up in a luxurious exterior.
Then Diageo goes and potentially torpedoes the whole operation by gutting the distillery a couple of years ago, thus environmentally risking that classic waxiness. A more efficient and modern operation has been installed, meaning more computerisation and less of the human touch. This is the way of the modern plant when it comes to whisky, and last I heard, that waxiness has yet to fully establish itself.
We’ve written about the unique distillation at Clynelish and how that waxiness is produced. To make it noticeable in the final dram takes years of residue build-up. New equipment means starting from scratch, and perhaps until a suitable time in the near future, generations will come to judge the post-refurbishment period as Clynelish-lite, or another style altogether. Only time will tell, and I’m not alone in hoping that things do turn out for the best. I’m also sure there are canny individuals out there already building up their post-apocalypse stash of whisky to include a healthy proportion of 1990’s Clynelish distillate.
The most frustrating aspect for Clynelish is the lack of appreciation or spotlight from Diageo. The 14-year-old remains the most commonly sighted edition and is the gateway to the joys of the distillery. Batch variation is an issue, but for the most part it remains a respected and enjoyable whisky. Beyond this are the distillery exclusives, bottled without an age statement and cask strength; these are hit and miss in my opinion. Then you have the Select Reserves that cropped up a few years ago as part of the Special Releases and were lobotomised by a ridiculous price tag. You can still find these at retail if you search hard enough, but they are not worth the asking price by a long stretch.
Then—arguably most famously—we had the Game of Thrones tie-in with the most mundane Clynelish I’ve experienced, as the Clynelish Reserve House of Tyrell. Had the king lost his crown and jumped into a void, never to return? It felt like that, in all honestly. Clynelish is never boring or middle of the road! Yet here, it was.
More Clynelish of a decent standing would be welcome. Perhaps stocks with blending requirements and a period of closure are deemed at risk? We can expect more Talisker’s than broken promises from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove combined, more aged Dalwhinnies than protests about climate change, but for Clynelish? Very little escapes and makes it into the independent sector nowadays, making the bulk of stock that Signatory seem to possess all the more welcome.
This 20th Anniversary bottling didn’t hang about, being exclusive to the Whisky Exchange. Distilled on 21st November 1995 and liberated on 27th March 2019, it was bottled at 55.4% from a refill sherry butt (#12252) that produced an outturn of 550 bottles. Thankfully, TWE is a regular source nowadays of 1990’s Clynelish, but eventually, this oasis will dry up. Prices do keep on rising, but it is a style of whisky you should try at least once.
Visually, this bottling would have sparked interest with the colour and sense of a rich sherry butt. Oddly listed as refill, it is still able to provide a vivid coating of colour Admittedly, “refill” is always a dubious term. We could debate first, second or third here to our heart’s content, although we would agree that an earlier option seems appropriate. The twist would come knowing what that initial fill was for, and for how long? It seems to the naked eye that this cask has a lot to say for a refill. We can become swept away by such a presence. Colour sells. Even today, an email dropped into my inbox with a 10-year-old Bunnahabhain from Adelphi, rich in sherry colour, for the ridiculous price of £110.
Sherry comes at a premium and with an insatiable urge to purchase for some. Personally, I prefer my Clynelish in ex-bourbon, or if it has to be sherry, then a gentle stroke from the wood: nothing more, nothing less.
TWE Clynelish 1995 23 year old – review
Colour: bashed gold.
On the nose: well, sherry, with lots of cranberries and redberries, and a used rubber band. Dried fruit, cinnamon and stewed apples. A ginger loaf, pancakes, treacle cake and candied orange. Frangipane, brass rubbings and a warmed plastic, suggesting waxiness. Honey, raspberry and with time, more spices and almonds.
In the mouth: more sherried qualities with strawberries, worn leather and cinnamon. It is very easy drinking. A big warm blanket of comfort in reality. Apricots, cloves, black pepper and a good mouthfeel. Honeycomb, toffee, liquorice and ginger.
This will tick all the boxes for many of you. This Clynelish is a very good whisky, but from my perspective, the cask has overstepped the mark and the end result is a shift in balance. In doing so, aspects of what I love about Clynelish have been eroded.
A fitting celebration release for the Whisky Exchange and extremely popular. Here’s to the future, and hopefully, more Clynelish.
My thanks to Scott aka KiltedMoose72 for the generous sample.