This distillery profile is dedicated to the new Clynelish distillery, constructed in 1968 by
SMD to replace the old one. These days, the old Clynelish distillery right across the street
is known as Brora - which was built in 1819 by the Marquess of Stafford. When the new
distillery (roughly three times larger than the first) went into operation, the old Clynelish
distillery remained operational and was re-named after the town.
Well, actually - it's slightly more complicated than that...
The old Clynelish distillery was closed in May 1968 and the new one went into production
one month later. That could have been the last that we ever heard of the old distillery, if it
hadn't been for the weather in another part of Scotland, on the Western island of Islay.
Due to a severe drought on the island, brand owners DCL (the owners of SMD) suddenly
found themselves short on peated malt whisky. They needed to find a new source...
Even though the Highlands of Scotland have become much more
accessible during the last century-and-a-half, the Clynelish distillery
in the Sutherland region is still far removed from ‘the beaten path’.
International travellers can make it to Speyside from large airports
in Edinburgh and Glasgow with relative ease, but getting to distilleries
like Clynelish or Pulteney requires quite a bit of extra effort. Some find
the trip past the Moray Firth and Dornoch Firth worth it though.
The last time I checked, Clynelish offers distillery tours every hour between 11:00 AM and 16:00 PM.
1) Out of the 27 active distilleries that Diageo owned at the start of the third
millennium, only three had an even higher production capacity than that of
Clynelish (at the time); 3,400,000 litres - Caol Ila, Glendullan and Dufftown.
The latter two were 'tarted up' into the 'Singleton' brand in 2007, together
with Glen Ord. (The name 'Singleton had formerly been used by Auchroisk.)
2) Some casks of ‘new’ Clynelish whisky are stored for maturation in the
old warehoused of the Brora distillery.
4) Some 8,000 cases of Clynelish single malt whisky were sold each year
in the late 1990s. I imagine that the number is quite a bit higher by now...
5) The Clynelish distillery was initially licensed to Ainslie & Heilbron
(Distillers) Ltd. - a company from Glasgow. Clynelish became the property of
United Distillers in 1986. United Distillers merged with IDV (a.k.a. International
Distillers & Vintners) in 1998 to form UDV; short for United Distiller & Vintners.
If I understand the 'Gordon Gekko' corporate structure correctly, UDV is either
part of whisky industry giant Diageo or sort of synonymous with it.
6) The new Clynelish distillery was constructed in 1967 and 1968.
It was initially intended as a straight-up replacement of the old Brora distillery.
Therefore, the old Brora stills were copied as closely as possible. I've been told that they achieved a good likeness
to the old Clynelish house style - which was lightly peated. So, this style was much lighter than the 'Islay style'
malt whiskies that were produced at Brora between 1969 and 1983. While most bottlings of Brora are popular
among whisky lovers, the opinions about the average bottling of Clynelish tend to be more divided. Wine drinkers
who appreciate subtlety usually enjoy a Clynelish more than some of the more 'Nordic' whisky fans who often
prefer heavier, stronger flavours.
3) Compared to the heavy Brora malts, Clynelish seems light in style and
unpeated - but in fact, medium peated malted barley is used for Clynelish.
2002 - After being used mostly as a 'volume'
malt whisky for blending, Clynelish is finally
released - as a 14yo official bottling.
2008 - Two stainless steel washbacks are
installed at the Clynelish distillery.
2010 - A 12yo expression of Clynelish is
released for ‘friends of the Classic Malts’
in the range by the same name.
2006 - Clynelish is included in the expanded
range of 'classic malt whiskies' by whisky
industry giant Diageo.
2014 - The Clynelish ‘Select Reserve’ is
released. As a NAS bottling priced at 600
Euro’s, it didn’t sell very well...
2017 - Clynelish’s owner Diageo aquires the Casamigos tequila brand for $ 1 billion. This ‘brand’ was founded
just 4 years earlier by a few entrepreneurs, including American actor George Clooney. In comparison, the drinks
conglomerate paid very little attention to it’s Clynelish brand since the disappointing launch of the Select Reserve.
Clynelish 1998/2012 (49,5%, Maltbarn, ex-Bourbon cask, 123 Bts.)
Nose: Surprisingly sweet. 'Caramac' caramel. Perhaps the faintest organics in the background?
Chloride - which is sort of a Clynelish 'marker' for me. Not much else going on, though... Or too subtle for me?
Taste: Decent enough, but nothing really stands out. Modern 'plywood' style finish. A bourbony whisky.
Score: 74 points - which puts it in the same league as the official 14yo bottling of Clynelish for me.
But I should add that I'm just not a big 'modern' Clynelish fan, generally speaking.
Clynelish 12yo (46%, OB 'for the Friends of the Classic Malts'. Bottled 2010)
Nose: Sharp, flat and dry. Hardly any complexity or development. Oily with a hint of lemon. Bourbony?
The subtle citrus notes gradually become more dominant. I'm wondering if all the 'friends' will remain friends ;-)
Taste: Quite harsh with little substance. A little sweeter & smoother in the centre, but it remains superficial.
On the bright side: it's quite light. Dry, short finish that turns quite bitter in the end. Plywood.
