Love at first sight!

I remember the first time I tasted a Brora. It was at home, it was Christmas 2001, (yes recent history) and it was a Rare Malts 21yo 1977 Santa brought to me, despite the deeply freezing conditions outside. I had been really impressed. Beautiful and crystal-clear peat! I tasted it head-to-head with a Port Ellen Rare Malts 22yo 1978, an all-time favourite, and the Bora defeated the Port Ellen. Wow! Then I tried it ' against ' a very good Ardbeg (I can't remember which one), and again, the Brora won.

A little later, a Laphroaig and a Lagavulin couldn't do better... Amazing! No need to say that I decided to go one step further, and to get a few more bottlings. I picked up the rare Malts 24yo 1977, and some Signatory Vintage 1981 ' core range '. Both were great whiskies, and I went on buying some Broras, like some absolutely wonderful Old Malt Cask 1971, or the first Douglas Laing Platinum 1972 from 2002, which blew my face out...

But I also discovered that some Broras aren't as peated as the first ones I tasted.

Moreover, some aren't peaty at all! Later, some beautiful sherried and unpeated Broras came across my way, like a Chieftains 19yo, or a Silver Seal 19yo... While some others were quite ' coastal ', but almost unpeated and unsherried, like a Pulteney. This was the case, for instance with a Straight From the Cask 23yo, bottled by Signatory Vintage for La Maison du Whisky... ...

Later on, I read somewhere that Brora was only heavily peated between 1970 and 1976-1977. Maybe, but I tasted some very peated Brora from 1981, or 1982... So, Brora's really a mysterious distillery! Again, some bottlings are heavily peated and unsherried, some others are very sherried and unpeated, while some are unpeated and unsherried.

But I never, ever had a really bad Brora. So, you think Brora is 'complicated'? But that was nothing! Read on...


Brora: a short history (but what a mess!)

Strangely enough, many authors don't agree about this or that aspect of Brora's history, especially, and funnily enough, its most recent part...

1819: Started as Clynelish by the Marquis of Stafford, to provide a local outlet for cereals grown on his estates. Some say it was started as 'Brora'. Here it goes... The distillery uses the local coal (Brora coal).

1823 - 1896: run by various licencees. Clynelish was so popular when Barnard visited that the distillery - he was talking about 'Clyneleish' - was only selling to private customers and not the blenders anymore. But the output was small: only 45,000 litres per year. The two stills have been changed around 1850.

1896: bought by Glasgow blenders James Ainslie. Harper's weekly writes about its great value. Ainslie develops Clynelish's production, and build new warehouses as well.

1912: Ainslie is bought by both DCL and Mr Risk. Some say DCL changed the name from Brora to Clynelish that year.

1916: John Walker buys some equity

1930: DCL said to become the only owner (but Charles McLean writes about 1926, some other writers about 1925).

1931-1938: mothballed

1938-1940: in production again

1941-1945: closed due to barley supply restrictions, say most experts. But another source, Johanna, from, wrote to me that 'The distillery was NOT mothballed during the war but actually continued at a low production rate, really picked back up again after the war. This was unusual as very few distilleries were allowed to operate during the war as the raw materials were scarce and valuable at that time. Why Clynelish? Who knows but it was very popular by that time and some distilleries were operating at a limited capacity, including The Glenlivet and The Macallan'. Ulf Buxrud later suggested it was only The Macallan and Mortlach which were distilling 'legally', but several others might have distilled sort of 'illegally'.

After the war: Clynelish's reputation is very high, and the distillery's small output (remember, only two stills) is sold quickly to blenders.

1960: The ditillery is converted to electricity (instead of using coal).

