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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

February 21, 2020


A double verticale of Clynelish

Double because we’ll have some Clynelish from both distilleries today, the ‘new’ one and the old one that was to be rechristened Brora in 1969 after the new one had been erected. Are you following me? Having said that, we’ve got quite a few babies on the tasting table today, so maybe shall we have to cut this session in halves. Or not, we’ll see… By the way, looks like we’ve tried our 400th Clynelish in December, without even noticing. Bwah…

Distilled in Sutherland 9 yo 2010/2019 (51.3%, Thompson Bros., refill American oak barrel, 320 bottles)

Distilled in Sutherland 9 yo 2010/2019 (51.3%, Thompson Bros., refill American oak barrel, 320 bottles) Four stars
I mean, isn’t it all becoming ridiculous? Not being allowed to use the name Clynelish? Secret Islay, Secret Orkney, Secret Speyside, Secret Lowland, now Secret Sutherland, soon Secret Skye… Can’t we already smell some new kinds of crookeries coming? Colour: very white white wine. Nose:. pure wax, with touches of animal fat (mutton suet), then metal polish and grapefruit skin. It’s pretty acidic, almost a razorblade on the nose. Some flints too. With water: dairies, aspirin, limestone, lemon, touches of fennel. Mouth (neat): it is a little eau-de-vie-ish (pear), then extremely citrusy. Dry lemon cordial (limoncello without the cellos, as they say). With water: chalk and ink – we’re at school. Some paraffin. Finish: rather long, with the lemons wining it in the end. Ashes and salt in the aftertaste. Comments: perhaps still  a bit in its infancy, but that’s also what makes it interesting. Some kind of virtual Clynelish, I would say.
SGP:362 - 85 points.

Clynelish 11 yo 2008/2019 (53%, Signatory Vintage for The Whisky Sponge, 1st fill bourbon barrel, 250 bottles)

Clynelish 11 yo 2008/2019 (53%, Signatory Vintage for The Whisky Sponge, 1st fill bourbon barrel, 250 bottles) Four stars
This one came with a very strange cat on the label. In case you don’t know The Whisky Sponge, it’s a blog that’s more or less a natural son of Charlie Hebdo and Private Eye, fueled with whisky, naturally. The Sponge is also a friend, but that’s not the reason why I love reading his writings (looks like it’s also the industry’s preferred website). Now as for the Sponge’s own bottlings, let’s see… Colour: white wine. Nose: mirabelle eau-de-vie, crushed chalk, eucalyptus, fresh almonds, broken branches, the faintest echoes of grated coconut, and touches of custard. Pretty civilised this far, and not as controversial as his master’s blogging. With water: there, earth, old jacket, rainwater, mint, cut cactus, fresh almonds, a little fresh butter… Mouth (neat): much more mature than the 2010, but that’s partly thanks to some active American oak that imparted a little coconut and vanillin indeed. Other than that, we’re having green apples, lime, plasticine, chalk and touches of ripe kiwis, then quite some white pepper. With water: water makes it gentler, with even tiny echoes of almost-neighbor Glenmorangie, but that may be the American oak talking. Finish: medium to long, and rather closer to the 1990s vintages now, that is to both waxier and more citrusy. The distillate has been taking its time. Comments: these 2008s seem to be real good, I can’t wait to check these vintages when once they’ve reached 20.
SGP:561 - 87 points.

Distilled in Sutherland 19 yo 2000/2019 (51.7%, Thompson Bros., 181 bottles)

Distilled in Sutherland 19 yo 2000/2019 (51.7%, Thompson Bros., 181 bottles) Five stars
Here we go again… Or maybe is it a wee joke by the excellent Thompsons? After all, their own distillery (Dornoch) lies in Sutherland too, the town’s even the region’s former capital city. Plus, should anyone doubt this is Clynelish, they've rather smartly put a kitty on the label. Colour: white wine. Nose: you can feel this is older, there are additional aromas such as bicycle inner tube, linseed oil, acacia gum, pine cone smoke, barbecue, leatherette (a.k.a. leather for vegans)… It’s all a little acrid, but I love this. With water: top notch, perfect age, perfect spirit, perfect cask. Mouth (neat): perfect, not extremely emblematic but perfect. Smoked tangerines, plasticine, rubber and leather, charcoal, wormwood and even absinth (a drop), green bananas… With water: oils. Funnily enough, we’re geared towards Ben Nevis, somehow. Finish: medium to long, waxier, almondy, with citrons in the aftertaste. Love citrons, they’ll soon be able to grow them, up there in… Sutherland. Comments: extremely good, and a little gentle. The world needs more gentleness, does it not.
SGP:552 - 90 points.

