This is the oldest Clynelish I’ve yet had and the second from a sherry cask. I quite liked that SMWSA 29 yo from a refill sherry butt, but not as much as the Single Malts of Scotland 28 yo from a bourbon cask I’d reviewed last year. This is not because of the sherry influence per se. In fact, the sherry influence in the SMWSA 29 yo was quite muted—what held that one back was a lack of complexity, on the whole. This one is also from a refill cask but it is a hogshead and so there’s a good chance that the prized Clynelish characteristics of honey and wax might get drowned out by stronger notes of sherry and oak (from the smaller cask). That didn’t happen with the excellent Manager’s Dram release, but at 17 years old that was less than half the age of this one. But if it’s good, I don’t really care too much one way or the other. And given its antecedents there is a pretty good chance this will be good. It was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for the reputed French store, La Maison du Whisky.
This was distilled in 1972 at the new Clynelish distillery (the one that was built in the mid/late 1960s and which continues today). The old Clynelish distillery, renamed Brora a few years earlier, may or may not have been operating alongside it (it was shut down for good in 1983). There’s not a lot of clarity on this point, but Clynelish/Brora expert and enthusiast, Serge Valentin has a brief history of Brora that you may find interesting. At any rate, while Brora was tasked in the early-mid 1970s with producing heavily peated malt for the company’s blends, the malt produced at the new Clynelish distillery was not particularly peated—so I’m certainly not expecting this to be peaty. Let’s see how it goes.
Clynelish 36, 1972 (59.4%; G&M for LMDW; refill sherry hogshead #14301; from a bottle split)
Nose: Orange peel (not dried), honey and a floral sweetness to start; some dusty wood and some paraffin as well. And there’s the famous wax—it expands along with the floral/fruity sweetness (some apricot now). A bit of wood glue as well and a little spice (cinnamon, powdered ginger). As it sits the apricot is joined by some marmalade and there’s more wood now and some white pepper. The fruit gets quite intense as it goes. With a few drops of water the fruit expands even more dramatically (more lemon/limoncello now) as does the wax. The wood has all but disappeared.
Palate: Whoa, it’s got a bite! Partly from the high alcohol but also from the wood—but right behind the wood is the fruit and the honey. It’s tight though—will need more air and probably water to fully open it up. With time the fruit begins to talk more clearly and it starts getting brighter (lemon) and then more tropical (hints of mango); more honey too and the wood begins to recede. With water it’s the same story as on the nose and I wish I’d added it sooner: less woody and way fruitier now (apricot, orange, peach) though it’s sweeter here with more honey.
Finish: Long. Between the alcohol and the wood it’s somewhat drying here at first, verging on tannic. As on the palate, time and air bring out the fruit and push back the wood. And, as on the palate, water pushes the wood back completely and
Comments: Very, very good and very much in line with the older Clynelishes I’ve had. More remarkably, it’s very reminiscent of the Manager’s Dram—remarkable because that one was a 17 yo. Like that one this took a while to open up. Without water I didn’t like it as much; with water I liked it even more. I’m calling it a tie. Not a lot of sherry here either. (By the way, I see that Mr. Clynelish remarked a fair bit of peat in this one—I can’t say I remarked any.)
Rating: 91 points.