Ever get a taste in your mouth for something specific?
I will admit to being maximally suggestible in this regard. This is dangerous because, in my editorial capacity, I read every tasting note in every review that gets published on this site. Most of them catch my attention only for the occasional misspelling or the less-than-occasional omission of an Oxford comma.
Every now and again, though, a description of some aroma or flavor will jump out at me. I’ll suddenly be able to remember precisely that smell or taste, usually accompanied by a strong desire to experience it again. Sure enough, at the next practicable opportunity, I’ll be reaching for a dram that I know – or hope – will be able to provide whatever aspect I currently crave.
Searching out a whisky with a specific note can be tricky business. Part of what keeps this hobby engaging is the novelty of each expression or barrel, with the promise of deviations from the flavor mean that can be quite dramatic. Offsetting this is the fact that the master blenders and quality control departments of large distilleries spend a lot of their time and effort keeping the profiles of their core ranges stable, seeking to hew as closely as possible to the standard.
There are, of course, broad stylistic similarities among whiskies of the same type, or from the same region. Like vanilla and caramel? Grab a bourbon. If it’s smoke you’re after, a peated Islay malt will do the trick. A hankering for dried fruit can be addressed with a sherried dram, while those looking for a more pure expression of barley should seek out an ex-bourbon barrel.
There are also distilleries that have characteristic or hallmark notes for which they are known. This can make for a fun game of free association among whisky geeks. I say “peanuts,” you say “Jim Beam.” I say “orange,” you say “Glenmorangie.” I say “dill,” you say “MGP.” I say “perfume,” you say “Bowmore.” I say “banana,” you say “Jack Daniel’s.” I say “meat,” you say “Mortlach.” I say “Flintstones vitamins,” you say “Dickel.” I say “wax,” you say…
Clynelish, of course! Well, maybe Dailuaine, but mostly Clynelish. To paraphrase Ol’ Blue Eyes, Clynelish and wax go together like a horse and carriage. The interesting thing about wax is that it is both a flavor and a texture. Now that we’re talking about it, can’t you just feel it in your mouth? Are your fingertips recalling the sensation of peeling the soft, red wax off of one of those small, round Babybel cheeses? Are you remembering the smell of candles in a church, or on a birthday cake?
Being young and pyromaniacal, I always enjoyed lighting candles. There was the thrill and tactile fun of dipping a finger in the molten wax, letting it dry, and then peeling it off and rolling it into a little ball. Even as I write this, I have three of those tall, cylindrical veladoras adorned with religious images burning in my office. Actually, hold on, I’m going to go dip my finger in one.
Ouch. But also: wow. I never realized this about myself, but I guess I’m a waxhead. Thus, when I read Mark P’s review of a Thompson Bros blend highlighting its waxy notes, my subconscious affinity for wax was activated.
I scrambled to the Scotch section of the sample cabinet (yes, I have so many samples that they are organized by region and type. For everyone who continues to add to my pile: thank you and I’m sorry) and dug furiously until I found the little bottle I was looking for. Quarry secured, I poured myself a dram and prepared for a mouth-first plunge into a wax bath.
The Clynelish with which I’ll (hopefully) be scratching my waxy itch was a pick by Drammers Club, listed on their site as a “Europe Exclusive.” The outturn of 192 bottles was split 50/50 between the U.S. and Germany. Bottled at 50% ABV, this carries a price tag of $175. This sample was generously provided by PB, who remains a valued supporter of this site.
Thompson Bros Clynelish 20 Year Old For Drammers Club – Review
Color: Pale hay.
On the nose: Indeed, there’s a bit of parrafin here… but mostly I am getting a ton of malty character, with aromas tending toward the lighter and fresher end of the spectrum. Kumquat, lemongrass, potpourri, ginger beer, freshly-sanded pine, key lime, angel food cake, vanilla buttercream, even a funky whiff of barnyard… this is remarkable not because these notes diverge meaningfully from what you’d expect from an ex-bourbon barrel, but rather because there are so many of them, marching past in order, that I find myself continually sniffing and re-sniffing this without ever wanting to quit.
In the mouth: Upfront, I get a nip of wood with a slightly spicy accent, though this is hard to pin down. This tightness loosens as it moves up the tongue, allowing for the flavors to start expanding. There’s a Sauvignon Blanc-like quality to this in the middle of the mouth. I’ve heard this particular note described as “cat piss,” which – though it would be appropriate, given this is a Clynelish – is disgusting, and not at all evocative of how tasty this actually is. Regardless of whether you love or loathe that flavor (I’m on the fence myself) it yields to some notes of diluted lemon juice and more oakiness as this moves toward the finish. The waxiness is evident in a flavor and texture that coats the tongue, gums, and inside of the mouth, leaving a long farewell.
Well, I certainly got my wax on (wax off?). Beyond that, though, was a Clynelish that performed very well on the nose, though the palate was more mixed. I suspect that Sauvignon Blanc/cat urine note will be a turn-off for many; there were certainly times where I felt like I had enough of it. Other times, however, it intrigued me. I’m not prepared to dock a point for it, in any case. Considering all this, and in light of the price for what we’re getting (20 year old Clynelish bottled at good strength), I am awarding this a mark in the middle of the range.