I sell whisky for a living. And yes, for the most part it is everything it’s cracked up to be and more – largely because of where I sell whisky, but that’s a story for another day.
I get asked all the time for recommendations that come in around that $100CA a bottle marker, and asked what I would drink in that price range. The Classic Laddie, Pulteney 12, Benromach 10, Johnnie Black (honestly), and Clynelish 14 are some of my immediate thoughts. There has to be both character and quality there to hold my interest. In my line of work, there is no shortage of great whisky at hand, so for a so-called ‘entry level expression’ to remain in constant rotation at the forefront of my grey matter, it has to be really damn good. And Clynelish 14 is consistently really…damn…good.
Part of it might be personal bias – I love the tangled and messy story of Brora/Clynelish – but there is more to it than simple infatuation with a distillery’s history. The fact of the matter is that Clynelish produces one of the best makes in the Diageo stable. It may not always turn out the way we’d hope in indie bottlings, but the brand’s flagship 14 is a winner. A bit waxy, a bit coastal; laden with citrus and a wee bit of a flinty edge. It’s hard to ignore inherent quality and singularity in a field that can sometimes (especially in younger OBs) feel a bit stagnant and one-dimensional.
Nose: Slightly boozy, without being spirity. Apples and barley fields. Linseed oil. Shale and salt water. A nice minerally underbelly. Dried ginger. Beeswax. Lemon Pledge furniture polish. Maybe a faint whiff of smoke back there somewhere.
Palate: Immediately waxy. Some apples and a squeeze of orange (and a decent dribble of lemon concentrate). Sauvignon blanc. A nice tannicity keeps things firm. Briny and coastal. Salted pasty dough. A puff of dirty smoke at the back end.
Finish: Love the tang and pucker as it ebbs. Leaves a bit of orange zest, salt water, and vanilla. Reminds a bit of dental gauze. Still rather drying.
Thoughts: Consistently one of the stalwarts of the <15 year olds. Some batches are better than others, but I’ve yet to find one I wouldn’t spend money on.
I live in a somewhat different price range than what I presume a lot of KWM customers do. So I still favor that $100 range for things. I wish I lived in Calgary, where a sale amounted to more than $3 off (never mind selection). Thankfully this is a bottle that is sold locally.
The suggestion to try this bottle came from this website in the comments as something relatively similar to the old Glenlivet Nadurra 16 (age statement says what) and thankfully it reasonably approximates it. I remain largely a sherry head but this contrasts nicely (as does Hazelburn but I can’t get that locally so have to ration what I do have) and so it remains a staple in my household, with usually a sealed backup in place along with an open one.
I will say reading your notes I had to chuckle in that it didn’t make me really want to try it. The descriptors, which I’ll have to look for at my next tipping, aren’t ones I’d use, but it won’t surprise me if they’re apt.
Even with increased demand and prices constantly creeping up, the law of diminishing returns does seem to kick in pretty hard at around the $100 mark for whatever reason – you CAN do better in terms of quality, but only to a degree that is hard to justify by the larger difference in price.
I sometimes wonder if this is just a reflection of the whisky industry’s profiling of the “mostly up to $100” drinker vs. the “price is really no object drinker/collector”, with all the crazy small-batch experimental stuff clearly oriented toward the latter.
The beauty of the KWM customer base (and the general circle of good people that orbit) is that there are folks at all stops along the price spectrum. Not only so, but also very KNOWLEDGABLE people at every stop. Whether the budget is stratospheric or down here on earth with the rest of us, we find the level of knowledge is so drastically different than it once was. Neat to see.
And to Jeff…that’s one that’s a bit tougher to speak to. “Is it worth it?” is a question I hear a lot, especially by those who don’t drink whisky, but are awed by the multi-digit bottles behind glass. The simplest answer I can give: “On my salary? No. But if money is no object? Maybe. There are often flavors that exist in those high age statement treats that simply don’t appear in younger offerings. The unfortunate reality is that, if you want to taste them, you have to pay to play.”
Yeah, that 5 points between 90/100 and 95/100 can be pretty expensive, even if the difference is quite tangible. The acid test for me is the bottle vs. cash question: sure, you might well drink the more expensive bottle if someone gave you one but, if they gave you the cash instead, would you spend it to buy the same bottle?
As part of a collection is a different thing, but it’s an interesting question as to what various people would think the most a drinkable bottle of whisky could possibly be worth, whether they had to money to spend on it or not.
As one of my whisky mentors who goes by @paddockjudge on Connosr often says, “PRICE DOES NOT AFFECT THE TASTE OF WHISKY.”
I prefer Benromach 10 to Macallan 12 Sherry Oak. My favourite whiskies have not been budget-breakers, though I have tasted some from the upper ranges.
Back in the days before they became so popular, Amrut CS and peated CS could be had for under $100 in Calgary. And they also had some killer single barrels. I challenge you to name a more enjoyable $200 malt.
The older whiskies may have flavours in them that we can’t image in younger expressions, but the angst they create is more FOMO than actually missing out on good whisky.
Do I envy those who can afford to buy a 30 year old for $5K? Sure. Would I try if offered? Of course! But, given everything we put up with this year, I’ll get over it and be thankful for my health and my family, and my moderately priced but top notch spirits.
The FOMO point is a good one – fear is the mind killer. I have no doubt that expensive whiskies made to different standards, and particularly in different eras, are unique experiences, but I have trouble believing that anything is truly “worth” over $1,000 a bottle as drinkable whisky, as opposed to some kind of whisky investment. I’ve found that the majority of people who say that far higher prices are justified either don’t buy the whiskies themselves or, if they do, buy and sell them only as collectibles, so actual product quality is really a non-issue anyway.