Clynelish/Brora Dream Tasting

So, I'm going to apologize up front for bragging about last Friday's tasting, but this was one for the books.  While none of the bottles are available through normal channels, their mere existence is worthy of a blog post.   We don't sell any of these, so I won't go too in depth, but I'll try to give you an idea of each bottle and where it came from.  Brora/Clynelish has a long and complicated history of distillation, closure, rebirth, etc.  Originally known simply as Clynelish, the first distillery in the town of Brora was built in 1819.  In 1968, construction of a second larger and more modern distillery finished and Clynelish relinquished it's name to its larger baby brother.  That would have been the end of it, but the whisky gods intervened.  Demand for smoky Islay style whisky started to outweigh supply and so the stills at the old "Brora" distillery began working again.  Between 1969 and 1973, Brora produced a heavily peated whisky that was used as a substitute for Islay whisky in the blends.  Between 1973 and its closure in 1983, Brora continued to produce heavily peated whisky intermittently, but mostly exhibited a more typical low peat highland style character.  In 1983, the whisky market crapped out and Brora Distillery was mothballed along with several other legendary distilleries (Banff, Dallas Dhu, Port Ellen, etc).  While the UDV never bottled a Brora Single Malt, the demise of the whisky markets in the '80s allowed several independent bottlers to take healthy positions on this exceptional whisky, as the blenders needed less of each particular expression.  You can also occasionally find Brora 25 and 30 bottled as Limited Release from Diageo.  Here's what we tasted:

Clynelish 12 Year Old bottled approximately 1967.  This is a bottle from before the split and thus represents an unpeated highland style whisky.  Bottled at 70 proof (British proof, 40% ABV) the flavor profile is surprisingly similar to present day Clynelish 14 year.  While spectacularly educational , this whisky itself felt a bit lacking.  Nose was apple, herb and malty grain.  Palate was a bit flat up front and straight forward, but stiffening up in the middle.  Finish was dry and short.  Still awesome to taste something in the bottle this long.

Clynelish 37 Year Old Bottled by the Whisky Exchange.  Didn't take notes on this one, as it was tasted to against the 12 year for comparison purposes.  Obviously, the Whisky Exchange was trying to capture the aesthetic of the old bottlings.  Similar flavor profile to the 12 year, but much more depth and texture.

Brora 22 year Rare Malts Selection is an exceedingly rare American release of Diageo's Rare Malts line.  Bottled at 58.64, this was my least favorite whisky of the night.  Aromatically dull, the subtlety of the Clynesh totally masked by the intensity of the alcohol.  Mostly malty grain notes and a bit of apple peel if I really stretch it.  The back label of this botting suggests that you drink this "1 part whisky, 2 parts water"?!?  I've seen this suggestion on other rare malts bottlings and because of my disappointment I actually tried it out.  Despite the fact that it was totally devoid of intensity on the palate, this actually revealed and incredible bouquet of aromas.  Weird...

Brora '72 Connoisseur's Choice bottled in 1993.  The first of the peated Brora's that we tasted.  My lord this was something different.  My first reaction, which I must say the entire room agreed with, "Freshly Opened Tennis Balls!"  Shockingly bizarre little malt.  The nose, once you got beyond the tennis balls, showed freshly cut peat, light stone fruits, formaldehyde.  With a drop of water the stone fruit became more pronounced.  On the palate this malt kind of came apart.  At 40%, it did not have the body to carry all these insane flavors on through the finish.  A bit of saltiness til the end, but definitely better on the nose. 

I didn't get a picture of the next two, Brora 1981, 25 & 26 year Duncan Taylor Cask #1423 56.5% & 1424 54.5%.  These sister casks of low/no peat Brora were definitely fun to try side by side.  Filled most likely on the same exact day, there were surprisingly difference created in an extra year of aging.  The 25 year showed more herbaceousness and less apple/pear.  Greater oak depth on the 25 year was contrasted by a light floral citrus quality in the 26 year.  Both were solid and very tasty.  Proves once again how excellent the Duncan Taylor Single Cask can be. 

Clynelish "The Manager's Dram" 17 Year is one of the rarest and most sought after bottlings of Clynelish ever.  The Manager's Dram series is bottled for employees only and represents the favorite cask of all UDV's managers from any given year.  This particular bottle also happens to be on Serge Valentine's winner's list (for those who don't know, Serge is a Malt Maniac and notoriously strict judge of Single Malt).  I think the angry feral cat on the label says it all.  One of the top bottles of the night, it's aged entirely in Sherry.  This is a mean and monstrous malt.  Sweet plum, dark fruit, asphalt, and toffee on the nose.  The palate continues with intense spice, sweet grain, red berry, candied apple, tar.  A freakin' gem!

This bottle of Brora 22 year "Jewel of Scotland" 1982 was actually purchased at K&L several years ago.  It is a lightly peated version of Brora, which was unique to this tasting.  Bottled at 50%, this subtle little malt shows a lot of complexity.  Very light peat on the nose, characterised mostly by cotton candy, citrus blossom and a touch of savory saltiness.  The palate shows a bit more peat with plenty of pear and some fresh herbal qualities (mint tea?), the peat continues lightly through the finish.  Very nice whisky!

Be very jealous.  The Plowed Society "Brorageddon" 30 Year Old is bottled by Old Malt Cask for this exclusive single malt society that's best known for their venerable "Ardbegeddon".  The Brorageddon is equally awesome and unavailable.  Bottled at 50.8% cask strength, it is sticky with peat and sherry.  Awesome, over the top, ultra rich and intense.  It was almost to much to take, but you had to keep going back for more.  Nose: overripe plum, maple syrup, reduced PX Sherry, woven together with a silken thread of peat smoke that is unforgettable.  The palate is a viscous crescendo of sherry, dried fruit and smoke.  Peat reappears on the finish for a final wallop. This malt leaves you exhusted, teary eyed and a bit lonely...needless to say, we finished the bottle.  An exceptional and memorable Single Malt.  If you can find it, buy it at nearly any price!

-David Girard


David Othenin-Girard