Clynelish 1989/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Marsala Finish)

This will be interesting. Experience learns me that I have tasted a lot of good Clynelishes from 1989, although one might ask oneself how far vintages work for Whisky as they do with Wine. An other interesting point is, although todays Wine finishes are quite common, back in 2003, when this was released, Wine finishes weren’t all that hip. Remember that the demand for Whisky was a lot less than it is today, so the sentiment, back then was, if it’s finished in an odd cask (not Bourbon or Sherry), than there must have been something wrong with the original Whisky. This has been finished, by the bottlers, in a cask that previously held Marsala Wine. Marsala is a fortified Wine from Sicily Italy. Marsala can be dry or sweet, and can be white or red, or something in between. Just like Sherry and Port which also comes in lots of different versions, so the word Marsala alone only narrows it down a bit what to expect. It would have been nice to know exactly what kind of Marsala was in the cask. No surprise that we have an “early” experiment with a Wine finish, since Fabio (the man behind Wilson & Morgan) is Italian and already a Wine buff before getting interested in Whisky and Rum. Remember Rum Nation? That’s also his.

By the way, there are other 1989 W&M Clynelishes around. At least one Sherry and one Bourbon expression exist as well. Just look at the bottom right corner of the front label. By the way I have tried this Bourbon expression and it wasn’t as good as other 1989 Clynelishes. Maybe the reason for finishing this one.

clynelish-1989-wm-marsala-finishColor: Gold.

Nose: Dry, restrained and not “thick”. Elegant. Well balanced. Lightly fruity and appetizing. Peaches. Nutty and dusty. Pushed way back some notes of creamy vanilla, so I’m guessing American oak, and probably the previous maturation was done in a Bourbon cask. Don’t be fooled, a lot of Sherries are matured in American oak as well, since it gives off a more creamy, vanilla feel, whereas European oak has more tannins to it. Next some spicy notes. Hints of sweetish basil. Nice one to smell and in no way does the Marsala overpower the Whisky. Fabio was on to something here, and maybe the Clynelish itself wasn’t too bad as well? Hints of dusty dark (friendly) cocoa powder. Good. Give it some time to breathe and the nose does show it has some origins in Wine, but still in a very restrained manner. Hints of Calvados even.

Taste: At first some wood, dusty and spicy but soon a wave of utter fruit passes by, although the fruity sweetness is almost nonexistent, the initial sip has definitely some sweetness to it. Nutty and nice. It has some fruity acidity though, not much but it does help the balance. Two distinct layers after which the finish sets in. A pretty good Whisky with a nicely done finish. It is a treat on entry and has a nice balanced body. The finish has some moderate staying power, and is easily the weakest point of this Malt. It doesn’t have enough length, and is actually not very complex. luckily the rest of the experience is very positive, so definitely a malt one can enjoy. I guess this experiment can be called a success.

The middle has some heat to it so the 46% ABV seems appropriate. I can be easily disappointed when a Whisky has been reduced too much, but I’m also easy in admitting that reductions often work out. In this case I’m not wondering how a cask strength version would have been. I’m happy as it is.

Points: 86

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Clynelish 15yo 1997/2012 (51.5%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask, 59 bottles)

A few days ago I reviewed another Clynelish from 1997, and I just stumbled across this one, bottled by the Whisky Mercenary a.k.a. Jürgen Vromans. Since this is bottled in 2012, I guess Jurgen sent it to me a few years back as well. Only 59 bottles did once exist, but we know the Belgians to be enjoying life quite a bit, so I don’t think a lot of bottles of this have survived. I guess its will be even harder to find one of these today. I’ve reviewed quite a lot of Jürgen’s bottlings, and I have to give it to him, he has quite the nose for picking them, as well as being allowed to pick “dem Whiskies!” You might not know, but it’s not easy to be an independent bottler. You just don’t go into a warehouse trying all of the casks lying around and picking the best you can find, unless you have a bit of a reputation…

Clynelish TWMColor: White wine.

Nose: Buttery and malty. Fresh. Like a breath of fresh air, yet also citrus fresh. Creamy toffee barley. The cask seemed to be quite inactive, maybe the color also gives that away a bit already, but the sweetness is more like toffee and not big on vanilla you get from more first fill and more active casks. Another hint is the lack of a pronounced wood aroma. Cold apple compote with a bit of warm apple sauce, laced with a splash of calvados. All those apply associations are noticeable, but in no way overpowering. The fruity sweetness gets more and more dusty and dry, with a tiny bit of surface wood, oak obviously, with a little bit of mint. Apple pie, after some breathing the apple is joined by some freshly made dough. Nice balance with more than usual distillery character. Typical example where the wood did less to make the Whisky. It shows its other side. Fruity fresh, with shallow depth, dough aroma instead of wood, but at the same time lacking real depth and complexity. This isn’t a fault. It’s just different, and with this it shows another side of Single Malt Whisky in general.

