The third in a series of four reviews in the lead up to the milestone 100th review takes us back to a distillery which we’re quite familiar with: Clynelish!
Those of us who have delved into the history of the distillery would be aware that it was established in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford, who was also the Duke of Sutherland and one of the primary reasons for the infamous “Highland Clearances”.
Over the next few decades, the whisky produced at Clynelish was said to be of such a high quality that it commanded a “Top Class” rating among blenders and was even the most expensive single malt available on the market.
The distillery underwent a series of ownership changes during its history, but found a sense of stability under the control of Distillers Company Limited (DCL) and was expanded and refurbished thereafter.
It was in 1967 that a major shift in the distillery’s history occurred and it centred around the construction of a brand new distillery adjacent to the existing facility. This new facility was meant to function as a modern incarnation of Clynelish and it meant that the existing facility was to be mothballed.
But fate has a funny way of dealing with issues such as this and the ongoing drought on Islay meant that the production of peated whiskies at DCL’s Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Port Ellen facilities were well below demand.
This led DCL to reopen the recently mothballed (and now referred to as Clynelish II) distillery in order to use it for the production of peated whiskies. The distillery was then renamed after the town in which it was located, thus becoming Brora.
For those who are looking for a more in-depth look, the distillery’s full history can be found here: Clynelish
Brora remained in production from 1967 to 1983, when DCL finally decided to mothball it due to the lack of demand for whisky. The distillery produced heavily peated spirit in its early days but switched to a lightly peated style some years after when the drought on Islay had subsided.
Fans of both Clynelish and Brora are well aware of these different production styles and have been rather intent in sourcing out the more heavily peated variants of Brora. The early years of the distilleries operating in tandem also created something of an identity crisis and the owners were not particularly adept at labelling the casks to clearly distinguish between the productions from both distilleries.
The whiskies produced between 1967 and 1973 were in the more heavily peated “Islay” style and are thus more highly sought after. 1972 was also a rather prolific year for both distilleries due to the demand for both peated and unpeated whiskies for blending purposes.
It is therefore rather fitting that this week’s review takes us back to Clynelish, where we review an unpeated variant from the newer distillery which was distilled in 1972, matured for 37 years in a refill sherry cask before being bottled at a cask strength abv of 58.9% by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail for their “Book of Kells” range.
So, let’s dive right in!
Clynelish 1972 37 Years Old (Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, “The Book of Kells” range, 58.9% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents a huge hit of sherry which is rather uncharacteristic for a whisky which was matured in a refill cask, but welcome nonetheless. A slight hint of creosote and some saline notes emerge, morphing into furniture wax with a slight acetone edge.
This is a dram which deserves respect and needs to be afforded the benefit of time. After doing so, the sherried intensity mellows somewhat and allows hints of red fruits such as peaches, nectarines and plums, some of the typical Clynelish waxiness and an abundance of supple oak to emerge. (23/25)
Palate: Rich, sweet and intense on initial entry, with there being a slight herbal and medicinal note lingering in the background. Acetone, sea salt, limestone and some of that typical Clynelish waxiness emerge after some time.
There is a savoury element to this dram, which is brought on by the sea salt, limestone and herbal hints. The sherried intensity underpins everything, but it only exhibits a touch of sweetness. Some of the peaches, nectarines and plums emerge later on, but only in a vestigial sense. A distant whiff of smoke, acetone and some oak appear at the very end. (24/25)
Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the oaky notes becoming more apparent but not to the point of becoming drying. Wood spices such as cinnamon and cloves emerge late on with the vestigial red fruits and some acetone. (22/25)
Balance: An incredibly complex dram which exhibits a great amount of balance. The sherried intensity is the star of the show and it underpins the sweet, salty, spicy and oily elements exceptionally well. The mouthfeel is oily with just a hint of dryness towards the end. (24/25)
This is the best Clynelish I have tried so far and it deserves this high rating due to its intensity and depth of complexity. When you consider that this expression was bottled from a single refill sherry cask and had a cask strength abv of 58.9% even after 37 years of maturation, it is nothing short of amazing.
This expression was savoured at The Auld Alliance a few months ago and has been one of quite a few extremely memorable drams that I have had in that period of time. It is definitely not a dram for the novice and needs to be afforded the requisite respect and time in order for it to reveal its hidden depths.
I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience just what a sherried Clynelish of age can offer and I assure you that you will not come away feeling disappointed.
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
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