For decades, Clynelish Distillery has been one of those distilleries that quietly supplied their whisky to Diageo to serve as a base spirit for the Johnnie Walker Gold Label. Not much marketing has been done and not many newer whisky drinkers would have heard of it. Yet it remains a distillery that older whisky drinkers and connoisseurs get excited about. An underrated distillery. A hidden gem, so to speak, that the non-devotees might have consumed in Johnnie Walker blends, but not heard of the name.
Clynelish's whisky is part of the base spirits used to create Johnnie Walker's Gold Label blends.
In the recent years, the wider and younger whisky community has begun to pay a little more attention to Clynelish. Independent bottlers like the spunky Thompson Brothers curated casks of Clynelish single malt and released several expressions in a series of quirky cat-inspired bottle art.
And hence, the waxy, slightly peaty flavour profile of a Clynelish single malt is back in vogue with the modern whisky community. We have actually reviewed one of these Thompson Bros bottles and we found it pretty great.
Today, we have with us another bottle of Clynelish, this one distilled about 28 years ago.
This is yet another independently-bottled 15 Year Old Clynelish that was distilled for a now-defunct English whisky shop with the most unremarkable name: The Whisky Society. The spirit was distilled in May 1992, aged exclusively in a single bourbon barrel and bottled in September 2007 with an outturn of 218 bottles.
In the glass, the whisky is a slightly burnished gold colour, similar to the colour of Somersby’s apple cider.
On the nose, the initial whiff brings a rather distinctive note of spices led by nutmeg and pepper. The sensation is a mild prick on the nose, which is rather manageable and something I can get through.
Initial whiff of nutmeg and spicy pepper.
After getting accustomed to the spice, I start picking out a galore of several flavour elements. There are considerable notes of vanilla, cream and toasted granola. This is balanced by rather sweet notes of dried pineapples.
Considerable notes of cream and toasted granola.
Sweet notes of dried pineapples.
There’s a vague bitter smokiness- so faint it actually seems quite similar a profile to sipping a smoky Oolong tea.
Apart from the spice which is a little too lively for my liking, all of these notes are very well integrated and well-balanced with no particular element coming too far ahead of the others.
The moment this hits the palate, the texture is obviouz. I get silky, oily, waxy texture very characteristic of Clynelish. The rich texture very much accentuates the bright and crisp notes of sweet tropical fruits: once again- pineapples, then mangoes and peaches.
These fruity notes really linger for quite a bit and permeate my nasal canal as a perfume would.
What’s unusual is the heat from this Clynelish! 3 to 4 seconds into sipping this whisky, the heat really presents itself with intense peppery zing at the mid-palate- not unlike drinking a sip of peppery bak kut teh (Chinese- Teochew pork rib soup).
Given the strong alcohol content, I decided to let this rest for a bit before going at it again. On a second sip, the zing is a lot more manageable, and subtle notes become more evident. I’m now getting notes of grassiness balanced by a light briny gasoline flavour.
The finish is nice and long. As the dominant notes of fruit and alcohol zing recede, a fragrant earthiness and nuttiness take hold. An aftertaste of roasted macadamias and brazil nuts. The palate fades with a lasting umami note of garlic butter sautéed mushrooms.
The finish fades off with an unusually umami note of garlic butter sautéed mushrooms.
A very lively and punchy dram! This comes across very clean and bright, but the peppery zing from the spiciness does take come getting used to. Once you get comfortable with the spice, you would notice the subtler complex flavours behind it- what with the grassiness, nuttiness, light gasoline character and umami notes.
But what really does it for me is once again the weight and texture of the spirit: the waxiness, oiliness that makes Clynelish a favoured base spirit used in Johnnie Walker’s higher-end blends. This can be compared to my recent experience tasting a rather mature Linkwood (another base spirit used by JW) where I found its texture incredibly smooth and viscous.
That said, although this isn't exactly a baby at 15 years of age, I somehow would have preferred if this was matured in a bourbon cask for a slightly longer time to sieve out the more astringent notes and enhance the vanilla character.
A very lively dram with a lovely texture and peppery zing that takes some getting used to. This still feels a little young and “green” – I would have preferred a slightly longer maturation.