...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

1997, Clynelish, and I

In 1997, I got laid for the first time.  I got my first car.  Watched my first porn (talk about vintage!) from end to end.  Got drunk for the first time.  Fell in love with silent cinema.  To me it was the sunset of my childhood.  It was 1998 that overthrew everything, when I was crushed and rebuilt for the first time.

But that's all romance.  Many other great and terrible things have happened to me before and since.  The actual years really don't actually demarcate the real experiences, they just provide ways to label elusive time.

Despite the three previous posts about independently bottled 1997 Clynelish, I have no grand conclusions.  Yet it is possible that there's a link between Clynelish and I.  In order to get there, let's first try to quantify online Clynelish reviews:
Whiskybase with its crowd-sourcing has the largest sample size.  Though Whiskyfun and the Whisky-Monitor occasionally overlap, it's clear that Serge has reviewed more Clynelish than the rest of his Malt Maniac crew combined.  Though they may look different, the tables above actually say very similar things:

1.)  1997 Clynelish doesn't score much higher than the vintages around it.  With the largest sample size of the listed distillation years it averages impressively between a strong B to a low B+.  But then again, the other Clynelishes do as well.
2.)  There seems to be quite a number of different 1997 Clynelish releases (the "Whisky Count" fields), the most by a bit if you sum the tables up.
3.)  Look below the 1997s.  Look below the red lines.  Watch how the amount of Clynelish releases quickly dwindle to nothing.

Back to these points in a moment.

Of the '97s, I have tried 6 so far (Go, Me!).  They range from decent to great.  But, quite frankly, Clynelish tends to put out consistently decent to great whisky each year in its watered-down, filtered, and colored official 14-year-old form.  What the independent bottlings allow us to do is purchase Clynelish from someone other than the drinks giant.  They also sometimes give us the ability to try 'Lish in its original strength.  Those are indeed benefits, the former for the sake of capitalism, the latter for a less restricted experience.  But I'm not convinced that the indie bottlings are significantly better than the Diageo one, nor am I convinced that 1997 was a consistently tremendous year/vintage for Clynelish.

As noted in the above charts, 1997 does seem to have been the last year the indies received a ton of Clynelish barrels from Diageo.  After that, it appears as if Diageo (and related blenders) cut short the outflow of Clynelish to other sellers.  So could this be another case of 1997 being viewed with wistful fancy?

With Diageo rushing into building new distilleries and cranking up production in existing ones, it's doubtful the conglomerate will allow someone else to sell its best assets soon (or ever).  So, when it comes to 1997 Clynelish, there has been a lot of it and much less from following years.....and it's good just about every year......so is its vintage really any better than others?  Is the Clynelish distilled in November 1997 really better than the stuff distilled in February 1998?  I'm not sold on that.

Admittedly, I didn't do this Clynelish Taste Off correctly.  I should have had a dozen samples spread out over the surrounding years.  Though that isn't within my means, it would have provided clearer results.  But, at the same time, I never expected to come to these conclusions.  I had thought I'd just rave about the four '97s and move on.  They were all good, at least one was great.  Yet the regular 14 year old 46% ABV Clynelish from Diageo is great as well.

Independent bottlers provide variety, expansion, and an opportunity for consumers to give their business to companies much smaller than giants like Diageo.  They do this for 1997 Clynelish like they do it for '89 Blair Athol, '95 Imperial, '94 Miltonduff, '91 Auchentoshan, '90 Glentauchers, '89 Jura, and hundreds of other distillery vintages that may or may not be well-regarded.  When looking at that first table above, you should focus on the 86 in the Whiskybase Whisky Count column.  That represents 86 separate releases of 1997 Clynelish.  If not for the indies, there would be only one Clynelish for us to try.  Perhaps that potential lack of freedom (not the idyll of vintage) is the most important element to take with us.