Clynelish whisky

Clynelish Scotch Whisky

Clynelish  (Pronounced: KLEIN-lish or klein-LISH)
Northern Highlands
581'25.7808 N, 352'13.3068 W
Brora, Balblair, Glenmorangie, Old Pulteney
1968 (as a replacement for the Brora distillery)
Clynemilton Burn
3 Wash stills, 3 Spirit stills
4,500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo > UDV (since 1986)
Brora, Sutherland KW9 6LR, Scotland
+441408 623000
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Where to find Clynelish?
Clynelish location

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Trivia about Clynelish

1) Out of the 27 active distilleries that Diageo owned in 2006, only three had a higher production capacity than Clynelish's 3,400,000 litres at the time; 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) Compared to the Brora malts, Clynelish seems light in style - but in fact medium peated malted barley is used.

3) Some casks of Clynelish whisky are stored for maturation in the old warehoused of Brora.

4) Clynelish distillery is owned by Diageo - a corporation that owns almost 30 different malt whisky distilleries.

5) Some 8,000 cases of Clynelish single malt whisky are sold each year. (Well, that statistic was right when this website was built in the 1990's - I imagine the number is quite a bit higher by now...)

Clynelish single malt whisky

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 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 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...
Hardly a 'daily dram' type wwhisky by the standards of the malt maniacs; seriously overpriced...

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 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 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 12yo 1995/2008 'Shiny Cell' (46%, The Nectar Daily Dram, 200 Bts.)
Nose: Light and vaguely citrussy start, growing oilier. Perhaps some very distant meaty notes.
Perhaps some chloride? A 'coastal' profilel, but it feels a tad too young and weak for my tastes.
Taste: Softly fruity, firming up towards the centre. Flattens out again towards the sourish, gritty finish.
Score: 72 points - this feels like a finished whisky - overall fairly unbalanced.

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 1971/2005 (45.7%, M&H Cask Selection, Refill hogshead, 228 bottles)
Nose: Very light with a touch or organics in the background. Chloride. Sweet and a little grassy.
A surprising fruity kick in the back of the nose. Quite solid. A light Speysider? Glenlivet? Glenmorangie?
Taste: Sweet and fruity as well. A little more body than the nose suggests. Dry, satisfying finish.
A deep, long, warming sweetness on the palate as well. Overripe banana or gooseberries. Lovely!
Score: 85 points - a tad light for me, but I like it (just enough to reach the upper 80's).

Clynelish 1972/2005 (49.4%, The Whisky Exchange, 206 bottles)
Nose: Light and grainy. Hint of fruits. Opens up after a minute, becoming spicier. A tad too subtle for me.
Aaaah... It seems much bigger in the nose during my second glass and some more air. Organics.
Taste: Fruity start. Solid malty centre with a touch of sweetness. Growing bitter towards the finish.
Lovely liquorice on the palate. This is one of those malts that require time and attention.
Score: 82 points - this really shines at moments, but you have to keep working at it.

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. In a blind test I would probably guessed this was an old Glen Garioch.
Make sure to sniff your empty glass - that's quite a treat as well.

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.

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 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 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 1989/2002 (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 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 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.

And there's more to tell about Clynelish...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Clynelish Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Clynelish page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Clynelish expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 

Clynelish distillery in the new millennium

2002 - After being used mostly as a 'volume' malt whisky for blending, a 14yo official bottling is released.
2005 - Clynelish is included in the expanded range of 'classic malt whiskies' by whisky industry giant Diageo.
2008 - two stainless steel washbacks are installed at the Clynelish distillery.

New Clynelish malt whisky distillery

This profile is dedicated to the new Clynelish distillery, constructed in 1968
by SMD. The old Clynelish distillery right across the street is now known as
Brora and was built in 1819 by the Marquess of Stafford. When the new
distillery (circa 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 a
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) find themselves short on peated malts.

Clynelish whisky distillery profileInteractive whisky distillery mapScotland - whisky distillery informationScotch whisky bottlersScotch malt whisky brandsNew distillery projects
Saint Clynelish's Day - whisky advertising
Clynelish 14 years old Scotch whisky

It's not that the 'Islay style' heavily peated single malts were as trendy as they are today; 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. Brora enjoyed the new lease on life for more than a decade, but in 1983 the distillery was closed again - this time for good.

Meanwhile, the new Clynelish
distillery fared better. The old malt
whisky had been popular among
blenders and the spirit from the
new distillery served their needs
just as well. The new distillery used
exact copies of the stills at Brora
(simply more of them), so that
worked out pretty much as the
owners had planned.

Partly due to the initial focus on blenders, Clynelish wasn't
easy to find as a single malt in the 1990's. At some point a
14 years old semi-official 'Flora & Fauna' bottling became
available. This was replaced with the proper official bottling
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. As the sole
representative of the 'Coastal East' region on Diageo's new
distillery map (you can find it on their website), it mirrors the
lonely position of Oban in the 'Coastal West' area.

Which reminds me; the occasional single malt Scotch whisky
drinker might not be familiar with Diageo - so please allow
me to quickly explain. Clynelish was initially licensed to a
company named Ainslie & Heilbron (Distillers) Ltd., Glasgow.
The Clynelish distillery became property of United Distillers
in 1986. United Distillers merged with IDV (International
Distillers & Vintners) in 1998 to form UDV, which is 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.

When the new Clynelish distillery was built in 1967 and 1968 the stills were copied as closely as possible from those at the old distillery. I've been told that they achieved a close likeness to the old Clynelish house style - lightly peated but a much lighter style of whisky than the 'Islay style' malts that were produced at Brora between 1969 and 1983. While most bottlings of Brora do very well on the Malt Maniacs Matrix the opinions about the average bottling of Clynelish tend to be more divided. Members of 'the wine brigade' (like Serge and Olivier) who appreciate subtlety usually enjoy a Clynelish more than some of the 'Nordic' maniacs who prefer heavier, stronger flavours.
But that's the beauty of the malt whisky world - the wide variety in styles keeps it interesting...

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