Jan 072016
 

Just a week into the new year, and it seems like the right time to taste a Brora distilled in 1983, the distillery’s final year of operation.

In the picture from 1930, of course, is the Clynelish distillery, put out of commission in 1968 after the building of the new, modern distillery, after which the old Clynelish was to be retired, and indeed, was mothballed. But nature wasn’t playing nice on Islay, and a drought there meant that Port Ellen was unable to produce the new make needed to meet sales projections for the Johnnie Walker blends for the early 1970s. So the old Clynelish distillery was pressed back into service (initially named simply Clynelish II) and started producing very heavily peated whisky for four years, but by 1973 Islay distilleries were carrying their own weight, so peat levels at Brora were lowered back to “normal Highland” peating levels with an occasional heavily peated batch run here and there, but this stopped completely after 1980. So basically, the Brora produced in the late 70s and early 80s was very similar to the Clynelish produced across the road. I have not had a Clynelish from 1983 to compare side by side with a Brora, but that would be a great experiment if you have access to such liquid (and if you do, please don’t forget to invite me ūüôā )

Brora in 1930 Photo Credit: Diageo

Brora in 1930
Photo Credit: Diageo

This expression is somewhat reticent, and needs quite a bit of time, so it’s not a quick drink.

 

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Brora 8th Release (2009), 25 Year Old, 2652 Bottles (56.3% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, slow legs peeling off a necklace.

Nose: Wax, honey and very light peat. Some fresh green leaves, an earthy note compliments some floral notes. After a while, some vanilla comes through.

Palate: Light and fruity, pretty vibrant, with a very gentle peatiness and white pepper. Not overly complex. A drop of water enhances the pepper and brings out a sweetish citrus note.

Linger: Spice and honey linger over a really light smokiness, with a spiciness down the gullet.

Conclusion

The 13th release was far better, it seems like that extra decade in the cask helped the spirit (although the 22 year old RMS was a total cracker). This expression isn’t overly complex, but is, nevertheless, classic and intriguing.

What can I say, wax and peat work….

The old picture of Brora was shared with me by Colin Dunn, and comes from the Diageo archive.

Nov 212015
 

Three distilleries got the distinction of being “royal”. You’d think that that would be a guarantee of longevity for a business, but it isn’t.

Glenury Royal was located in the town of Stonehaven in the Eastern Highlands, south of Aberdeen and near other closed distilleries such as Glenesk, Lochside and North Port, in the vicinity of Fettercairn and Glencadam.

Glenury Royal’s beginnings in 1825 are steeped in disasters, after being founded by the¬†very eccentric Captain Robert Barclay Allardyce, Laird of Ury¬†and member of Parliament (which might explain the “Royal” designation granted by King William IV, who also gave Brackla Distillery a royal warrent, making it the second “Royal” in 1835 (And at one point all three “Royal” distilleries were in the portfolios of companies that today make up Diageo). Very soon after beginning operations in 1825, the distillery’s kiln, grain loft and malting barn burned down and just a few weeks later one of the workers, James Clark, fell into the boiler and lost his life. But from these inauspicious beginnings, Glenury Royal kept going, in different hands and with the obligatory silent periods here and there, until coming under DCL ownership in 1953. By the mid 1960s, the distillery was being refurbished and capacity doubled by installing another pair of stills, which raises a question as to the reason the distillery was laid to rest less than two decades later. With the opening of the nearby Glenesk Maltings (see my review of the 1969 Glenesk bottled to commemorate the opening of the Maltings¬†here), floor malting were stopped at Glenury Royal.

Glenury Royal Distillery Photo Credit: Diageo

Glenury Royal Distillery
Photo Credit: Diageo

 

There are very few bottlings of Glenury Royal around (probably one of the reasons for its closure, as the blends could probably manage without its malt), with only three expressions bottled as a UD Rare Malts Selection (a 1970 bottled twice Рas a 28 year old in 1998 and a 29 year old in 1999, and a 1971 bottled as a 23 year old in 1995) and four expressions were released in the Annual Special Releases from Diageo: Vintage 1953 released in 2003 as a 50 year old, 1968 released in 2005 at 36 and two vintage 1970, released in 2007 at 36 years old and in 2011 at 40 years old.

We tasted the 36 year old 1970 vintage at the `Gone But Never Forgotten’ tasting. This dram is a dessert bomb on the nose, and had the palate¬†delivered that in the sip, this could have been the top dram in the tasting, and a worthy cause to break a savings account.

 

Photo Credit: whiskyonline-shop.com

Photo Credit: whiskyonline-shop.com

Glenury Royal 36, Vintage 1978 (57.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, tiny legs coming off in droplets from a rather sturdy necklace.

Nose: Vanilla custard, nutmeg, coffee with milk, wood spice, green apples, baking cinnamon buns and notes of wet green moss.

Palate: Old sherry, leather, very spicy, notes of sourness. It comes on harsh, and needs some water. Then you get nuttiness, spice and dried fruit, especially apricot leather with a date rolled up around it.

Linger: Very dry with leather. Spice in the back of the throat with notes of cinnamon. The finish is long and really dry.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, had the palate delivered the dessert cart promised on the nose, this could have easily been the top dram in this tasting. This is an intricate and complex dram, but the harshness on the palate and the lack of consistency with the nose detracts from the total balance. I’m curious to know if other expressions of Glenury Royal exhibit this dessert cart, and if any of them actually follow through on it. If you find one that does, don’t leave it in the shop….

Nov 192015
 

Convalmore is a fascinating distillery, albeit one you don’t hear much about. The distillery never had its own bottlings, although Gordon and MacPhail regularly bottled whisky from the distillery in the Connoisseur’s¬†Choice series.

