To me, the sole fault of Clynelish 14 is a weird one: it's such a stunningly elegant and pretty little single malt that people aren't going to see what all of the fuss is about when you begin to talk it up.
Picture a woodworker really excited about a handmade cabinet. Maybe you can imagine an artist jumping up and down with excitement because she mixed just the right color of green. Consider the hours of training required for a beautician to get someone's eyebrows just right.
To the dismissive, this is all no big deal. It's just wood, just a color, and just hair. And on that level, Clynelish 14 is just scotch. While I've yet to find anyone who outright disliked this, the internet seems divided into two camps. The first are fanatical weirdos like me who always try to have a bottle of this on hand. The second are adventurous drinkers who are still scratching their head wondering what all of the fuss is about. I don't know for sure which of the two you'll fall into, but I certainly hope you'll join me behind door number one.
Maybe my affinity for Clynelish is because it's understated without being boring. The scotch world is surrounded by ass-kickers, including sherry bombs, peat monsters, and cask-strength bottles as far as the eye can see. There's nothing wrong with any of that, but I think you run the risk of being severely disappointed if you come to Clynelish looking for bombast. "Okay," you might say. "If I'm not going to get big sherry, big peat, gonzo multiple-cask finishing, or so much alcohol that the liquor becomes flammable, what do I get?"
Balance, I would argue. Clynelish 14 is just a little bit woody, just a slight touch peaty, floral without being bitter, and semi-sweet. It really does tick all of the boxes. But I think the most delightful element, to me, is just the smallest hint of sea spray. I've mentioned before that salt—when used correctly—is the king of flavor enhancers. When it comes to Clynelish, just that small, itty-bitty touch of salinity pulls everything together.
Oddly enough, this is one of the few whiskies where I would say that adding water isn't just a valid option, but absolutely mandatory. The degree to which this swims is just nuts. Once again, we're playing to delicacy here. A touch of lightness further lifts and separates all of the different elements like jasmine and lavender, enhancing the core flavors rather than diluting them. That hardly ever happens for me.
And by the way, I'm not the only one that loves this stuff. It's the backbone of a lot of Compass Box blends and Johnnie Walker leaned on it substantially for the old Gold Label formula (the one that carried an 18-year age statement). Need more points on paper? The parent company Diageo bottles this at 46% ABV and puts it out at about 45 bucks, which is within the range of a lot of 12-year bottles proofed at 40%. It's almost strange that the price isn't more in line with Oban, another 14-year official bottling in Diageo's stable.
The other way of looking at the value of Clynelish as a bottle is that it shows how nice it is to have something on the shelf that's quiet without being boring. Think about the careers of comics like Dane Cook or Carlos Mencia—being loud only took them so far and for so long. For me, the softness and balance of Clynelish really puts into perspective how one-note the twin tigers of peat and sherry can become. There's nothing for Clynelish's base spirit to hide behind, and yet it still commands attention.
Tired of me gushing over this stuff? I bet. Get a bottle. Assuming you don't love it now, forgive me for telling you the old trope I tell my students all the time: "You'll understand when you're older."