Looks like it’s all going well and according to plans, so let’s keep going back in time…

Clynelish 13 yo 1997/2013 (48.9%, The Whisky Agency for Groningen Whisky Festival)

Clynelish 13 yo 1997/2013 (48.9%, The Whisky Agency for Groningen Whisky Festival) Two stars and a half
I know the numbers don’t quite add-up, we’ll have to work on this (later). Colour: white wine. Nose: it’s a gentle Clynelish, fruity, not very waxy, rather on overripe apples and various compotes. Ripe gooseberries. Perhaps was it distilled just as the receiver had been thoroughly cleaned? Mouth: it’s a bizarre Clynelish, with odd touches of plastic, over-infused herbal teas (thyme), and something that could be remnants of  little fusel oil. Something a little bitter too (glue?) Finish: rather long, curiously cleaner and more lemony. Comments: not 100% sure about this one, I’ll try to try it again in the future. Still a fine drop though; mind you, it is still Clynelish.
SGP:362 - 79 points.

Another 1997 please…

Clynelish 20 yo 1997/2017 (56.5%, Sansibar for Spirits Shop Selection, hogshead, cask #6932, 276 bottles)

Clynelish 20 yo 1997/2017 (56.5%, Sansibar for Spirits Shop Selection, hogshead, cask #6932, 276 bottles) Four stars and a half
This baby for our excellent friends in Taiwan. You would hardly know that from the label ;-). Colour: gold. Nose: waxier than wax this time, with new Wellies, bicycle inner tubes yet again, paraffin, drawing gum, oil paint, then unexpected notes of old dry Madeira, mustard and walnuts, old chardonnay… Was it not a sherry hogshead? With water: wood smoke, walnuts, bone-dry oxidative sherry. That’s right, oloroso. Mouth (neat): grand sherried Clynelish, full of tobacco, mustard, old walnuts and pepper. It’s really very big, without a single off-note (just like all other big distillates, Clynelish and sherry may sometimes clash in my book). Amontillado. With water: lovely bitterness. Brown beer, more walnuts, drops of Jamaican rum, a little salt… There are lots of action in there. Finish: long, on the same flavours, with a salty, almost umami-y signature. Comments: I’m surprised the label didn’t mention sherry, but there, it’s bigly lovely, believe me, no other malt is biglier than this one (D.J., come out of this body!)
SGP:362 - 89 points.

Back to the early 1990s… with more sherry!

Clynelish 14 yo 1990/2004 (53.1%, Kingsbury, sherry cask, 455 bottles)

Clynelish 14 yo 1990/2004 (53.1%, Kingsbury, sherry cask, 455 bottles) Five stars
Was this baby one of those ex-Valdespino Clynelishes? Not easy babies if I remember well, let’s see… Colour: brown amber. Nose: I think I remember these batches. Something metallic (old copper coins), notes of fumes and old guns, some bitter oranges, artichoke liqueur (or Cynar), bitters, then umami sauce, glutamate, soy, a whole box of cigars, the obligatory walnuts, walnut liqueur, then cured ham, black olives… In truth this is a whole meal! With water: very old riesling, smoked muffins (FZ would have enjoyed this), bags or raisins, and good bouillons and miso. Wasn’t this bottling for Japan? Mouth (neat): no clashes here, rather an avalanche or raisins, goji berries, prunes, marzipan, pudding, chocolate, mocha, tobacco… What would Gwyneth say? With water: bitter chocolate, espresso coffee, and perhaps a little bit of cooked garlic. Again, almost more some plain fortifying food than a liquor. Finish: long, meaty, with some liquorice. Salty aftertaste (beef and asparagus soup). Comments: I’m just noticing that I haven’t said that I enjoyed this one a lot, for it’s so much less unbalanced (and sulphury!) than others in the same cluster. Huge whisky.
SGP:572 - 90 points.

