Category Archives: Clynelish

Clynelish 14 y.o. (+/- 2019) Review

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.

46% abv.

Tasting Notes

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.

Score: 87/100

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Late last year (2012), the good folk at Master of Malt launched a new line of independent bottlings.  Perhaps it was a retaliatory gesture aimed at the creative geniuses behind the Dali-esque naming conventions and abstract tasting notes of the SMWS.  Or maybe it was a shot at Edradour in the way of ‘Aha!  We too can dupe the public into spending much on wee 50cl (500ml) bottles!’  Or maybe, just maybe…it was simply because they had access to some really good whisky and wanted to provide another alternative in the ever expansive market of independent bottling.   

Either way, all three scenarios are met head on with the new brand ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’.  The niche here is how utterly ridiculous these bottles look nestled amidst the shelves of austere single malt Scotch whisky packaging.  Each label is adorned with comic book-esque drawings artistically reminiscent of a cross between ‘Where’s Waldo’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Beavis And Butthead’.  The images are not random bits of artistic tomfoolery, however.  They are rather cleverly reflective of the distilleries captured within the glass, and depict some subtle secrets and whisky geekery, sure to have the whiskily-inclined salivating at unraveling all of the hidden meanings.

Now…much like the old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, it would be a big mistake to dismiss these releases as novelty items.  I mean really big mistake.  As much as the purists may prefer a more…ummm…elegant outward appearance for our snooty tipple’s daily wardrobe, the simple fact of the matter is as mentioned above:  there is some damn good whisky in these bottles.  As soon as these are naked in the glass, all doubt disappears.  We’ll come to some actual tasting notes and details in just a moment.

A little on the bottings themselves…

Each release is wax-sealed, cask strength and non chill-filtered.  Further, in a rather interesting move…they are also non age statement (NAS) whiskies.  If I understand correctly though, these are not single cask releases.  Rather they are built in small ‘parcels’ to a specific desired quality.  *(If I’m wrong here, please correct me).  Either way…the NAS approach will allow Master Of Malt much greater future flexibility in regard to batch variance.  Rest assured, friends…if any of you are naturally cynical about the whole NAS concept (and I know many of you are, especially in light of the whole 1824 deal) …these are not young whiskies.  You can tell just by nosing.

One other point to note:  While other independent bottlers seem to be struggling for some variety in their portfolios, MofM have managed releases from Port Ellen, Brora, Ardbeg, Macallan, Caperdonich, etc.  Neat stuff. 

At this point I am won over.  Can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Forgive the quality of photos (or lack thereof).  They were thrown together rather quickly in the  shop.


Secret Distillery (Batch 1)045

55.4% abv     486 bottles

Score:  89/100

Nose:  Tobacco and raisins.  Cinnamon and fresh scones.  Some floral notes.  Baking spices.  Fudge and caramel macchiato.  Honey.  Creamy caramel with fruit.  Rich, rich, rich.

Palate:  Surprisingly tart up front.  Followed by big, dark intimidating fruitcake notes.  Then some apple.  Think a’bunadh meets amaretto with a wee splash of Southern comfort.

Thoughts:  A neat one.  Both in character and out of character at the same time.  Like seeing this distillery in another dimension.

*Secret Distillery’s real name rhymes with Ben Schmarclas.


Macallan (Batch 3)048

43.4% abv     245 bottles

Score:  86.5/100

Nose:  Bread dough.  Nice spices..and lots of ’em.  Some apple pie, heavy on the cinnamon.  Some old library notes.  Buttery sauce.  A little atypical of Macallan.

Palate:  Creamy and spicy.  A fair bit of dry oak.  Over-toasted marshmallow.  Grape skins.  Bitter chocolate.  Fairly tannic.  Zippy with spice and very pleasing apple notes.

Thoughts:  Not a bad whisky, but the low, low abv makes me think this one cooked in the warehouse for a while.  If this is indeed and older dram…I’m a tad underwhelmed.


Clynelish (Batch 2)042

50.6% abv     319 bottles

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Lavender and perfume.  Some pepper.  Nougat and honey.  Lemon poppyseed muffins.  A little orange juice.

Palate:  Wow!!  Old wax and dunnage warehouse.  Just extinguished candle.  Oil lamp.  Charred oak.  Some smoke.  Sooooo old school.  Cinnamon.  Apple juice and skins at the back end.  One of the all time great palates.  Loved it.

Thoughts:  Some disconnect between nose and palate, but they are at least complimentary.  The palate though…gad!…extra points for sure.  Just wow!


Springbank (Batch 2)053

53.1% abv     450 bottles

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Pickle.  Dust and pine.  A bit of peat, yeah.  Flinty.  Winter wood fire.  Clove and pepper.  Pine sap.  So odd…so unique…so intriguing.

Palate:  Now there’s the smoke.  Kinda oily.  Notes that should only be found in older whisky (wonder how old this actually is).  Some great sweetness meets the machine smoke.  Some figgy notes with honey.  Smoked fruit skins.  Pear, apple and currant.

Thoughts:  Very different for a Springbank.  The pine and pickle notes really threw me off, but surprisingly…worked out just fine in this one.  I liked it.


Highland Park (Batch 1)047

44.7% abv     241 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Sweet nose with a great composition.  Tangy jam note.  Peach, orange and lemon.  Warm leather and a very inviting salty note (makes the mouth water just inhaling it).  A touch of oil.

Palate:  Smoke and earthy notes.  Hay.  A mix of green and purple grapes.  Walnut.  Old school heft and some moderately subtle sherry-like tang.  Tart marmalade.

