ABV: 47.8% Distillery: Clynelish Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Region: HighlandsAge: 21
Mouthfeel is an essential part of the whisky drinking experience. After nosing, but before tasting, how a liquid behaves in the mouth inherent drives our overall experience of it. Is it fatty and sticky – concentrating around the gums? – or is it wishy and thin, dissipating almost as soon as it hits the surface of the mouth? I’m genuinely surprised by how infrequently whisky writers comment on the mouthfeel, texture and weight of spirit – for me, it’s one of the fundamental underpinnings of what differentiates excellent whisky from average whisky.
Mouthfeel is defined as the sensations arising from the interactions of liquid mixed with saliva, with the receptors in the mouth that respond to tactile stimuli. It is part of a group of sciences called rheology – which studies the flow of matter in a liquid state. But, even in expert boozing circles, its description and its causes are often not completely understood – viscosity, waxiness, stickiness, body, unctuous, density, chewiness – there’s a somewhat limited group of descriptors that are banded around when it comes to liquid texture descriptions. Similarly, what leads to mouthfeel is rarely analysed – at least outside of a lab setting – but, ethanol, proteins, glycerol and tannins to name but a few, all play their part in defining and producing mouthfeel.
All too often, I see amateur writers/commentators confuse spirit texture with tannic load. Whilst they’re absolutely related, they’re not identical - a particular distillate will have an innate weight which is then modified by both maturation time and maturation intensity. Wood tannins hitch to salivary proteins, causing both astringency and ‘stickiness’ in the month (particularly around the gums). An abundance of oak tannins will certainly cause a dry, almost adhesive mouthfeel. But, this is not the same as the texture of the spirit itself. The two combined make up the overall mouthfeel of the whisky, but being able to assess the difference between the spirit influence and the wood influence is, to my mind, a vital part of whisky analysis. Tannins can give structure and body to mouthfeel in the right quantities, but go too far and then the character of the spirit is lost and bitterness and astringency reign supreme.
Prominent and discernible textures and weights can be derived as much from a higher volume of alcohol as they can from the fundamental characteristics of the original distillate. Conversely, that’s why 40% ABV can, oft-times feel ‘thin’ and anaemic. At all times, our mouth receptors are likely comparing to the mouthfeel of other common liquids – for many people, that’ll simply be the judged density and texture against that of water.
From delicate and silky, through to velvety, creamy, full-bodied and even fatty – the diversity of mouthfeel in whisky is produced by an equilibrium of factors – ABV (and associated dilution with water), wood influence, even the temperature that your dram is served at will affect how it reacts with the receptors in your mouth. Particular flavours that your detect in your whisky will also have resulted in changes to texture – bright fruitiness – I.E. esters – their formation during distillation and maturity forms longer chain compounds which, despite being only fractional within the liquid, contribute oily and silky notes that might not add flavour, but do add to the overall mouth-coating nature of a whisky.
But, texture also needs to feel tied to whisky’s flavour – whilst a light, subtle floral dram might prove surprising when accompanied by a thick, oily and greasy mouthfeel – it is unlikely to hold wide consumer appeal. Expectations of mouthfeel can be as important as mouthfeel itself.
Boutique-y’s seventh batch of Clynelish forms the offering for door number 21 in the bottlers 2019 Advent calendar. The bottling was released early in 2019 at a cost of <accessing memory> around £135. 1,147 bottles were produced at 47.8% - they sold out in relatively short order – Clynelish is popular all round, but certainly held in high regard (oft-times rightfully) by hardcore whisky fans. As such, you’ll be frequenting auction sites if you’re looking to obtain this bottle – not many have seemingly appeared there, but last summer one sold for £150 – so a bit of a bump up by the time you add in fees and shipping.
Nose: Immediately waxy with bees wax, paraffin candles and a glug of olive oil. Sitting on top is bright, polished tropical fruits – pineapple chunks, mango slices, kiwi and a bunch of under ripe green bananas. There’s a creaminess here – yoghurt and fondant icing, alongside chopped almonds. Reduction expresses orchard fruits, with vibrant pears joined by baked brioche buns and a background note of chalky salinity.
Taste: As textural as one would both hope and expect from this distillate – opening with an array of waxes and oils. Bittersweet oranges are joined by pineapple and mango for a particularly juicy arrival. Then, honey water and marzipan with lemony polish and finely lacquered teak furniture. In the back-palate, a divergence to coastalness – limestone, chalk and salt – sharp, mineralistic and almost reflective of seawater. Reduction adds orange liqueurs as well as sour/tart fruit in the form of grapefruit and gooseberries.
Finish: Medium to long with fading orchard and tropical fruits alongside waxiness and licks of salt.
In my view it’s always worth looking at the age statement on a bottle of Clynelish and assessing whether its year of distillation was likely 1997 – a particularly golden period for the distillery in terms of the quality and expressiveness of the spirit that was produced. This Boutique-y bottling at 21 years of age is, likely from that purple patch. And it shows, with great weight and communicative aromas and flavours. Add a pang of coastal salt into the back palate for good measure and you’re really cooking with gas. Delightful.
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