Perhaps a new old one before we start to tackle a few ‘Old’ Clynelishes?...

Clynelish 36 yo (47.1%, The Single Malts of Scotland for The Whisky Show Old & Rare, Director’s Cut, 2020)

Clynelish 36 yo (47.1%, The Single Malts of Scotland for The Whisky Show Old & Rare, Director’s Cut, 2020) Five stars
They had to have it good in London after Brexit and after having been crunched by the French at the 6 Nations Tournament. Yep that’s rugby. Looks like they’ve found relief in this wee Clynelish that’s just been bottled exclusively for the Old & Rare Show that will happen by the end of this month in London this time, rather than in Glasgow. Let’s try this baby, since the vintage is good (as if you need that excuse, S.) Same level as that of the 1972s in my book. Yes. Colour: gold. Nose: plenty of natural oils at first (rapeseed, grape pips, linseed) then ground fresh almonds and pecans, marzipan, and some cellulose, or fresh bark, green coffee, cocoa pods, balsam, camphor, ointments, massage balms… That’s all rotating around waxiness, as you may have noticed. Mouth: miraculous intact, that is to say un-oaky, and yet superbly resinous, with some almond paste, putty, beeswax, pistachio cream, peanut butter and all that. Citrons and kumquats at the citrus department, some red apples as well, grapes, then a little gentian (which is very Clynelish as well)… Perhaps a touch of turmeric as well – so this baby will cure just anything and make us live longer. What’s extremely impressive here is the freshness, the total absence of anything tannic or drying, and, well, just the utter Clynelishness, not always easy to describe. Finish: long, with an incredible freshness, more citrus now, and a very funny and intriguing passion fruit in the aftertaste, mingled with just the wee-est ideas of some very infinitesimal oak extracts. Comments: luminous whisky and quite a coup here. This, is luxury, and a very rejuvenating experience. Okay, good, I’ll definitely go the Old & Rare Show, it’s decided. But don’t we now need visas?
SGP:561 - 93 points.

Good, no 1972 currently in the library I’m afraid, so let’s just jump to… Old Clynelish, the Brora-Distillery-to-be (are you still with us?)

Clynelish 1965/1988 (54%, The Gillies Club Australia, cask #665)

Clynelish 1965/1988 (54%, The Gillies Club Australia, cask #665) Five stars
Holy featherless crow! We’ve found the missing cask, it had gone to Australia! Signatory Vintage had bottled the others (666 and 667) a few years later in their bulky livery, but to be honest, I had never seen #665 before. Never, ever. More proof that all things come to him who waits, and that the Gillies Club were real pioneers. Colour: white wine. Nose: an incredible, and pretty austere blend of soot, metal polish, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, coal, ink, old oil paint,  washing powder, old tweed, shoe polish and engine oil. Perhaps some of last week’s vase water too. Beautifully austere, really, and rather on coal smoke globally. With water: touches of fresh oak, raw wool, more metal polish, brake fluid, brine, that old tweed jacket, and just the wee-est whiffs of rabbit hutch. Just cleaned. Mouth (neat): love this so much! It’s really cool to have it right after many ‘new’ Clynelishes, because it’s pretty different, with many more roots, gentian, beets, celeriac, then some salted lime juice (the best margarita ever) and really a lot of ink, tonic wine, cinchona, chalk, paraffin… Some would call it a little cerebral, perhaps, but I do not agree. It’s just the best mezcal aver. Did I just write mezcal? I mean old-school coastal Highlander. Huge grapefruit too. With water: well, imagine eighty percent proper ‘wild’ mezcal mixed with twenty percent limoncello from a good maker’s. Plus pepper, salt and basta. Finish: really long, smoky, bone dry, a tad steely, otherwise very salty and, yes, waxy. A perfect bridge to the much fruitier ‘new’ Clynelishes. Comments: feels like home to me, but indeed housing is becoming very expensive in our parts of the world, figuratively speaking. And by the way, are there other unknown casks around? #664? #668? You know my number, that would be +44 20 7925 0918. Don’t, that’s 10 Downing.
SGP:363 - 94 points.