Thoughts:  Balance, balance, balance.  Again…a little out of character, but not too far off the path.  Not bad at all.


Bowmore (Batch 2)038

49% abv     292 bottles

Score:  89.5/100

Nose:  Farmy and iodione-heavy.  Rubber, smoke and other such.  Lemon zest.  Damp soil.  Smoky fruits.  Gravel dust.  Dry ash.  Sultanas.  Develops a bit of orange and some creaminess, surprisingly…but only if you give it a bit of time.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  Oily..smoky…earthy, and rich in dark red and purple fruits.  Think Laimrig meets motor oil.  Plum and purple grape.

Thoughts:  A well-earned 89.5.  Maybe even closer to a 90.  This is a neat Bowmore.  These recent profiles that combine jammy fruit notes and industrial oiliness…win.  Just win.


Caol Ila (Batch 1)039

45.8% abv     732 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Prickly and briny.  Peat and smoke.  Sweet and citric at the same time.  Orange oil.  Olives.  Candy sweetness.  A dusting of salt and pepper.

Palate:  Very Caol Ila.  Some melon with citrus.  Toffee and smoke.  Oyster with salt, pepper and lemon.  Wet rock.  Ocean shoreline.  oil.  There are some notes that make me think of Kilchoman (if that distillery’s malt were a little more mature).

Thoughts:  Damn decent Caol Ila, but definitely not the best of the indies I’ve tried.  Particularly liked the oceanic notes and oily saltiness.


Look forward to future releases.

Thanks to our mate, Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, for the chance to try these. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

Clynelish 14 y.o. Review

Clynelish 14 y.o.

46% abv

Score:  88/100


We all know Brora, right?  C’mon…the malt that, along with Port Ellen, rests comfortably atop the cult standings.  Well…Clynelish and Brora go together likes peas and carrots.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  The Clynelish distillery was established in 1819.  And 1967.


Okay…the current Clynelish distillery was built in 1967, right next to the old.  Later that year the original distillery was abruptly mothballed until 1969 when distillation resumed under the name Brora.  This legendary malt was produced alonside Clynelish until the the old distillery finally had her doors shuttered for good in 1983.  The younger sibling distillery has continued production to this day.

Clear as mud?  Alright, let’s move on.

This is a comfort whisky if ever there was one.  Beautiful downhome farmy nose, full of subtle notes that work exceptionally well together.  Light smoke dances with hints of lemon pepper, honeyed sweetness and mild oak.  Walnut and fresh cut hay meet chocolate ganache.  Caramel.  There is an eclair-like scent that comes and goes as well.  An odd note I keep getting that, in writing would seem to be at odds with the other notes yet somehow works is…the smell of a California Rolls (nori, avocado, etc).  Enchanting and entirely pleasing.

The delivery is firm but smooth.  The barley and oak, being prime contributors of course, sing a little louder here than in most malts we see nowadays.  They are balanced though.  We’re not talking over-oaking or bitter barley face.  Flavors are mostly dilutions of what you’ll find on the nose, sans the toffee/chocolate eclair deal.  Is that a hint of peach maybe?  And possibly a bit of a tea-like note?  Great integration.

All in all…absolutely worthwhile.  Everything a good whisky should be, and I have to admit a bit of a personal bias to this one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Clynelish 10 y.o. (A.D. Rattray) Review

Clynelish 10 y.o. (A.D. Rattray)

59.7% abv

Overall:  89.5/100


Clynelish.  A Northern Highland distillery of some reknown, though not necessarily for the right reasons.  I won’t dig in to the sad, sordid details here, but I do just want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that we ended up with Clynelish at the cost of Brora.  No…it is not a just world.  It is a further sad fact that most of the current distillery’s production ends of up bottled not as single malt, but in blends…notably Johnnie Walker Gold.  Heartbreaking really, especially when one considers that Clynelish has the capacity to distill about 4.2 million litres annually.  Finding a bottle of Clynelish, depending on your locale, may be more difficult than you can imagine.

The fine folks at independent bottler A.D. Rattray picked a dilly of a pickle with this cask (errrr…that means ‘good’, in case you’re not too up on your redneck speak).  Young and vibrant, but bearing some attention-grabbing nuances that bely its relative youth.  Cask strength delivery (59.7% abv) helps buoy these notes along on high tide.

This young beefcake, matured in a refill sherry butt,  has what I’d imagine to be a fairly universal appeal.  Sweet, clean and easy enough, but at the same time intricate and complex enough to delight us whisky nerds.  The complexity and meandering development here were quite a surprise, as this is a relatively young whisky to exhibit such characteristics.  A brilliantly timed bottling by A.D. Rattray.

First notes on the nose are rich creamy toffee or caramel.  Buttery, sweet and smooth.  Something akin to those little Werther’s candies we all love.  Bit of a dusty background (dunnage warehouse?)…similar to a pleasant old woodshop.  Something here reminds me a bit of saltines as well (perhaps sea salt?).  Also a lovely fruitiness right up front that compliments the toffee notes.  Hints (and no more, I think) of smoke.

Oily, creamy consistency on the palate.  Mouthcoating, and just as with the nose, first notes are of butter toffee.  Then some fruit (both dried and juicy fresh)  Some wine-y sherry notes.  A bit of oak and vanilla.  Spices to be sure.  Nicely paced development, slowly revealing its flavors and character.  Much more than the OB Clynelish you’re liable to find on the shelves.

Quite liked this one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  A.D. Rattray