Clynelish, Casually


Clynelish was my fifth DIageo distillery visit, and the second of this trip (after Cragganmore), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. While my visit to Lagavulin last year had been a highlight—both for the Warehouse Experience and for the general vibe at the distillery—and my brief stop at Cragganmore likewise very pleasant, I feared that the more perfunctory attitude I encountered at Talisker and Oban might make an appearance again at Clynelish. I was very happy to be proved completely wrong. We stopped here on our way from Dornoch to Wick. The distillery is located only 30 minutes or so from Dornoch, and it’s a lovely drive there up the coast. Given my expectations—and also the fact that I had a tour booked at Pulteney at 2 pm that day—I had not planned for a tour at Clynelish and so what I have for you is my usual look at the grounds and at the Visitor Centre/shop.  Continue reading

Clynelish, Distillery Exclusive, 2018 Release


We stopped at Clynelish on the way from Dornoch to Scrabster, where we boarded the ferry to Stromness on Orkney. Well, more immediately, we stopped at Clynelish on the way to Wick. I was scheduled to tour Pulteney at 2, but it seemed rash to drive by Clynelish without even stopping. I hadn’t planned to buy anything there but when I was in the distillery shop I chatted a bit with one of the staff and she offered me a taste of the current  distillery exclusive. Apparently this was selected by the distillery staff, though they had no idea of the age or composition (or they would not say). It’s not a bottle-your-own—they had loads of it on the shelves. I quite liked it and couldn’t resist overpaying for a bottle. Why do I say “overpaying”? Well, because I paid £80 for an NAS whisky, and one that’s not at cask strength. Yes, unlike the 2008 edition—which may have been the previous distillery exclusive—this is bottled at 48%. That’s not a bad abv per se, but the price is still high (as it was at Oban and Talisker last year—and their distillery exclusives were NAS as well). I’ll probably have a post later this month with some thoughts on the whole “distillery only”/”bottle your own” thing. For now here’s a review of the whisky itself. I opened it for my local group’s July tasting and we all liked it a fair bit.  Continue reading

Clynelish 23, 1989 (Thosop Import)


On Monday I posted a review of an official Clynelish released a decade ago. Today I have another Clynelish, doubtless much older than the NAS distillery exclusive bottle, but released a few years later. This was bottled by the Belgian independent, Thosop Import, known both for the quality of its releases and the handwritten labels on the bottles. Thosop was originally set up by one-time Malt Maniac, Luc Timmermans, but I believe he quit the business a while ago. I think I recall that someone else took over the series. I’m not sure if it’s still a going concern—I suspect not, as Whiskybase doesn’t list anything from them after 2013. This particular Clynelish has a very strong reputation. I’ve not had too many older Clynelishes from the late 1980s, but the only other I’ve reviewed—a 22 yo from Malts of Scotland, also from 1989—was very good indeed. If this is at least as good, I’ll be happy. Let’s see.  Continue reading

Clynelish, Distillery Only (2008 Release)


Clynelish is another of Diageo’s iconic distilleries from which very few official expressions are available. There’s the always reliable 14 yo and a Distiller’s Edition—which sees that 14 yo “finished” in oloroso casks, and which is not as easily found in the US as the Lagavulin and Talisker Distiller’s Editions. That’s pretty much it. Diageo have not yet gotten around to releasing a regular NAS Clynelish, though one such did come out as part of their annual Special Release collection a couple of years ago. This one is an official release but when released in 2008, it was only available at the distillery. It is an NAS bottle—-back in 2008 nobody got exercised about NAS releases—and I have no idea how old it is or is rumoured to be in reality. (I purchased the bottle at auction in the UK a while ago.) I’m not sure if Clynelish regularly releases “distillery only” bottles. If all goes according to plan, I might stop at Clynelish in June and I guess I might take a look and see. For now here’s my review of an exclusive from a decade ago.  Continue reading

Clynelish 17, 1997 (C&S)


1997 is supposed to be the magic year for Clynelish. My last 1997 Clynelish lacked magic. It’s not the fault of that whisky: the whole magic vintage thing is a lot of bullshit. I will not bore you by going over all that again—if you’re interested you can read my views here and here. Let’s just get directly to this 17 yo from a bourbon hogshead, bottled a couple of years ago by C&S, a bottler based in Germany.