Score: 72 points - the harshness on the palate seems to indicate the use of mostly bourbon casks.
However, I should point out that I'm just not crazy about many young Clynelishes - some others love the stuff!
Clynelish 35yo 1972/2008 (53.7%, The Single Malts of Scotland, C#12651, 273 Bts.)
Nose: Serious, slightly dusty but not very expressive at first. A tad buttery? Fairly sharp, let's add some water.
Citrus? Grows much more complex with a few drops, although everything remains very subtle. Good stuff.
Benefits from breathing, opening up and showing quite a bit of complexity.
Taste: Smooth and solid with old fruits and a fair dose of peat. Strong tannins. Chalky towards the end.
Sweet. Much more lively than the nose suggests at first. Lingering finish that turns sour and dry in the end.
Score: 88 points - I'm not the world's biggest Clynelish fan, but this is good stuff.
Clynelish 14yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Light and a little flowery with a hint of chloride. More spicy and creamy after some breathing.
Taste: Sweetish with some smoke or peat popping up after a few seconds. Some tannins. Rough, bitter finish.
Score: 74 points - it starts out above average but the biting, bitter finish pulls it beneath 75 points.
Clynelish 28yo 1976/2004 (46%, Murray McDavid Mission IV, 600 bottles)
Nose: Hey, surprisingly peaty! No wait, it quickly becomes smokier. Very powerful in the nose.
Smoke and diesel over a fruity undercurrent. Hint of leather? Nicely polished. Peanuts? Hubba Bubba?
Don't finish your glass too quickly, though - after fifteen minutes it grows notably more complex. Nice...
Taste: Some smoke in the start. More smoke in the centre, followed by wood and fruits. Smoky finish.
Every now and then the smoke is driven into the background by brief flashes of peat. Faint liquorice.
Score: 90 points - one of the most potent Clynelishes I've tried so far. A real smoke monster.
Bonus points for character. And make sure to sniff your empty glass - that's quite a treat as well.
Clynelish 19yo 1990/2010 (57.1%, Riverstown, Sherry Butt `C#3898, 257 Bts.)
Nose: Alcoholic and something like a blend of farmy and spicy. Sweet. Unusual - which is a good thing.
It mellows out a bit in the minutes after I added water, with more water melons. A little more phenolics.
Taste: Hot and quite sweet. Not much definition at C/S. With water the ultra dry finish grows too strong.
Score: 81 points - definitely not the cask I would have picked, but I have to admit it's quite interesting...
Clynelish 'Synch Elli' 27yo 1982/2009 (46%, The Nectar Daily Dram)
Nose: Subdued and inexpressive. Sweetens out a little after some breathing. Chloride. Glue?
Something vagualy floral? It's so restrained that it almost seems like a blend at times.
Taste: Watery start. Inexpressive like the nose, with a bitter, dry finish. Not nearly sweet enough for me.
After a few minutes a hint of something herbal emerges. It loses some point in the harsh, uneven finish.
Even more herbal and bitter during a second try, especially in the finish. Hot - a little TOO hot for me.
Score: 72 points - it's hard to believe they charge more than 150 euro's for this sub-standard stuff...
Clynelish 36yo 1972/2009 (59.4%, G&M Celtic label for LMdW, Refill Sherry Hogshead #14301)
Nose: Expressive with a hint of antiquity. Subtle smoky notes and some sweetness in the background.
This one needs ten or fifteen minutes to open up and reveal some of its complexities. My kind of profile.
Taste: Much peatier than the nose suggests - and loads of sherried wood as well. Organics and phenols.
A great mouth feel with a satisfactory burn in the smoky finish. Loads of tannins too. Hint of menthol?
Score: 87 points - an unusually high score for a Clynelish, perhaps because it's actually a Brora?
Clynelish 14yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Malty and creamy. Sherry and organics. Developing sweetness. Spices. Smoke.
Opens up a little with time, but doesn't choose sides. The slightest hint of peat pops up.
Taste: Dry and hot start, mellowing out into a sour centre. Some liquorice. A bit flat.
Little development after that; the taste just slowly fades away in a winey, bitter finish.
Score: 77 points - I have to admit I expected a bit more from the successors of Brora.
I have to say the nose grew on me with time, so maybe the bottle just needs to break in.
Clynelish 1992/2007 (58.5%, The Whisky Society / Sukhinder Singh)
Nose: Light & fruity. Perfect for a light supper on a spring evening. Then more chemical notes appear.
Hint of oil? Then passion fruits. The very light peatiness that registers as chloride in my nose.
Taste: Sweet cardboard. Very pleasant mouth feel. Fruity. Remarkable 'dip' before the long, satisfying finish.
Score: 88 points - one of the surprises of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007 for me. A tad too rough in the finish.
Clynelish 12yo 1996/2008 (58.6%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Marsala finish, cask#06/09013-5)
Nose: Coffee. Sour apples (Granny Smith?). Whiff of spices in the background. Gluhwein. Very expressive.
This has a 'winey' character. I'm not always a fan of that, but here it works beautifully.
A little extreme, but I like it a lot. In fact, the score gradually climbed from 82 points to 85 points.
