Let me set the scene for a moment. The Dornoch Whisky Festival 2017 Gala was drawing to a close and participants were spilling out into the nearby Castle whisky bar. The atmosphere was pungent with whisky young and old – likely an emphasis on the latter – with a sustainable level of chatter rebounding off the ancient stone walls. Enthusiasts were catching up or meeting one another for the first time. Some attendees having packed up their wares were now eagerly seeking refreshment on several levels and seating was at a premium. For this specific evening there was no better place to reside for anyone with a love for whisky. Circumstances dictated that I could not attend this year’s festival yet I still had a couple of hours to catch up with friends and a discussion about whisky and websites. Over the space of a couple of hours there was a crash course in photography, meeting followers (both ways) on Instagram, the swapping of bottles/samples and reminiscing how much had changed over the past year. The discovery of new whiskies and delights as well as disappointments such as the 1982 St Magdalene bottled in 2013 by Gordon & MacPhail. It’s evenings such as these that should be cherished; no matter how rare or short-lived they are, even with the intrusion of a lacklustre whisky. This past year has underlined that life is for living and enjoyment. Bottles should be opened and shared rather than dusted and hidden behind bullet proof glass.

Over the past – well it’s hard to recall now – maybe 18 months going on 2 years, I’ve shared samples and hopefully tracked down some delights for Noortje here at WhiskyLifeStyle. In all honesty, I’ve been very fortunate with some crackers coming my way BUT that’s part of the appeal. Whisky is an increasingly expensive and a rare commodity nowadays that bottles fleetingly appear, then promptly vanish onto the secondary market. Even experiencing a certain release never mind owning a bottle in today’s climate is a difficult task. My inability to purchase the recent Springbank Bourbon Wood just underlined how ridiculous it’s all become. Samples remain a useful route, as they allow you to broaden your own experiences and senses. It seemed fitting that part of our swap included this 1989 Clynelish bottled by Adelphi in 2013 at an impressive 23 years of age. Being a nearby distillery and having just been refurbished, the whisky offered a moment to appreciate what – potentially – makes Clynelish so distinctive and enjoyable. Recently, I had reviewed a Clynelish that was more cask than distillery, with the sherry butt swamping some of the subtle characteristics I associate with this iconic producer. A fan of all types of whisky of late – excluding Jura – my own preferences are leading me away from the heavily peated and sherry influenced monsters we’re seeing more often nowadays. Whisky is more than just the wood. It should be a partnership and unison between all the elements. A natural progression without tampering often leads to the best drams of all. Much like my own reviews, an idea soon without boundaries goes off in another direction before becoming lost in a peat bog. For whisky I find there is a wonderful sense of the unknown when a cask is left to reside and is then bottled in its purest form.

Fingers crossed this refill bourbon cask delivers then. Noortje was not giving any clues as to the quality of this Clynelish. Perhaps a heavy weekend on the sauce had rendered her taste buds and memories slightly defragmented. The prospect of more tastings and write ups do not always fill me with enthusiasm or excitement so I appreciate at times there is a need for a break. On occasion, I’d rather just sit with a bottle and friends and enjoy it for what it’s worth rather than worrying about an angle and comprising tasting notes. These moments are rare indeed. Still, I intend to pursue more moments during 2018, but for now this fleeting meeting in a wonderful location was enough enticement. Cask number 3847 produced 239 bottles and needless to say this bottling has long since sold out. Let’s see if this is more to my current liking.

Clynelish 1989 tasting notes:

Colour: a light toffee tan

On the nose: a pronounced arrival with a concoction of crushed almonds, a decayed vanilla and Butterkist toffee popcorn. That Clynelish signature of waxiness is present moving into melted butter. The cask here has added a silkiness to the whisky alongside elements of spice with ginger and nutmeg. Time in the glass to stand reveals more fruit with apples most prominent. The addition of water amplifies the fruit aspect with a twist of lemon.

In the mouth: more of those apples onto the palate and vanilla pod. There’s an evident nuttiness with salted peanuts present and plenty of cask char on the edges. It’s not hugely detailed for a whisky but it’s perfectly enjoyable for what it represents. Water brings out white grapes, juicy pears and just a pleasurable whisky – isn’t that what life is all about?

This article was written by Jason (a.k.a. Whiskyrover). Many thanks for that!