Clynelish 1996 20-year-old (Signatory Vintage)


Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…


Clynelish Distillery was established in 1819 by the Duke of Sutherland, who sought to maximise the profit from his land by distilling barley. The distillery was constructed a short distance from the small town of Brora, on Scotland’s stormy north-east coast.

Clynelish is known for producing a malt of rare and excellent character. In the early days, the distillery’s malt was so popular that it was sold in its entirety to private customers, leaving none for the blenders. It was impossible for that situation to remain, however, and soon Clynelish was adding new layers of waxy character to many a blend. By the 1960s, demand for its whisky was so high, a second distillery had to be built to keep up. Both premises ran under the Clynelish name for a time, before the original was renamed Brora in the early ‘70s.

What became known as Brora Distillery, the original Clynelish in other words, ceased operating in 1983 but the new site remains in production today. Surviving stocks from Brora sell for heightened prices thanks to the “lost distillery” nature of the plant. Change is afoot, however. In late 2017, owners Diageo announced that Brora was to reopen by the year 2020.

In the meantime, though, the Clynelish single malt remains available, albeit not as widely as many would like. The official release is a 14 year old but it occasionally pops up as a single cask expression from an independent bottler.

The Whisky

Bottled by independent bottler, Signatory Vintage, this Clynelish single malt was distilled in 1996 and aged for 20 years in a hogshead before being bottled in 2016 at 46% abv.

Smell: Pineapple and lemon. Vanilla. Candle wax. White pepper and a little waft of smoke.

Taste: There’s lots of fruit along with vanilla cream and peppery spice. There’s a little bit of oak and a wee touch of smoke, right at the finish.

Thoughts: To tell you the truth, I was a bit flabbergasted when I saw the price of this bottling. When did you last come across a 20 year old malt with a tag of £50?! It seemed too good to be true. Especially when we’re talking about a whisky as good as Clynelish. This must surely be the bargain of the year. Of the last several years, even.

A beautiful whisky from an excellent distillery. There isn’t a great deal of cask impact but that’s the beauty of it. Signatory like a Sherry bomb but they deserve credit for leaving this hogshead alone. They’ve avoided masking the intriguing spirit character and allowed it to age and gain complexity over a good timeframe. I don’t actually know if I’ve had a bad Clynelish but it definitely seems to do best when it’s given space to breathe. Full of the fruity, waxy yet slightly coastal character you’d expect. Alarmingly drinkable though. It may have been a bargain but I’d rather it stuck around for a while.

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