Taste: Thick and very fruity. Tia Maria. Feels quite 'thick'. Remains fruity until the very end of the finish.
Just like the nose, the palate reminded me of gluhwein - the hot wine with spices from Austria & Switzerland.
Score: 85 points - One could argue that the finish overpowers the whisky, but I don't mind here...
Clynelish 13yo 1990 (59.3%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask#3593, Sherry Finish)
Nose had peat - and lots of it. This could very well be the peatiest Clynelish I've tried so far.
Sweetness & organics. Sweaty. Roasted coffee beans. It loses some of its impact over time.
Taste: Ssurprisingly potent as well; a punch of peat followed by an ultra dry finish. Lovely!
Score: 90 points - Simply fabulous.
Clynelish 14yo (43%, UDV Flora & Fauna, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Malty and grainy at the same time. Some coastal traits under a sherry coating.
Some of these F&F bottlings seem to have a style that overwhelms the distillery character.
Taste: Gritty and dry at first. Woody elements don't mix very well with the rest.
Score: 76 points - Slightly better than average; nothing more and nothing less.
Clynelish 11yo 1989/2001 (56.7%, Signatory Vintage, South-African sherry butt #3233)
Additional details: Distilled 17/5/1989, bottled 15/02/2001. There's also cask #3241 bottled in 2002.
Nose: Very strange. Sherry - but not as we know it. Unlike anything else I've tried so far.
The character is composed of a strange mixture of sherry and bourbon characteristics.
It really opens up with a few drops of water, becoming very rich. Sweeter with time.
Taste: A big burn. Bittersweet. Chewy. Oaky. Fruity? This is a very special malt.
Score: 80 points - Very intruiging. Maybe it's the South-African sherry butt?
Clynelish 1989/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Bourbon Barrel)
Nose: Smooth and creamy start, growing grainier, then sweeter. A tad grassy. Holly?
Fresh. Apple? No, a young pear - not quite ripe yet. Subtle spices. Surprisingly gentle.
Taste: Something fruity - but this is no whimpy whisky. Clean and straightforward. Light but firm.
Score: 83 points - A fine dram, but like other Clynelish bottlings it could be a little more 'extreme'.
Clynelish 18yo 1983 (46%, Benivor / W. Milroy, Bottled +/- 2002)
Nose: Polished. Light. Quite coastal in character, but not very powerful.
Some light fruity elements, developing into a more organic complexity. Quite nice.
Taste: Quite smooth at first. Then a slow sweet burn develops, growing drier. Chloride?
Prickles like a soft drink. A dash of water seems to bring out the dry, coastal elements.
And then I got a hint of honey liquorice again; could this be one of the 'marker's of Clynelish?
Score: 80 points - in the end it reaches 'recommendable' territory.
Clynelish 1989/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Marsala Finish)
Nose: Light and very fruity. More coastal notes and organics float to the surface.
Fruit cake. Mellow. Many subtle and spicy surprises hiding behind the wall of fruits.
After some five minutes more organics appear. Maybe even a faint hint of smoke?
Palate: Sweet. Gentle woody notes. Quite dry in the centre. Cranberries? Nice!
Just as it seems to settle down into mellow fruits it comes back with a spicy punch.
Score: 85 points - up from an original 82 points. This one really gets better with time.
I'm certainly not against exotic finishes if it produces malts like this. Good work.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Clynelish malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Clynelish I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Clynelish.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
Meanwhile, the new Clynelish distillery fared better.
The old malt whisky from ‘Brora’ had been very popular
among blenders and as it turned out, the spirit from the
new distillery served their needs just as well.
It's not that the 'Islay style' heavily peated single malts
were as trendy as they are today, mind you. DCL just
needed peated malt whisky for their number one blend;
Johnnie Walker. The blend had a fair amount of Islay
malts in its recipe - and sales were growing fast.
So, DCL decided to experiment with the production
of a more heavily peated malt whisky on the mainland.
The old Clynelish distillery happened to be vacant, so
it was re-named Brora - and the production of malt
whisky resumed again at the location in 1969.
The Brora distillery enjoyed the new lease on life for
more than a decade, but in 1983 the distillery was
closed again - this time for good.
Perhaps that’s not surprising because the new distillery
was right next door and used exact copies of the stills
at Brora - simply more of them.
Partly due to the initial focus on blenders, Clynelish
wasn't easy to find as a single malt in the 1990's until
a 14 years old semi-official 'Flora & Fauna' bottling
became available. This was replaced with the proper
OB depicted above in 2003 - also bottled as a 14yo.
Clynelish was included in Diageo's 'Classic Malts Selection' in 2005, along with (among others) Caol Ila, Cardhu,
Glen Elgin, Glen Ord, Knockando and Royal Lochnagar. It presents Clynelish as the sole representative of a brand
new 'Coastal East' whisky region on Diageo's new distillery map. It was part of their web site at the time, but it seems
to have been removed again later. (No worry, I like to think that the Malt Madness Whisky Map is better anyway. ;-)
Anyway, on the Diageo map the placing of Clynelish mirrors the lonely position of Oban in the 'Coastal West' area.