Clynelish 17, 1997 (47%;  C&S Dram Collection; bourbon hogshead #5730; from a purchased sample)

Nose: Citrus (lemon peel, orange), a faint grassiness, some brine and okay, I could be talked into a little wax. With more time there’s a biscuity/malty thing going on as well. Less grassy, more biscuity with water.  Continue reading

Clynelish 21, 1995 (Signatory for The Whisky Exchange)


It’s intoxicating, being a blogger who posts reviews of currently available whiskies! After Monday’s Bowmore, here is another Signatory exclusive for The Whisky Exchange. I’d guess they were released at the same time (were there others?). This one is quite a bit cheaper despite being older and despite being from another name distillery and also despite being from a sherry cask. As to whether being from a sherry cask is a good thing for Clynelish is another matter. There are those who believe that Clynelish is Clynelish only when matured in bourbon casks. Me, I like to keep an open mind. I’ve previously liked my fair share of ex-sherry Clynelish—including this one that was also distilled in 1995—and I’ve also had ex-bourbon Clynelish, including those from the alleged, magic year of 1997 that did not get me too excited. And even if it isn’t very Clynelish I’m not going to be too disappointed as long as it’s at least a good whisky.  Continue reading

Clynelish 12, 1997 (James Macarthur)


With an interesting but not excellent Campbeltown stop behind us, let’s take the bourbon cask train up north to the Highlands and see if things improve. On paper, they should. After all, this is a 1997 vintage Clynelish and all the whisky geeks who believe in magical vintages will tell you that 1997 is a special year for Clynelish. It’s also the case that bourbon cask Clynelish in general is a good bet—see this 14 yo from Archives, for instance, and this one from Berry Bros. & Rudd (both from 1997). This was bottled in 2009 by James Macarthur, an outfit that doesn’t seem to be terribly ubiquitous anymore—not in the US anyway. If you have information on their status, please write in below. This is from a single cask but was bottled at 45% for some reason. I got the sample from Michael K. of Diving for Pearls and I’m not sure what it means that he doesn’t seem to have gotten round to reviewing his own bottle. Anyway, if this is close to either the Archives or Berry Bros. bottles I’ll be happy—but I won’t believe anymore than I currently do in magical vintages.  Continue reading

Clynelish 25, 1984 (SMWS 26.67)

Clynelish 25, 1990, SMWSA
Well, here’s my first whisky review after the apocalypse. A too quick return to business as usual, you might say; but returning to old routines, I’ve had other, more personal reasons to recently learn, is a good way to deal with potentially paralyzing news. Anyway, as I continue to process what this election means and how I should engage with my world in response to it, here’s one of a few reviews that were written in a more innocent time, when I dared believe Sam Wang’s projection of a >99% chance of a Clinton win. We can’t go forward in complacency or denial but we can’t give up on pleasure either. If we do that then Rudy Giuliani wins.

Clynelish 25, 1984 (48.9%; SMWSA 26.67; refill sherry butt; from a sample from a friend)  Continue reading

Clynelish 36, 1972 (G&M for LMDW)

Clynelish 36, 1972; G&M for LMDW
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.  Continue reading

Clynelish 22, 1972, Rare Malts

Clynelish 22, 1972, Rare Malts

After a run of peated Islays last week—two Laphroaigs from 1997 (this one for TWE and this one for Binny’s) and a Bowmore from the 1970s—let’s do something a little milder this week.

