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 🙂 )

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 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 🙂

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!

Jan 152015
 

I’m long overdue on this next series, looking at some of the basic expressions out there on the market. Coming off a series of independent Clynelish bottlings, it’s fitting to start the ‘back to basics’ series with the Clynelish official bottling.

In 1991, United Distillers (later the heart of Diageo) released a series of entry level malts of distilleries not sporting an official bottling, which came to be known as the Flora and Fauna series due to the pictures of plants and animals on the label. Among the 22 distilleries bottled in that first series, was also a 14 year old Clynelish bottling, bearing the Clynelish/Brora Scottish wildcat. In 1997, a vintage 1982 Flora and Fauna cask strength limited edition was released at 57.7% ABV.

Photo Credit: whiskyauctioneer.com

Photo Credit: whiskyauctioneer.com

Besides the Flora and Fauna bottlings, seven expressions were bottled under the Rare Malts Selection label between 1995 and 1998, all between 22 and 24 years of age.

The Flora and Fauna bottling proved so popular, that in 2004 Diageo released an official 14 year old bottling, and later added a Distiller’s Edition, finished in Oloroso Seco casks. Additionally, in 2009 Diageo released a one-off Friends of the Classic Malts 12 year old edition, fully matured in sherry casks.

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Clynelish 14 (46% ABV)

Appearance: Gold, rather quick legs but a ring remains sending a leg down the glass every so often.

Nose: Waxy lemon, like car wax, honey, clove, baked bread. The waxiness strengthens with time in the glass and some dusty spice appear with notes of honeysuckle.

Palate: Citrus and light spices with pepper, allspice and a light sourness in a full bodied liquid.

Linger: Honey sweetness on the tongue, waxy dryness in the mouth and spice tingles in the throat in a medium and pleasant linger.

Conclusion

To me this is a staple malt in any whisky drinking collection and a basic every day dram. It won’t blow you off your chair, but it will also never disappoint you.

 

 

 

 

Jan 132015
 

One of the really fun things about regularly exchanging whisky samples with friends, is the ability to get to some bottlings deep in their collections, those that are no longer available on the market, one-off single casks. In case you snoozed while that very limited supply was sold, it’s gone.

A curious Clynelish bottled in 2001 came in the last exchange with my friend Torben. This is a 12 year old Clynelish matured in a South African sherry butt. Not having heard of whisky in South African sherry butts (or of South African sherry), I was intrigued!

Photo Credit: south-africa-tours-and-travel.com

Photo Credit: south-africa-tours-and-travel.com

It turns out that South Africa has a serious fortified wine industry (which would make sense, as they have a serious wine industry), and Signatory sourced several casks of which I now know of four bottlings (at 43%, 56%, 58.7% and 59.9% – the one I have here to review), and there have also been bottlings of Mannochmore by signatory in similar casks.

This one is really interesting. This isn’t Oloroso or PX style sherry, rather more of a Fino style cask with the full body of the spirit not only waxy, but oily. There’s also American oak there at work…

 

Photo Credit: whisky-onlineauctions.com

Photo Credit: whisky-onlineauctions.com

Signatory Clynelish 1989, Distilled 17.5.1989, Matured in a South African Sherry Butt #3240 and Bottled on 24.11.2001, Yield 672 Bottles (58.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, very slow rolling small droplets.

Nose: Dusty and balsamic, Fino sherry like. Waxy and oily, heavy spirit on the nose, very coastal without being salty. A layer of honey and dried fruit reveals itself in a combination not in the “regular” profile of a sherry butt. Water brings out more of the sour-ish sherry and makes the honey a lot more pronounced.

Palate: Citrus and sultanas soaked in water, sharp cinnamon (like the concentrate you find in fireball) and pepper with honey. Water reveals a lot of the pepper making it extremely spicy.

Linger: Spices in the back of the throat, some citrus tangyness on the tongue in a medium finish.

Conclusion

This is an interesting dram, and I’d be really happy to try it after a glass of that South African sherry. The oily note is interesting as it usually gets lost in sherry casks. All in all, this is a fun dram. I wonder what it would be like with another 6 years on it….

Thanks Torben, for having such interesting stuff and for sharing!

 

 

Jan 122015
 

Today’s offering is a 29 year old Clynelish that was distilled in the year following Brora’s closing, and shares many of the Brora characteristics. Being a SMWS single cask, don’t get your hopes up for this to be a regularity, but this cask is very special in that way.

Photo Credit: http://scotchodysseyblog.com/2014/06/20/day-8-brora-bail-out/

It’s a refill ex sherry butt, that lost over a third of its content to the angles over the last three decades, clocking in at 348 liters for the 548 bottles. It has a light smokiness (singed fabricated pinewood smoke, not peatiness) that hints of the very old peat on the nose (none on the palate, though), and with a little more waxiness, would have you completely fooled. This dram is very special indeed.

Photo Credit: whiskybase.com

Photo Credit: whiskybase.com

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 26.105 – Clynelish 29 ‘Bumblebees by the Sea’ – Refill Sherry Butt distilled 29.11.1984, Bottled September 2014, Yield 548 Bottles (57.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold with a very slight reddish coppery tinge with pretty slow legs.

Nose: Dry honey, light smokiness like a pine board being sawed or burnt with a magnifying glass, old dusty sherry, woodiness (not oak, more like a 2*4 would smell), light balsamic vinegar, white grapes, sawdust and tree bark. If left covered, the balsamic is overwhelming on the nose right after uncovering, then dissipates.

Palate: Honey, hot black pepper and hibiscus flower tea over an underlying strata of spiciness (that can’t be broken down further). The word crisp comes to mind.

Linger: Spicy on the top of the palate and sweet on the sides of it, around the teeth (first time the waxiness comes about). Tongue has sweetness and peppiness in a very long finish.

Conclusion

This one can’t really be classified in any real “distillery category”. I think that the SMWS clan of ‘Light and Delicate’ is actually the best way to describe it.
If tasted blind, I’m not sure I’d say Clynelish/Brora – but having them as a reference puts this one closer to the Brora 22.
Fascinating dram, I’m really glad I have enough for another one 🙂