Taste: Well, what a surprise. Sure it is fruity, but way more wood in here than in the nose. It starts with wood and paper as well as quite the peppery note. Sugary sweetness and creamy. I didn’t expect that at all. Toffee and bread. Caramel. The aroma’s grow a bit bigger with more breathing, so don’t be to hasty with this one. The lack of activity from the cask is noticeable by the weakness of the finish. It starts with a little attack, for a brief moment shows a nice body, but then it comes down very quick and leaves you a bit with a light, short and unremarkable aftertaste, which at some point in time even gets a bit bitter. Cedar wood bitterness. This bitterness even grows bigger, if you drink this Whisky after a prolonged time of breathing.

In my opinion, not the best of Clynelishes around, but there are many other who like it even better. This is from 2012, right at the start of his career as The Whisky Mercenary. Its hard then to get to pick the very best of casks, and it is a shared cask as well. Only 59 bottles was his share, but I guess at this ABV there was more Whisky in the cask, bottled or blended by others. Nevertheless educational, because here you can see that it’s more about the spirit, than it is about the wood.

Compared to the 1997 Wemyss Clynelish I reviewed a few days ago, the family resemblance is quite remarkable, but the Wemyss is definitely the more aromatic and polished expression of the two.

Points: 81

Clynelish 1997/2014 “Cayenne Cocoa Bean” (46%, Wemyss Malts, Hogshead, 373 bottles)

You get only one chance to make a first impression, and that is what he did, William Wemyss. Carrying around my bottle of Strathisla I ran into William in London and I offered him a dram. Talking about the Whisky Business in general and Wemyss in particular, he sniffed it for a while, and sniffed it some more, talked a bit, and then…chucked the whole stuff in a spittoon claiming that it was great stuff. He probably had to drive home later or was late for a meeting or something. People around me were shocked a bit, but I know this is how memories are made. Maybe just not right away!

Wemyss is known for naming their Whiskies. The Clynelish I’ll be reviewing today is called Cayenne Cocoa Bean, since it reveals bittersweet cocoa beans mingled with cayenne pepper.

Cayenne Cocoa BeanColor: Somewhere in between white Wine and light gold.

Nose: Sweetish and fruity. Definitely some barley, but also a dry grassy note. The color gave it away a bit, this is from a refill hogshead, so it lacks the in your face vanilla and toasted cask aroma’s. It’s more refined. It has a creamy and fatty element. Vanilla pudding, but it is all very restrained and well-balanced. Fatty not waxy, what it usually the marker for Clynelish. Dusty oak. Dry old vanilla powder. Dried peach and pineapple. Semi sweet black tea. Leavy and hints of a dying out small garden bonfire. Burning off old branches. The sweetness throughout is toffee not sugar. Lovely stuff.

Taste: Nice thick fruit with toffee. The toffee substituting the wax you’d expect to find in a Clynelish. It starts out almost chewy. The whole it held up by a toasted wood note, with the faintest hint of bitterness and tree sap. On entry very good, from the start a lot is happening. After that a mixture of mint, sugar and a small amount of licorice. It is big and holds up. Finish starts prickly, and swiftly whiffs away, only the toffee stays behind as well as some warmth. Medium finish with a warming aftertaste. A good Clynelish and I’m guessing for those of you who didn’t like it as much, the leafy quality is a bit off, and the finish is a bit too short. So it has its flaws and weaknesses. But it has its big aroma and the start is almost spectacular. The body starts well, but breaks down too soon. The finish should be better and the aftertaste has some pineapple but not much more. It is reduced to 46%, and maybe that’s the culprit for the finish and aftertaste. The beginning is great, and for that part of the experience the 46% ABV seems just about right.

I’ve encountered quite a lot of people on festivals who say they don’t like these names. They say it creates a certain expectation and with that they can’t taste it objectively anymore. A very anorak-y statement from people lacking humor? I for one, like the names, it gives them an identity, even though I might not encounter the aroma’s from the name in the Whisky. Everyone tastes differently, depending on time of day, upbringing and associations with tastes. Clynelish is an excellent example. I like Clynelishes just as the next guy, but I always seem to like different Clynelishes. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs, I really liked a 12yo Clynelish bottled by Adelphi. I didn’t know it was a Clynelish, since it was part of a blind competition we know as the Malt Maniacs Awards. At another blind tasting session, at least a year later, I tasted another wonderful Clynelish, which turned out to be the sister cask of the first Adelphi Clynelish. I mention those since, a lot of people didn’t care for those two Clynelishes. Same with this Wemyss expression. I first encountered it at a Wemyss tasting, led by Ginny, and I absolutely loved it, where most of the public preferred other Wemyss expressions. So never take anyone’s word for it, make up your own mind, although I have to say that all the Clynelishes I mentioned above, were casks picked by Charles MacLean, even this Wemyss one…

I managed to forget the name during the writing process. I did get the bittersweet part, but couldn’t say if it’s from cocoa beans. Definitely didn’t get the cayenne though, but I still like the name. It’s only a name, nothing more.