1970s Clynelish, especially from the early 1970s, has a very strong reputation. And Diageo’s Rare Malts series also has a very strong reputation. As such I am expecting this to be very good—I am certainly expecting it to be much better than the 7 yo bottled by Signatory for Binny’s. But will it be better than the 28 yo, 1982 bottled by TWE in their Single Malts of Scotland line? Or better than the 17 yo Manager’s Dram? I can only hope. It’s not like I have a lot of experience with older Clynelish—though next month I expect to review a couple more. Anyway, let’s get to it.   Continue reading

Clynelish 7, 2008 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Clynelish 7, 2008; Signatory for Binny's
This Clynelish was acquired as part of the same set of bottle splits as last Friday’s Ardmore. If you read that review you’ll find many similar notes mentioned in this one but, as you’ll see, a much lower score at the end. This is a case where you have two whiskies at different ends of the same style continuum: a sort of old-school Highlands profile. The Ardmore is peatier, of course, but there are other similarities. The problem here is that some of the notes that are either more muted in that Ardmore, or which dissipate with time, are stronger here and linger; and this one doesn’t have the compensations of the Ardmore. It’s also quite far away from what most people have come to expect from Clynelish in terms of “distillery character“. This is down partly, I think, to the young age. Some of these off-notes might well have dissipated with more time (and less wood contact in a slightly larger hogshead) and other characteristics might have emerged.  Continue reading

Clynelish 29, 1984 (SMWS 26.102)

Clynelish 29, 1984 (SMWSA)
This is the oldest sherried Clynelish I have yet happened upon, and as I think about it, it’s the oldest Clynelish of any kind I’ve yet happened upon (the previous oldest was this lovely 28 yo from 1982 bottled by Speciality Drinks in their Single Malts of Scotland line). Will it be as good as that one or only as good as the last SMWS Clynelish I reviewed (this solid but unexciting 23 yo)? Let’s get right to it and find out.

(Oh, the SMWS dubbed this one “Pomanders in a Lady’s Parlour”.)

Clynelish 29, 1984 (56%; SMWS 26.102; refill shery butt; from a bottle-split)

Nose: Honey and apple juice followed by a pleasant grassiness (not metallic or astringent) and then some wax accompanied by a minerally prickliness. The sherry influence is really restrained: just a bit of toffee and a mild raisiny sweetness. Gets more floral as it goes and there’s some dusty wood too now. With more time the fruit wakes up: lemon, hints of apricot. With a few drops of water it gets even more floral and sweet (with some cream too now).  Continue reading

Clynelish 23, 1990 (SMWSA 26.99)

Clynelish 23, 1990, SMWSA
Let’s close out the week with another bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America. As with the Highland Park 22 I reviewed to start the week, I split this bottle with a number of whisky geeks, though I got more of this than than I did of the other. I’ve not had very many Clynelishes over the age of 20 and so I could not resist. Will this be as good as the Malts of Scotland 22 yo from 1989 that I reviewed earlier in the year? I can only hope. Let’s get right to it.

Clynelish 23, 1990 (48.5%; SMWSA 26.99, “The Fisherman’s Friend”; refill barrel; from a bottle split with a number of whisky geeks)

Nose: Honey, lime zest, green apples, a hint of melon. A bit of wax after a minute or two and then it starts getting grassier. With more time the citrus gets sweeter (oranges now) and then the muskier fruity notes expand. With a lot more time there’s a bit of vanilla. With a few drops of water the citrus turns to citronella and it gets less grassy. More vanilla and cream too now. Continue reading

Clynelish 18, 1996 (Signatory for TWE)

Clynelish 18, 1996, Signatory
Behold the handiwork of Sku, that magnificent bastard. When we met for lunch in Los Angeles, he handed over the box of samples he had for me and said, “After all the grief you gave me last time, I made a real effort with the labels this time”. Of course, when I got home I discovered that while he had indeed made clear labels, he’d put some of them at the base of the bottles and some over the lids; and others (like last week’s Laphroaig 16) over older labels that were still visible. A true artist, I expect his work will soon be featured at MOMA.

Like the aforementioned Laphroaig 16, this Clynelish was also bottled by Signatory for The Whisky Exchange. An 18 yo, this is also from a sherry cask. Let’s see if this is as good as that Laphroaig.  Continue reading