Diageo owns a fair number of top quality Scottish distilleries. Without a steady supply of ingredients for blending there’d be no way to keep pumping out crate after crate of lucrative Johnnie Walker Red Label. After all, somebody has to under-mature quality single malts, taint them with below-average grain whisky and water them down to the point of being unrecognisable, right?
Sigh, I guess that’s not entirely fair… given that this process is what creates my beloved Black Label (peace be upon it). And while we’re being completely honest, it’s not as if Diageo is completely preventing us from getting a taste of the single malts they control. In fact, they have a range of official bottlings from many of Scotland’s quintessential distilleries (albeit generally chill-filtered, Crayola coloured version of those malts), most of which are about as widely available as your average bottle of VAT 69.
Alongside venerable greats such as Talisker, Cragganmore, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Oban, Clynelish is one of these classic malts. It forms the backing vocals in many blended Scotch whiskies (from Diageo to Compass Box) and is the lead guitar in some particularly superb ones (the original Johnnie Walker Gold 18). I’ve been looking forward to trying the single malt for a while now – let’s see what the solo performance looks like:
Fantastic. Malt, oranges, lemon, pepper. Creamy (Gold Label Reserve?) Faint vanilla. A touch of mint. And a great alcohol balance out-of-the-bottle. For whatever reason, I was reminded a lot of Glenmorangie 10 (this is a good thing). Side-by-side, the Clynelish is less sweet and more intense, where the Glenmorangie has a stronger caramel/bourbon coming through.
Powerful citrus, and plenty of spice. Glazed oranges. Salt, pepper and a mild smokiness (very light, like a reduced-peat Talisker). Mild honey sweetness. Finally, a sort of candle wax on the palette that is interesting and surprisingly pleasant. Great stuff!
Extended and woody. A marzipan finish that becomes strongly oaky right at the end – like chewing on bark.
Oh man it’s great without water. But do yourself a favour and give it a little splash. Apart from making it easier on the tongue, taking it down by a couple of percent makes it a touch spicier (almost like chilli), adds a little liquorice, and emphasises that vanilla/woody stuff going on. Nice!
It’s a real learning experience to try out one of the core ingredients to some of my favourite blends, and it’s clear why Clynelish is such a popular component – it’s fantastic stuff. Rich, creamy and spicy, it’s got a little something for everyone.
I’d be hard-pressed to pick between Clynelish 14 and Glenmorangie 10, another whisky I absolutely love. Perhaps I don’t need to – Clynelish is a little more challenging, Glenmorangie more of a day-to-day drink… which means there’s a time and place for both of them in my whisky cabinet. Or smuggled in my drawer at the office. Score!