Convalmore Distillery in the 1960s Photo Credit: Diageo

Convalmore Distillery in the 1960s
Photo Credit: Diageo

There’s a saying that “Rome was built on seven hills, and Dufftown built on seven stills”. Two of the seven are no longer in production, Parkmore has been silent since 1931, and Convalmore closed in 1985, while¬†Balvenie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich¬†and¬†Mortlach are all enjoying official world-wide distribution of their official bottlings (with both Dufftown and Glendullan bottled under Diageo’s Singleton label, and both are about to break out of their geographic distribution zones, which kept Glendullan in the US market and Dufftown in the European market). Two¬†other distilleries were opened in Dufftown, Pittyvaich¬†and¬†Kininvie, but Pittyvaich didn’t survive, so today Dufftown has six active distilleries.

Founded in 1893, Convalmore had a column still in operations for almost¬†two and a half decades alongside the pot stills, and it was used to make ‘silent malt’ under then owners James Buchanan, and became part of DCL in 1925, and remained under their continuous operations until 1985, when it became yet another victim drowned in the whisky loch, despite some significant investment in the 1970s. It was sold to Wm. Grant & Sons, and is used for warehousing. It will probably not revert to to being an active distillery as the distilling equipment was wholly dismantled.

Convalmore was always a blending whisky, and only three official bottlings of it have been released, a 1978 24 year old released in the 2003 Rare Malts Selection and two 1977 vintages released as part of the Diageo Special Releases as a 28 year old released in 2005, and as a 36 year old released in 2013, the expression reviewed here.

I¬†had never tasted a Convalmore until the ‘Gone But Never Forgotten’ tasting, and didn’t really know what to expect. I was surprised and blown away, actually finding this expression to be fighting hard for my top spot nomination in this most illustrious tasting.

Photo Credit: masterofmalt.com

Photo Credit: masterofmalt.com

Convalmore 36, Vintage 1977, Special Releases 2013, 2680 Bottles (58% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, thick and quick legs with a necklace and residue.

Nose: Earthy tobacco, wood, dryness on the nose, some dried fruit, baked goods and some butter candy.

Palate: Old leather, dried fruit, heavy tobacco, smoky notes, very dry leather, sweet spices, fizzy in the mouth with pepper and cloves.

Linger: Dry on the tongue, a slightly sour sherry note, star anise. Dryness high in the throat. Later there are notes of cocoa and spice in the back of the throat.

Conclusion

WOW! This dram blew me away!

This whisky¬†has a beautiful depth, with a real richness and fascinating development. This is definitely a bottle I’d love to own!!

Colin Dunn of Diageo led this masterclass at The Whisky Show and provided me with the pictures accompanying this series from the Diageo archives. If you have a chance to hear Colin, run and do it…He’s a rockstar!

 

Nov 142015
 

The Brora was the only peated whisky in the Gone But Never Forgotten tasting, and was the anchor against which all other whiskies were nosed. Diageo’s Colin Dunn is not one to do things by the book, and his tastings leap all over the place between the whiskies in the glasses. There’s method to the madness, mind you, with a point being made with every leap. And thus, we found ourselves comparing the strange Glenesk (see here) with the very distinctive Brora.

Clynelish-Brora Employees Photo Credit: Diageo

Clynelish-Brora Employees
Photo Credit: Diageo

Brora was also different not only because it was the only peated whisky, but also due to the fact that it is the only closed distillery, alongside Port Ellen which wasn’t represented in this tasting, that is regularly bottled in the Special Releases, and is now on its 14th annual release (15th for Port Ellen). By far, these two distilleries dominate the silent distilleries scene, and at least as far as Port Ellen goes, stocks are nowhere near depletion. There’s a lot less Brora around, and yet every year a new release appears ūüôā

Brora in 1930 Photo Credit: Diageo

Brora in 1930
Photo Credit: Diageo

Brora was the old Clynelish distillery, mothballed after a new distillery was built across the road to increase Clynelish’s capacity. The old distillery, first named Clynelish II, was pressed back into service in 1969 after a drought on Islay caused a shortage of peated whisky for the Johnny Walker blends, and until 1973 Brora produced a heavily peated whisky, switching to a much lighter peat style for the next decade. Unlike most of the lost distilleries, Brora’s stills, receivers and spirit safe remain on site, so once stocks are depleted, Brora could theoretically be up and running once again.

Clynelish/Brora in the 1930s Photo Credit: Diageo

Clynelish/Brora in the 1930s
Photo Credit: Diageo

The expression tasted at the masterclass was the 2010 release of a 30 year old bottled at cask strength. This expression is considered to be one of the most classic Broras you’ll find, with a very strong waxiness and a lighter hand on the peat.

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Brora 30 Year Old, 2010 Special Releases, 3000 Bottles (54.3% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Dull dark Gold, very slow legs with a lot of residue in the glass.

Nose: The wax hits you right away, then honey and flowers. Almost no peat on the nose, then it increases gradually. Vegetal notes of fresh green leaves, and a shortbread, which is quite distinct.

Palate: The palate on this expression delivers exactly what the nose promised with wax, much more peat than the nose suggested, a perfumy-flowery note, honey, a shortbread and a concentrated sweetness on the tongue.

Linger: Extremely long with spice down the gullet and dryness on the tongue. The waxiness permeates leaving the mouth, well, waxy…

Conclusion

I honestly haven’t had enough of the post Rare Malt Selection official releases to actually comment on how iconic this specific expression is. I can say that it’s good. You wouldn’t confuse it with anything else in a blind tasting.

I often wonder what the stills at today’s Clynelish would produce if fed peated wash….

The pictures from the Diageo archives were provided by Colin Dunn, who led this outstanding masterclass. Thanks, Colin!