The search for the next great cask, Scotland – Day 2 part 3

Variety is the spice of life and variety is what we look for when we go searching for casks from Scotland. While I would love to have a repeat of our very first cask from the Isle of Arran Distillery or a replica of the GlenDronach sherry cask we brought back a few years ago, I know that there are a multitude of other distilleries just waiting for a chance to step into the limelight on Vine & Table’s shelves, so the opportunity to bring something fresh and new back to Indy is what drives me forward.

Many years ago, as I was beginning my journey as the spirits buyer for Vine & Table, I tasted a Scotch whisky that literally stopped me in my tracks. I still remember where I was when I first tasted it (at the bar at V&T!), and how the lovely heather and caramel notes wafted from the glass and I distinctly remember the textural sensation when that golden honeyed sweetness coated my tongue. The whisky in question was not a single malt but in fact a blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker Gold. And to this day I consider Johnnie Walker Gold as one of my all time favorites. Give me a glass right now and I’d be a happy man!

The key component of this blended Scotch is the malt whisky from the Clynelish Distillery. Clynelish, located on Scotland’s northern coast, is a workhorse distillery, famous for producing a style of malt whisky that is floral and waxy on both the nose and on the palate. It’s a style of whisky that many distillers aspire to but few can replicate. This waxy, mouth-coating texture produced at Clynelish is derived from long fermentations and slow distillations. Most distillers look for a nice clean spirit to run from their stills, however the folks at Clynelish do something different. Instead of cleaning the gunk (oils and fats) out of the feints receiver that build up during the distillation process like most distilleries do, they leave them in. It is this point of differentiation that gives Clynelish its signature style and usefulness as a key blend component. Johnnie Walker Gold is the success that it is because of what Clynelish brings to the blend. And as it is appreciated all over the world, so too grows the demand for Clynelish. Of course, this means that very little is held back for consumption as a single malt. In fact there is just one regular single malt bottling available from the distillery.

However independent bottlers do manage to get their hands on casks of Clynelish from time to time and I have had the pleasure of tasting many superb iterations over the years. I have often said that if I could, I would fill our Scotch room with as much Clyenlish as possible; it’s just that good. Which is why Clynelish was a high priority in my discussions with Andrew and Des at Edradour/Signatory that day.

During the course of the day I had the chance to taste a couple of different casks of Clynelish with Des but my mind kept coming back to one, a 2008 vintage Clynelish aged in an ex-bourbon barrel. It put a smile on my face when I first nosed and tasted it and from then on my mind often wandered back to this beautiful barrel. It stood out to me because it was so fresh, delicate and juicy and ever so drinkable. With notes of tinned pears in syrup, white flowers, digestive biscuits, and lashings of tropical fruits there is a lot to love about this one. Add in the rich texture on the palate and the ability to sip it uncut and you will see what I mean. It’s the juiciness of this malt that sets the underlying tone, it’s fresher and more youthful than other Clynelish that I have tried, yet it is perfectly balanced and at no time does the alcohol make itself known in a way that would detract from the overall experience. In fact it is excellent sipped at cask strength (of course adding a few drops of water does it no harm either!) and I encourage everyone to taste is this way at least once; you’ll be happy you did!

Our 2008 Clynelish single malt Scotch cask should yield somewhere in the region of 210 numbered bottles when it arrives in the fall and with a very attractive price attached to it, it will appeal to many people. How long it will last will be entirely up to you!



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 Vine & Table #301