Clynelish Twelve Years Old, Bottled in 1969 by Ainslie & Heilbron for Edward & Edward
Background: so I got invited to a comparative tasting of some unicorn malts of great repute. There were a few Broras, including the 2004 Third Release and two Rare Malts 22-year-olds – the 58.7% and the 61.1%. Also notable was the Samaroli Glen Garioch Coilltean 1975. Yet, for mysterious reasons, the tight race we envisioned never happened. A particular Clynelish was unanimously the standout dram that night.
Nose: rather reserved at the beginning, it opens up beautifully after 30 minutes; high-toned industrial notes to start; petrol; WD-40; cooking gas; rust; then a deluge of minerals – all kinds of wet rocks endow the whisky with a remarkable aromatic structure; the minerality comes hand-in-hand with bright acidity; stone fruits, freshly juiced and in concentrate form; kumquat; the peat shows up, vegetal and lightly farmy; rotten cabbage and manure; asparagus soup; haam choy; fresh clippings; grass jelly; Chinese herbal teas; pure cacao powder; sugar roasted chestnuts; richly layered incense smoke, followed by a cornucopia of spices; cumin; curry; coriander; bell peppers; gobhi tikka masala; a sweet and floral side emerges; potpourri; a mish-mash of floral perfumes and soaps; the sweetness segues seamlessly into what one associates with desserts; egg custard; pastry cream; pandan chiffon cake; salted caramel; raw honey; propolis; a little acetone and Hampden-esque notes of rubbish chute and rotten organic matter complete the aromatic profile.
Palate: refined, yet chiselled as hell; the flavours manifest themselves with almost unrivalled definition and fidelity – no mean feat for something this complex; creamy, fatty, and waxy mouthfeel, almost chewable; green vines and seeds; fresh herbs and herbal liqueur; an assortment of fruity hard candy, of white and yellow fruit flavours; tinned peach; apricot; guava; lychee; a huge steely mineral backbone; somewhat metallic too; then comes a melange of incenses and embrocations; wood gums and resins, camphor in particular; flowers galore, backed by oak tannins; the best oolong teas; savoury brine and oils and vegetables join the party; olives in sesame oil; buttered almond ground; daikon soup with miso; salty, rooty goodness, on stir-fried lotus root and yam; these integrate very well with the deeper industrial notes suggested by the nose; petrol; tar; shoe polish; rubber.
Finish: long and relentless, keeping with the ridiculously high-definition flavour projection of the palate; raw cacao; more herbs, this time in candied form; salmiak liquorice; petrichor; a humid rainforest; a stack of plastic bags; more dessert-y now, on vanilla cream and cake dough; custard cream puff; mint bubblegum; finally, a protracted denouement of intense umami-ness; grilled bell peppers with salt; salty tau sar; roasted cashew nuts and peanuts; cured meats and jerkies; pork pie; curried potatoes; grilled onigiri with soy sauce and butter; dried shrimps, anchovies and scallops, like a cross between hae bee hiam and XO sauce; on the side, there is a farmy, earthy element, amalgamating manure and hay with dirt, must, dried mushrooms, and tar.
Conclusion: truly, a “big cinema” malt. The nose is singularly unique among the Clynelish malts I have had (granted, this is my first pre-Brora Clynelish), and is more in line with some of the crazier St Magdalenes. Even against the latter, this comes across as a step up in funk. Whatever expectations the nose set up, the palate and finish shattered them. The razor-sharp focus with which the malt presents the evolution of flavours, is an experience to behold. We only had a small pour of each whisky, and I typically do not have the mental faculty to write detailed notes at group tastings. However, the flavours here popped in such a clear and compelling fashion, the notes basically wrote themselves. In retrospect, the nose seems slightly murky and less rigid in structure, requiring more of my time to reconstitute and make sense of, though it is still at least as good in that respect as anything else in the lineup. For what it is worth, this bottle had been sitting, one-third filled, on the shelf for years. This might have helped the liquid peak. Or maybe there is really no accounting for taste. Usually I subscribe to the adage, “never meet your heroes,” but this time, I would have to make an exception.
Score (assuming a normal distribution with mean 50): 95/100
Image Courtesy of u/zoorado.
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