Points: 85

Clynelish 14yo 1989/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 6 Month Rum Finish, DL REF 3850, 312 bottles)

I’ve been reviewing more Rums lately, which is fun to do. back to Whisky for now, but I won’t have to let go of Rum altogether. To continue the Rum theme, my previous review was of a Teeling Blended Whiskey, finished in Rum casks. The Rum completely took over the Whiskey. Here is another Whisky, Scottish this time, that was finished in a Rum cask. Alas we don’t know where the Rum cask came from, nor do we know what kind of Rum it once held.

The title is correct, the picture is wrong. I found an old sample of this Clynelish on my attic, but it seems Whiskies were drunk in 2003 and not collected. I couldn’t even find one in an auction. No picture to be found of this particular 14yo rum finished Clynelish. All I could find was this picture of its 13yo sister bottling, also finished for 6 months in a Rum cask. For a brief time Fred Laing reserved the red lettering on OMC bottles for younger Whiskies in a time when  Douglas Laing was bottling almost only stellar and old bottlings. For one reason or another the red lettering, and the red tube, was soon abandoned. The bottle in the picture was bottled in February 2003, and the 14yo, I’ll be reviewing soon, later in that same year. It is therefore entirely possible the 14yo doesn’t even have red lettering.

Clynelish 14yo 1989/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 6 Month Rum Finish, DL REF 3850, 312 bottles)Color: Light citrussy gold.

Nose: Wood and yes, it has some light golden Rum on the nose. This time the Rum didn’t overshadow the Whisky. You still can recognize a Single Malt Whisky in this. Flowery and soapy and hints of rhubarb. Soft young wood, leafy and fruity. Papaya, maracuja and a tiny hint of banana. In a blind tasting I would have said this was a Tomatin. Typical Bourbon cask notes and with tropical fruits, what else could it have been? Nice nose. Floral and fruity, but also damp earth and raisins. Hot butter. Sometimes whiffs of a Pinot Gris fly by. I like this. Well balanced and even though a lot can be picked up, the balance is so great and the aroma’s are so well-integrated it doesn’t even seem complex. The aroma’s show themselves in layers, but when an aroma is replaced by the next, it isn’t gone for good, everything comes back as a boomerang. Given some time a more burned note appears that wasn’t there before. I have always liked Rum finishes, maybe that’s where the interest in Rum comes from.

Taste: Recognizable as a Clynelish, with added yellow, tropical and red fruits. Quite hot, it bites back a bit. Sweet and more yellow fruits. Pineapple and white grapes, hints of unripe peach and unripe banana. After the initial sweetness, notes of paper and wood. Cheap wood, plywood maybe. This is less balanced than the nose is and the finish leaves a slightly bitter taste in your mouth. Burned wood and grape seeds. Nice stuff, just don’t expect a sweet Rum in this one.

Back in those times, it seems that Rum finishes were more common than today. Wine finishes were hardly available, and those that were around were not particularly good. Look around today, lots of finishes in casks that previously contained a Wine in all its guises. Rum finishes are still not done very often, apart from some Benriachs I guess. Speaking of which…

Points: 86

Clynelish 16yo 1995/2012 (53.7%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #2156, 90 bottles)

It’s funny how a big company like Diageo works. For instance, There are almost no independent bottlings available by Diageo owned Lagavulin whereas the is a vast amount available from fellow Diageo and Islay distillery Caol Ila. There are almost no independent bottlings available from Oban, but a huge amount from fellow Diageo Distillery Clynelish. Here is another independently released Clynelish from the massively popular 1995 vintage. Although vintages belong more to Wine, vintages also became popular in Whisky.

Clynelish 16yo (Kintra)This Clynelish, of which only 90 bottles were released (a Butt shared with others, and Butts are large casks), is marketed by Kintra from the Netherlands. A small outfit, but from a nice guy and with good looks (both the bottle and the guy). As the label states, this is from a Refill Sherry Butt, but even if its from a Fino cask, is doesn’t have a lot of colour. A somewhat inactive Butt?

