I’ve never been clear on what the peating level is of the malt from which modern Clynelish is made. Scotchwhisky.com says their malt is unpeated but I consistently find at least mild levels of peat in almost all Clynelish I’ve had, including the OB 14 yo. And in some indie releases I find more smoke than that—never phenolic, usually leafy or dry wood smoke. This Van Wees release of two bourbon hogsheads vatted together is in the latter category. I found smoke in it when I opened the bottle and it seems to be more palpable in every pour. So, what’s the story? Is it that in the early ’90s Clynelish was using more heavily peated malt than they have been of late? Or is it that they do some peated runs? Or is the smoke showing up from random casks that may previously have held peated whisky from one of Diageo’s other distilleries? I don’t know but if you have any insight into this please write in below.
Clynelish 23, 1991 (46%; Van Wees; bourbon hogsheads #13213-4; from my own bottle)
Nose: Slightly metallic at first; then orange juice, oak, salt and dried leaves (with a bit of a smoulder). The fruit expands as it sits (apple, a bit of peach) and it picks up sweeter, softer notes of toffee and pie crust. The smoulder increases as well. Not much change worth noting with water—maybe a little more of the softer fruit.
Palate: Very much as promised by the nose but with less of the brine/salt and more of the leaves. Nice texture at 46%. The leafy note turns positively smoky as I swallow. With time the salt expands as does the citrus (lime now). Okay, let’s see what water does. It brings out more of the sweeter notes from the nose and integrates them with the salt and the leaves.
Finish: Medium-long. That leafy smoke becomes quite ashy as it goes. As on the palate with water and the finish is extended.
Comments: Well, as I said, there’s clearly smoke in this bottle. Anyway, wherever it comes from, I like the end result. Nothing very showy here but it’s high quality, austere Highlands whisky all the same. Better with water, I think.
Rating: 87 points.