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Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Autumn Whiskies: Clynelish 23 year old 1991 van Wees The Ultimate

It remains a mystery.  A 23 year old Clynelish bottled by a reliable independent company, with a rave review from Serge, selling for €70(!!!!), remained unsold at European retailers for months.  Seriously, how does that happen?  Though I don't like buying blindly, I could not pass this up.

To put a finer point on what a bargain this was, consider that many of the needlessly mythical 1997 Clynelishes are going for TWICE the price of this older scarcer vintage.  In this case we have indie bottler, van Wees, to thank.  Their "The Ultimate" series is often both well priced and of good quality.

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Age: 23 years (October 29, 1991 - November 11, 2014)
Maturation: Hogsheads
Cask numbers: 13213 and 13214
Bottle: 296 of 507
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Sample pulled from the middle of my bottle)

With all of that in mind, I was very unimpressed with this whisky when I first opened the bottle.  It was a swirl of odd musty notes and burnt plastic.  And this wasn't just from the first pour.  The upper third of the bottle was very difficult.  But gradually, very gradually, it began to clear up...

The nose leads with lots and lots of lemons.  Other fruits roll in and out: peaches, tangerines, pears, and a hint of banana.  There's also quite a bit of honey and barley on top, with small notes of cocoa powder underneath.  After 30 minutes in the glass, the whisky picks up notes of sugar snap peas and watermelon rind.

At first the palate proves simple.  A jumble of citrus fruits meet pepper meets baking spices.  Then a small musty dusty note in the background.  But after 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky opens up.  A big spry fresh herbal note bolts forward, followed by honeydew, Angostura bitters, and a wisp of smoke.  It's never sweet, but it does have a slight plastic note.

In the impressively long finish, the citrus fruits take a backseat to toffee, fresh tobacco, barley, and the musty dusty note.  Like the palate, it's never sweet.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The oak moves forward in the nose with small notes of caramel, vanilla, and pencil shavings.  But the fruit (grapefruit and watermelon rind) remains.  New curious notes of parsley, cilantro, and burnt barley appear, as does a brief floral note.

Fresh parsley and thyme hit first in the palate, then cucumber skins.  It's slightly bitter and has a whiff of mossy peat.  A bit of the plastic note lingers.

Those vegetable and bitter notes carry into the finish.  It also picks up the watermelon rind note form the nose and gets slightly sweeter overall.

As you may have gleaned from the notes, this is a quirky whisky.  Actually, the nose is great, period.  The palate presents more of a challenge.  Not only does one need to get to the middle of the bottle to find the good spot, but once one pours it in a glass it needs a lot of air to really open up.  Once there, though, it can be very entertaining (positively or negatively, depending on one's palate).  The plastic and strange musty notes never really left this whisky and they're what keep this whisky from soaring.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - it was priced €70-€80 last year
Rating - 84

1 comment:

  1. van Wees seems to be one of the few remaining IBs that prices its releases based on how good they think they are rather than by what the market is willing to pay given the specs.