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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Single Malt Report Taste Off! Four 1997 Clynelish (The First Two)

Sometimes I can drink 4 one-ounce cask strength whiskies and take legible tasting notes.  Sometimes I can't.

Okay, usually I can't.  And in this particular Clynelish instance, I wanted to make sure I'd be able to compare and contrast whiskies, yet also have the sensory wherewithal to discern subtleties.  So I split the Taste Off up over two nights, two whiskies at a time.  Night 1 would be the two 14 year olds.  Night 2 would be the two 15 year olds.

The three whiskys I'd purchased as samples were each bottled by a European retailer I'd used in the past.  The fourth whisky was from the cask strength 750mL I'd bought blindly here in California; it was also bottled by an independent, though one a little larger than the other three.

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: The Archives
Age: 14 years (1997-2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead (likely refill)
Cask number4634
Limited bottling: 160
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 53.9%

The Archives was started by the Whiskybase Shop, a Netherlands retailer (which sells hundreds of bottles other than just their own) that also oversees the massive Whiskybase database website.  The Archives releases tend to be in small quantities (as they are a small business), but have spanned a couple dozen distilleries, so they provide plenty of whisky choices.  But the best ones do sell quickly, especially when good online reviews start rolling in.  This was the first of the Clynelish samples that I'd purchased, about six months ago.  Their samples are relatively cheap though also only 20mL in size.

Studied(?) neatly from a 20mL sample bottle via a Glencairn glass
Color - Very light, almost clear
Nose - SOMEONE PUT JASMINE IN MY WHISKY. It's actually very pretty.  There's the Clynelish wax, but a sexy wax? There's lychee, citron rind, and musty tropical fruit, but there's still lots of barley malt in there.  Bell pepper as opposed to the often-smelled dried peppercorns.  With some air: apple pie, sugary lychee syrup, orange pixie-stix, and almond paste develops.  What a nose!
Palate - Floral honey shows up first in a salty, grassy, brisk, malty palate.  An umami note as well.  Maybe some of that wax too.  Flower petals and Juicy Fruit gum.
Finish - More savory than sweet, though clover honey sits on the side.  As does the Juicy Fruit, butterscotch, and flower petals.  But, still, significant umami.

A bee-u-tiful nose leads the way here.  In fact that's what I remember most about this entire Taste Off two weeks later.  I was hoping to get in on a bottle of this, but they sold out by the time I did the tasting.  Phooey!!!

Availability - All gone
Pricing - $85-$95 (minus VAT, plus shipping)
Rating - 91

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Age: 14 years (1997-2011)
Maturation: probably refill ex-bourbon hogshead
Cask number4659-4661
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%

Doing business in the same shoppe since 1698, Berry Brothers and Rudd is Britain's oldest wine and spirits retailer.  They've supplied the royal family with booze since George III and, happily, are currently bottling whisky, rum, and cognac for the rest of us.  As for the U.S. part of "us", though I can't say this with 100% certainty, I do believe that the only American retailer to sell BBR's liquor is the Total Wine & More chain.  I picked up a bottle of this 14-year cask strength Clynelish at the start of the year, after which Total Wine totally sold out of it in California.  But as of a couple weeks ago, they've put this year's batch of BBRs on the shelves.

Sampled neatly what remained of my 750mL bottle via a Glencairn glass
Color - Very light amber
Nose - Flower blossoms in Spring. Can one smell tart? Citrus rind and tropical fruit.  Sweet corn. Salted pretzels, chocolate-covered orange candy, and a puff of fruity esters.  A teeny bit of vanilla and caramel after about 30 minutes.
Palate - Starts tart then progresses to a mild sweetness.  Brown sugar, pie crust, and maybe milk chocolate.  Sticky hearty salty malt with a little black pepper.
Finish -  Bold and heavy.  Savory like gravy.  Salt and fresh cut grass meets head on with lots of citrus and floral sweetness.

Though I didn't take notes, when watered down to 46% ABV it tastes quite a bit like the official 14-year bottling.  I can no longer test this because my bottle is gone, down this hatch.  As mentioned above, it sold out in Total Wine's California stores early this year.  But there is a new 15-year on the shelves, marked up $10 from the previous release.

Availability - All gone in CA, though there is a new 15yr
Pricing - $70 (the new 15yr is $80)
Rating - 88

I discovered immediately that these two whiskys had more in common than just their distillery and age.  These are both balls-out malt releases.  Very little oak and no peat to hide behind.  Yet they are no longer young and coarse, as the refill casks did their part in maturing the spirit without contributing much interference, resulting in very Clynelish Clynelish.  They are winners both, though I slightly prefer the Archives first due to its lovely schnoz.

Tomorrow, the next two 1997 Clynelishes...