I first encountered Clynelish 14 at the Whisky Library in Portland. I had taken a group of whisky-loving friends there for an end of year celebration. We tried a number of whiskies and the Clyne 14 caught my eye as at that time I had not had many highland malts. I found it quite pleasing, interesting on the palate and went to buy a bottle a few weeks later. The salesman directed me instead toward the Oban 14, and I went for the Oban. But I’ve been on the hunt for the Clynelish ever since and recently picked up a bottle. Time for a comparison—does it stack up against the Oban?
The parallels between the two are interesting. Both are owned by Diageo, and presented in similarly classic packaging. Both are coastal Highland distilleries (Oban west coast, while Clynelish is not far north of Glenmorangie on the east coast), both are 14-year expressions. There is quite a difference in output. About 4.8M litres produced yearly, the modern Clynelish facilities produce about seven times the output of Oban. (ScotchNoob has a great writeup on the history of the distillery).
Both malts have a dry, nutty nose, with Clynelish being drier, and the wood shows more. Oban has a more complex nose loaded with more fruit and extends the palate considerably. The 46% ABV makes itself known with the Clynelish, as it can sting the nose, while the Oban 14 is, at 43%, completely gentle on the nose. I have to hand it to my local beverage store guy, he was right. Oban is like Clynelish, but more so. More so in price too, by about 45%.
Not that Clynelish is a bad malt by any means. For someone preferring a dry whisky, this would hit the spot and at a modest $55 (here in Oregon). For its price, Glenmorangie 10 and anCnoc 12 are closer rivals and I find it more complex than both—even with some added water, which I recommend. The Glenmorangie provides a smoother but less interesting ride, while the anCnoc has less clean woodiness and is sweeter. Your nose is going to find more to explore in the Clynelish 14 than either of its mid-range rivals.
Clynelish 14-year, Highland single malt, 46% ABV
Nose: Nutty, red apples, a hint of sea wrack, a slight tingle from the higher ABV.
Palate: Oakey, nutty, apples, pears, modestly sweet vanilla, drying convincingly without bitterness. At times a hint of leather. Pretty spicy, again due to the 46% ABV. Much improved by a teaspoon of water (or ice if that’s your thing), that brings out toffee but dilutes the fruit.
Finish: A touch harsh on the finish but by no means a beast. A few drops of water calm this down and you again get down to the wood aromas you had on the nose.
Bottom line: So far, the most complex Highland I have found in its price range. A good place to start if you’ve done Speysiders and are looking for a drier whisky where you can really taste the cask. Considering it’s a major component of Johnnie Walker, I’d go for the Clynelish before the Johnnie Green (15-year).