*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Clynelish is pronounced KLYNE-leesh or klein-LEESH depending on what sylLABle you’d like to put the emPHAsis on. The name means “slope of the garden” in Gaelic, though the garden in question might just be the metaphorical garden of the eastern coastal Highlands of Scotland. The Diageo-owned distillery is located just about a mile inland from the North Sea in the little town of Brora and is one of the largest producing distilleries in Diageo’s large stable. In true big-company madness, this relatively new (built in 1967) distillery is not the original Clynelish. The original Clynelish distillery is located right next door to the new Clynelish and was called Clynelish until the new Clynelish was built and then it was renamed and called Brora until it was closed in 1983. Today, some of Clynelish’s whisky is matured in the moody, dark brick warehouses of Brora but these days, that’s pretty much all that happens there…maybe every once in a while, a few furtive whisky writers sneak in and take hurried snapshots in the rain, but that’s a story for a different time. The majority of Clynelish’s output goes into the Johnnie Walker blends, but a fair amount is bottled as a single malt and is part of the Classic Malts line-up.
This independently bottled 15 year old, single-cask expression is part of the Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range, which is newly available in the U.S. starting this Spring. It was distilled in 1997, matured in a “refill ex-sherry hogshead” (I’m guessing that means European oak), and yielded up 275 bottles.
The Nose: A subtly fragrant and deceivingly complex nose. Heather-y, floral honey, buttery soft pears, and lemon curd on cinnamon pancakes. Nice milk chocolate notes and bright wood spice follow – fresh-cut wood, soft cinnamon and green coriander. Things get even more interesting with a bit more open time, a warm waxy hint is joined by roasted nuts, and an almost tiny, briny (shhh, I know) wisp of savory peat. Water livens up the spice and brings out a greenish, un-ripe fruit quality, while losing some of the more subtle, interesting notes.
The Palate: An absolutely incredible mouthfeel, light, creamy, oily all at once, it’s coating and almost airy at the same time. That waxy quality is more present right away, as are deeper wood spice notes. More flowery honey, a bit of lemon meringue and burnt sugar is followed by roasted and salted nuts, but that doesn’t last long. The wood spice looms large on the palate and has an almost savory, earthy quality; damp clove, coriander, vanilla bean, raw ginger, and black pepper. A thin hint of herbaceous peat and green wood smoke carry over into the finish. Water draws out the already impressive palate wonderfully, letting that honey flow across the now subdued spices, letting everything breathe a bit.
The Finish: Nice and lingering. That continued honey sweetness, and peppery, tannic, slightly earthy woodspice with just a breath of smoke and briny peat (or is that my imagination?) at the last.
Thoughts: Excellent whisky, though not necessarily an easy one to figure out. I found it a little restrained and challenging, but so well worth the effort. The nose is the least eager to give up its secrets, but a little patience reveals a lot of subtle complexity. The palate on the other hand, while carrying over much of what’s found on the nose, really lets it all loose at once making it tricky to get a handle on. For me, water toned down the nose too much, removing a lot of the complexity, I would concede that maybe I added too much if it wasn’t for what I thought water did for the palate. Here, I felt it really improved an already impressive array of flavors by giving them all a little more room to breath. It was interesting to taste this alongside the official 14 year old release. They were similar, but while the 14 year old is more balanced and refined, showing a little more of that waxy character, this one was a bit more complex and unique…just as you’d expect a single cask should be. I think this is one of those whiskies that while you would really enjoy the first glass, it would get better each time you sit down with it. Definitely recommended.
The Exclusive Malts 1997 Clynelish 15 Year Old, Speyside, IB-2012