Blenders often get first dibs on less renowned malts, and for a long time Clynelish was so sought after by blenders that it was very difficult to find a single malt bottling. In particular, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve relies heavily on the spark and fizz intoned by this cult favourite. Luckily, it has since been released as a single malt in its right, and has risen through the ranks to be held in almost universally high esteem by connoisseurs. “Probably the greatest of all the mainland Scotch distilleries”, says Jim Murray: “just fearsomely good”. Its phenomenal spices, light smoke and unique waxy character set this whisky in a class of its own.
The distillery is actually the second to go by this name: the original Clynelish was built in 1819 by the same Duke of Sutherland traditionally held responsible for the Highland Clearances which drove thousands of Highlanders from their homes, many of whom emigrated to America, Canada and New Zealand and established the enormous Scottish diaspora that still forms an important part of the community in these countries. This early distillery was closed following the construction of the new Clynelish across the road in 1968; but it was granted a second lease of life, under the name Brora, shortly afterwards.