One of the first whiskies I reviewed was Clynelish 14 Year. Ever since then it's been one of my go-to recommendations as a good whisky that won't cost the world. So it was a natural choice when I held and introduction to scotch whisky tasting a few months back. Since then I've been working my way through the bottle and reevaluating how I feel about it.
While the packaging has changed slightly since that first bottle I tried, it is still bottled at 46%, though there is no indication whether or not it is chill-filtered and colored.
Clynelish 14 Year
Nose: lots of dusty malt, fresh and baked apples, beeswax, mesquite honey, graham crackers, cranberry, pork roast, light vanilla and oak, floral heather, nori/seaweed/sea air, pink bubblegum. After adding a few drops of water, the floral and grain elements integrate, and it becomes doughier.
Taste: malt and barrel sweetness throughout, slightly tempered by oak tannins around the middle, berry esters ride on top, salty seashore in the background. After dilution, the grain and wood notes integrate to make it less sweet overall, and some floral/vegetal notes come out around the middle.
Finish: bittersweet grain and oak, slightly vegetal, berries
Clynelish 14 Year is one of the few things that I feel Diageo hasn't screwed up. It's good Highland whisky bottled at a reasonable strength, at a decent age, and for a very acceptable price. There's nothing particularly fancy or pretentious about it - no special casks, no story about strange coincidences or historical events - just plain solid malt. Yes, their latest special release (and I'm not even talking about Brora) is completely absurd, but as long as I can buy the standard 14 Year for under $50, I could really care less. This is a whisky for drinking, not collecting.
With that said, my impressions now are somewhat different from the first bottle I drank. Since I don't have a reference sample from that bottle, it's hard to know if it's the whisky that's changed or my palate. I would hazard that it's some of both. This reads much more like pure bourbon cask whisky to me, without the sherry notes that I found in the original. There's a lot of pressure on Clynelish stocks as its a critical part of Johnnie Walker blends, so the single malt may not be getting as many choice casks now. I also didn't find as much salinity or peat this time, but that may be more about my palate becoming used to more extreme whiskies. Either way, it's still very good and something that I would highly recommend.
On a slightly different note, I find myself agreeing with John Glasser of Compass Box about Clynelish's utility as the core of blends. As I purchased this alongside a number of other standard release whiskies for the tasting I held in December, I've been playing around with them to make quick blends. Clynelish is almost always a solid base for further blending, absorbing the best parts of sherried and peated whiskies that are added to it. I will probably keep a bottle of Clynelish around in future, if only for that purpose.