It has been ages since I tasted the Clynelish 14 Years. It’s a classic if there ever was one, even though it always manages to stay below the radar. Clynelish is the sort of distillery you usually arrive at a little later in your whisky journey. But once you’ve had a sip it is hard to forget the waxy, coastal, mineral notes that this distillery is known for.
It’s especially the waxiness that make Clynelish stand apart. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just get your hands on a bottle of Clynelish 14 Years (it’s worth it), and you’ll recognise the flavour profile I’m referencing soon enough. It’s a characteristic that seems to have been much more prevalent in earlier eras, but something you’ll rarely encounter in modern single malts, Clynelish being one of the few exceptions.
Where does Clynelish’ waxiness come from? Well, there’s actually a pretty in-depth explanation in a book called Whisky Opus by Gavin D. Smith and Dominic Roskrow.
“In most distilleries there is one combined vessel for low wines and feints and foreshots, but Clynelish has a seperate low wines receiver and a forehots and feints tank. The low wines from the was still are pumped into the low wines receiver, and from there into the spirits still via the spirit still charger.
“The foreshots and feints from the spirit still are collected in a receiver and then briefly added to the low wines in the spirit still charger. Because of the comparatively long time the liquid sits in the low wines and foreshots and feints tanks prior to being mixed to create the spirit still charge, you get a build-up of waxiness.”
Douglas Murray, Diageo’s Process Development Manager
In 2016 and 2017 Clynelish underwent an extensive refurbishment and a lot of the equipment has been replaced. The distillery was closed for the better part of a year and re-opened in May 2017. At first sight not much had changed, but appearances can be deceiving, as Clynelish was comprehensively modernised. Keeping Clynelish’s signature flavour profile was at the top of the priority list, but immediately after the reopening it had completely disappeared. When I visited at the end of 2017, they were still working on it.
I trust they’ve been able to find that waxy profile again, but the real proof will be in the releases of the Clynelish 14 Years in 2031. For now we can be confident that the whisky I’m reviewing today was distilled comfortably before the extensive renovation works.
Clynelish 14 Years (46%, OB, 2020)
Nose: Classic zesty, waxy and mineral aromas, accompanied by toffee and honey, melted butter on toast and a whiff of marshmallows. Whiff of orange peel and green grapes. Undeniably Clynelish. Taste: Beeswax, honey and a whiff of white pepper, but also caramel and red apples, as well as peaches. A whisper of cotton candy, but also a somewhat bitter note, like strong black tea. Finish: A pinch of salt, somewhat bitter and a touch of lemon zest.
No complaints here. This always has been and easily remains one of the top standard distillery expressions. Amazing that this is still available for a standard price of 40 euro (or so).