Clynelish 12 yo (56.9%, OB for Edward & Edward, white label, no rotation year)

Clynelish 12 yo (56.9%, OB for Edward & Edward, white label, no rotation year) Five stars
I’ve probably already tried this one as rotation 1969 or 1971, but in this very case, I couldn’t tell you which it is – haven’t seen the cap - hence I solemnly declare that it is ‘new’ to me. And I do what I want, capice? Mind you, who could resist one of these wonders at 100 proof that used to be ordered by Eduardo ‘Baffo’ Giaccone while the Distillery was content with doing 43% vol. for its own use? Colour: white wine. Nose: similar territories, but this one’s fatter, oilier, and rather more herbal (fern). It’s also greasier, with some suet, even some marrow, cold cuts, some camphor, some menthol… It was an even bigger distillate, but remember this one was rather distilled around the mid 1950s, which was before the distillery was converted to steam heating (1961). So this was direct-fired using coal, albeit probably not coal from the old Brora mine anymore. Brilliant, please call the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade immediately! With water: paraffin, fresh butter, linseed oil, new fabric, and lemon juice. Mouth (neat): best whisky made by men and women, period. Right, one of them. Huge brine, lime, soot, eucalyptus, grapefruits, paraffin and iodine, all that in perfect synch. As they say, this is like Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band after a bottle of bourbon. Each. With water: sweet Vishnu! Should Ettore Bugatti, or Enzo Ferrari have been distillers rather than carmakers, this is the kind of spirit they would have made. Good, I suppose they would have given better care to the design of the bottle as well. Finish: very long, salty, chalkier, with touches of lemon fizz. Incredibly bright and lively. Comments: some magistral, pretty transcendental whisky that will make you touch the skies and mix with the eagles (S., we have to talk).
SGP:463 - 96 points.

Why not some even older Clynelish and then call this a session?

Clynelish 14 yo (92° proof, Royal Marine Hotel, 26 2/3 fluid oz, +/-1970)

Clynelish 14 yo (92° proof, Royal Marine Hotel, white glass golden foil straight label, 26 2/3 fluid oz, +/-1970) Four stars
92° proof UK means around 52-53% vol. BTW, will BoJo want to go back to old Imperial scales? These bottlings used to be sold at the hotel in Brora as very small batches, which means that they were almost never totally the same. Some have questioned the authenticity of some bottles that were still to be found relatively easily around ten or fifteen years ago, but I have to say that I could try quite a few, and that they’ve all been good. By the way, I had one bottle stolen from me a few years back, so if you ever spot one with a golden cap, clear white glass and tilting label, please advise, thank you mucho. Colour: light gold. Nose: it is lighter than the others, and that’s not only the slightly lower strength. Have to say it’s got something of an old blend, perhaps one by Ainslie’s? A little cardboard, toasted oak, gravel, grilled beef… Some Royal Edinburghs used to be a bit like this. This is intriguing, to say the least, let’s see if water wakes it up. With water: this is much nicer, with a meaty sherry, walnuts, notes of palo cortado, butterscotch, and a little beef soup. Having said that, it’s not extremely Clynelish. Mouth (neat): hard to say, it’s having a lot of trouble after the 1965 and the 12 (but both were stellar whiskies), having said that some sides are on the spot, especially this fatness and the notes of polish. Not too sure, really… With water: not quite, rather too much cardboard now. Ut it remains pretty good.  Finish: medium. Old walnuts and more bouillon. Comments: it’ true that most Royal Marines did share a bit of this dirty-ish meatiness. What’s sure is that this style is nowhere near  that of the OBs, and neither is it close to the dumpy ones by Cadenhead. It’s also true that they’ve always been a little mysterious anyway, those RMs…
SGP:362 - 85 points.

It seems to me that provided there was no sherry in the way, I wold say Old Clynelish was probably the ultimate ‘riesling’ whisky. We’re talking well-aged riesling from a legendary terroir, made by a great winemaker!

(Thanks Angus, The Good Spirits, Otto and the others)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Clynelish we've tasted so far







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