Upon the depletion of my magical bottle of ’93 Ben Nevis (Signatory), I began to seek out another Highland to fill the space in my cabinet. Having had good luck with the Signatory Unchillfiltered Collection, I decided to venture towards the last well-aged bottle at the LCBO: an 18yr Clynelish from 1992. Bottled from 2 hogsheads by Signatory in 1992, this bottling was limited to 771 bottles.
I have to begin, before the standard notes, by noting the colour. Master of Malt does not lie in their photo. It is a pale yellow, to the point of being the shade of your typical Chardonnay. Made me worry a little, seeing as it has apparently been in barrels for almost a full score. Perhaps it’s the hogsheads. I don’t know much about hogsheads, truth be told.
Update: Instead of hiding my earlier ignorance, I thought I’d leave it, and admit mistakes. Hogsheads are different from Sherry Butts, not in the sherry sense, but in the butt sense, as they are relative volume measures. Butts are larger than hogsheads (2:1 ratio). Strangely, this implies more wood contact than the sherry butts used in other Signatory UCC bottlings of similar ages. The only inference I can make from the colour of the Clynelish is perhaps it’s not a sherry hogshead?
Also, I’d like to mention that Signatory, for me, underscores what I dislike about most popular distillery flagship bottlings (Cragganmore 12, Talisker 10, Glenmorangie Original, Springbank 10, and even Lagavulin 16, to name a few) by doing the opposite. The alcohol-y tinge that I get from the big boys, despite their being less than 46% percent, is completely absent from the higher strength Signatorys. The big boys’ flagships all have this roughness to them that I have yet to find in the non-chillfiltered, small batch, or cask-strength offerings as of late. The Clynelish gets points for passing this test.
Nose: Coastal sea salt, black pepper. Very much like Talisker with it’s freshness, plus those typical table shakers, and hints of leather. A sweet smokiness. Citrus in the background (lemon and lime, as far as I can tell). Like a margarita, actually. A hint of that agave. After some time, there is a sweetness that comes in that turns the margarita into lemon merangue/key lime pie. What I’ve come to associate with these yellowy highlands as a bready, barley scent.
Palate: A little bit thin, but not watery. Lightly-peated, Malty, buttery, salt and pepper. A little minty, with noticeable lemon and lime. Slightly smoky. A tad of that agave. Deceptively chewy, given the colour (I associate deeper colours with thickness, though I probably shouldn’t). Ooh, and it’s a tad spicy on the end (something like cayenne pepper). Of course, the key distinction is that this spicy is flavour, and not heat.
Finish: Medium-long. Smoky, slightly sweet, with buttered-and-sugared toast. Tobacco and honeydew melon in the mouth when all is said and done. Overall mouth-drying effect.
Signatory has bottled another good one. What’s more, it’s a whisky with a purpose, should it choose to accept it: this Clynelish could show the folks at Talisker a thing or two. To me, I love the coastal salt, leather and lemon pepper package that Talisker delivers, but they do it so roughly and without the full craft presentation (non-chillfiltering, no caramel added) that it just comes out half-assed. This bottle shows a little more of what a good Talisker profile could be. Similar to the Laddie Ten, but not as sweet, the nose is fresh, but mature enough so as not to be harsh. Though, to be fair, that maturity is bound to come from the extra 8 years in the barrel.
The nose is quite lovely. Not too strong, but in a good way, as it lets you hunt for notes without being overwhelmed by any one scent. The palate is good, but not the earth-shattering brilliance of the Ben Nevis. It reminds me of a lightly-peated high-quality tequila at times, but a classic well-aged highland at others. It may not be as mouth-coatingly oily of the Ben Nevis, but it’s not watery. It does have that lovely smooth maturity I’ve come to expect from old Signatorys. Like the other Signatorys, too, it has definitely improved with time. A month later, and it’s settled down to deliver a more balanced dram.