Truth be told, Brora was never meant to be anything more than a stopgap for DCL (the heart of today’s Diageo), to produce peated whisky for Johnny Walker due to a drought on Islay in 1968 causing Port Ellen to run dry. Thus, to alley fears that peated whisky production would fall short by some 40,000 liters, the old Clynelish distillery, abandoned in 1968, was revived. It then remained online during the renovations at Caol Ila in the early 1970s (1972-1974), and coasted on, remaining in production for another decade, finally falling silent forever in 1983.
The original Clynelish was built in 1819, and had a single wash still and a single spirit still. Needing more of the Clynelish styled whisky, DCL built a new Clynelish distillery right across the road, intending to close the old distillery. However, due to the shortage of heavily peated whisky, the company decided to use the empty distillery. Originally named Cleynelish II, the old distillery eventually was renamed Brora after the village it’s located in.
Once Caol Ila was back online, Brora started producing much less peated whisky (which is the whisky we’re getting bottled since 1995 or so) and was eventually re-closed in 1983, together with about a dozen other less productive distilleries, some of which were destined to stardom (Brora, Port Ellen, St. Magdalene) and others destined to oblivion (like Glenlochy, Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor and North Port – to be found only in Rare Malts Selection and obscure IBs).
Brora stocks are quickly receding (some speculative reports talked about 50 casks in 2002, but as the last decade saw some 33,000 bottles in the Special Releases, that number makes no sense) and the search for a replacement might be on, and I’ll throw a totally wild speculation out there: Clynelish will be premiumized as the replacement for Brora, and I think that process has begun in this year’s Special Release of a £500 NAS Clynelish. But as I said, this is a mere speculation, and I really have no solid information (or even whispered rumors) to work on.
The potential of Brora as a cult malt became clear to Diageo only after the Rare Malt Selection offerings of Brora were grabbed up. There were 12 RMS releases in total ranging from 20 to 24 years of age (bottling whisky distilled from 1972-1982), and from 2002 there is an annual release as part of the Diageo Special Releases (with 2003 seeing a Brora released in both series). In Today’s review we’ll taste the first ever official release of Brora – the Spring 1995 release of the 20 year old (bottled in a 750 ml bottle).
Brora 20 – Rare Malts Selection, Distilled 1975, Bottled 1995 (59.1% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Straw with quick and thin legs leaving a ring.
Nose: Light smoke, oily, honey, perfumy flowers, vegetal notes, the scent of an alpine pine forest. Water brings out mint and eucalyptus with less peat and more plants.
Palate: Sweet smoke, pine nuts, oak, peat, some flowers. Water brings out pepper and wood spices.
Linger: Sweet smokiness on the tongue with notes of oak and slightly bitter pine sap. The finish is long, with the sweetness remaining for a long time.
This is a thing of beauty.
It’s complex and layered, less waxy and more oily and vegetal than the 24 year old we visited yesterday. Sadly, I’m unable to share notes on my third RMS Brora, the 22 year old, as I only had a long sniff and a quick nip in passing, but I recall it was very crisp and waxy.
Thank you Torben for a great dram! Skål og godt nytår, my friend!