Color: White wine.

Nose: Somewhat acidic malt. Vegetal. Drying. Does fit the Fino Sherry profile, it’s smells like flor. Herbal and dusty. Milk chocolate with distant hints of vanilla. A little bit dry grass and freshly cut, sappy oak. Freshly peeled almonds. Typical Fino Sherry Butt.

Taste: Again very malty and very Fino Sherry. Wood upfront, and after that some glue and toned down vanilla. There is some sugary sweetness in this Whisky, but that is “hidden” by the Fino and the active wood. No wax! Salty lips. Malt returns in the finish. Otherwise a little bit hot, and spicy.

This is absolutely a pre dinner dram. Tasting this I want to eat! Typical Fino Sherry Butt, playing with wood and grassy, nutty tones. Not as waxy as we are used to from Clynelish. Don’t let the colour fool you, the Sherry did its job here, as did the wood, without being dominant. If you like your whiskies Fino, than this will be no disappointment.

Points: 85

Get well soon Erik.

Clynelish 15yo 1997/2013 (52.2%, The Whisky Mercenary, for Beproefd.be, 65 bottles)

This Clynelish caught me completely by surprise, since Jürgen didn’t tell me he was sending this, and getting free Whisky in the post is, niiiice 🙂 We all know Jürgen from his series of Whiskies he picks out and releases under his Whisky Mercenary moniker, but he also writes the odd stuff about Whisky including some notes on beproefd.be. I’m guessing Jürgen doesn’t need an introduction, but for those of you who do, here is review of Jürgens Tormore. Now let’s have a look at this Clynelish…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Clean, fresh and fruity, meaty and salty smoke, bacon? Waxy with vanilla, paper and nice hints of wood. A plethora of yellow sugared fruits. The Obvious apricot, but also some pineapple. Excellent modern and clean nose. Warm butter and gravy, so a little bit musty. Easily recognizable as a Clynelish.

Taste: Fatty, waxy and fruity. Warm toffee and mellow oak. A little bit of woodsmoke. Quite sugary sweet, but not overly sweet. Vanilla ice-cream. Nice warming spiciness. Lemons and some orange skins. Dry black tea. The nice fruits mingle perfectly with a nice touch of wood. Extremely drinkable. Nice full body with a medium finish. Low 50’s is a perfect strength too. Lovely and with great balance.

Well Jürgen is known for having a good nose and palate, so his picks are always interesing to have a look at. And Jürgen delivered again. This is again a very good Whisky. I found this one to be even better after some breathing. With air it achieves even better balance and the body gets even more full. Reccomended!

Points: 87

Clynelish 32yo 1972/2005 (49.9%, The Single Malts of Scotland, Hogshead #15619, 226 bottles)

Looking back, I see that two of the last four posts are old Clynelishes. One from 1974 and one from 1973. What could beat that? Well maybe another old Clynelish? Why? Because we can! And this time we’ll do a 1972! Exactly 1972, the year in which the adjacent (old) Clynelish distillery (a.k.a. Brora) reached the stellar quality we all (should) know by now. If you don’t know Brora 1972 by now, prepare to dish out some serious cash to do so, but then again, you might be a Sheik? Clynelish 32yo 1972/2005 (49.9%, The Single Malts of Scotland, Hogshead #15619, 226 bottles)But that’s Brora, here we have a 1972 Clynelish, so it’s distillate from the then newly built distillery next to Brora…

Color: Light Gold

Nose: Old once (painted) wood. The whole nose has a nice oldness to it. A smell you don’t encounter in more modern malts. Lots of woody caramels. The whole nose has some similarities to the 1973 I reviewed some days ago. This one is more leafy though, and less waxy. It’s not only sweets and woods. Pencil shavings and fresh air. Quite clean. Apple skins, nuts and some flowers. Freesia maybe?

Taste: Wood and a thin kind of waxiness. half sweet and a spicy bite of wood (do I detect a hint of smoke?). The wood doesn’t dominate. Also some hints from the animal kingdom. Something along the lines of a sweating horse. Again the added leafiness. Dry leaves and cold and wet black tea leaves. The body is medium to full, but with a lot of character. Orange skins. The finish is longer than I thought, but also thinner due to the lack of the big sweetness and waxiness a lot of Clynelishes have. Having said that I do like this one. It oozes Whisky from times long gone…

Brora’s from 1972 are special amongst others by the use of peat. This Clynelish lacks that peat. The cask itself didn’t do a lot for the whisky, apart from giving some woody traits to the Whisky. Wood, vanillin, that sort of things. This does allow us to have a glimpse at the distillate of Clynelish.

Points: 90