1967-1969: DCL builds a second distillery, named Clynelish as well, certainly to let the new distillery benefit from the name's huge reputation. (picture above, the old ditillery in front of the new one). The new stills' shape is exactly the same as the old distillery's. Jackson wrote in his Single Malt Companion that the new Clynelish was opened in 1967, but most other writers talk about 1968, or 1969. Meanwhile, the old distillery's mash-house is rebuilt, and the stills aren't direct-fired anymore, but steam-heated. This period was the most complicated.Ulf Buxrud once wrote a very precise and interesting version of what happened at that time: according to him, 'the new Clynelish was in operation from August, 1967 on. The old Clynelsih was closed in August 1968 (hence operated in parallell with the new one between August 1967 and August 1968). From August 1967 to August 1968 the parallell production from Clynelish A and B were stenciled 'Clynelish'. Reopened in 1969 for producing peaty Talisker-like whisky until final close. Forced by SWA to change name when re-opened in 1969. Name choosen was its first name 'Brora', used during the period 1819-1912. Casks from this period (1969 and up) could not legally be stenciled as Clynelish.'

1969: (or earlier, see above) the old Clynelish is renamed Brora. Some writers, like Jim Murray, say it was first renamed Clynelish B, and then Brora, but when? What's sure, is that they changed the name from Clynelish B to Brora because it was highly confusing for the tax and excisemen. One could have bet...

1969-1983: both distilleries function in tandem. Helen Arthur wrote in 'The Single Malt Whisky Companion' that Brora was closed until 1975, and Charles MacLean writes in his pocket book that the old distillery was closed for seven years before being refurbished and renamed Brora. But it can't be true, unless all the 1970-1974 bottlings are fakes or were produced at Clynelish A (the new one). Another source ( says that the old distillery was closed for seven years before 1969, but many other writers say that it was closed only for a short time. This makes sense, as Ulf Buxrud owns a bottle of Cadenhead's Clynelish distilled in February 1965 and bottled in March 1985.

Anyway, like Ulf Buxrud's, my theory is that the malt was named 'Clynelish B' or 'Old Clynelish', or even 'Clynelish 2' until 1975 (April, according to Ulf), and 'Brora' later on. But of course, all the malts from 1969 to 1975 which have been bottled as single malts later on, used the name 'Brora' on the labels, instead of 'Clynelish B' or 'Old Clynelish'. I've even been told that some casks have been sold to blenders under the name 'Clynelish', whatever the distillery.

On the other hand, the oldest casks which were lying at the distillery three years ago were from 1972, and were stenciled 'Brora' (see the picture above, courtesy La Maison du Whisky). I don't know if they re-stenciled the casks, though. Some of these casks have been vatted into the recent official bottling 30yo. Douglas Laing had some 1970 (bottled in their Platinum Range in 2002) in their warehouse.

Anyhow, Brora was working intermittently, possibly from April 1969 on, and maybe not every year. Many writers say that both Clynelish and Brora used the water from one and only source (Clynemilton Burn), but Jim Murray, in his Complete Book of Whisky, says that Brora was peatier, perhaps because its water came from a different source. What's sure, is that DCL did use some very peated malt at Brora (Clynelish B?) at the beginning of the seventies, because the blenders were demanding for some, and because their Lagavulin distillery was already working at full speed.

Douglas Laing write on a 'Platinum' certificate that Brora and Talisker did share the maltings back then, but I think it couldn't have been exactly the same malt, as Brora's malted barley was much peatier than Talisker's (40-45ppm vs 25ppm). Another source talks about malt peated at Caol Ila and then shipped to Brora. Anyway, all the Broras from 1972 to 1976-1977 were highly peated (40-45ppm, to be compared with the 35ppm of Laphraig or Lagavulin.

The peat level has been decreased at the end of the seventies, and Brora began to use the same barley as Clynelish. But some malts from 1981 are still very peated. Maybe they did use some very peated barley from time to time, but not on a regular basis anymore. Apparently, there has been very little production in 1973, 1978, 1979 and 1980, but I could be wrong.

1983: Brora is mothballed by DCL (Murray says in March, Lamond and Tucek say in June). A more precise date could be March, 17th.

1984: Some late rumors say that Brora was still distilling in 1984 - just short runs to keep the equipment fit. Has to be confirmed.

Circa 1986: Bob Robertson, the distillery manager, tries to raise some money to re-start Brora. Only the spirit safe, the spirit receiver and the feints charger are missing. Alas, he fails to do so, and no miracle happens...

Geez, Brora has been active only for 14 years, but there's not one single aspect of it on which all the 'experts' do agree! Sure, they all tell you it's great whisky, but they don't even really know if the distillery could be restarted or not. Some say there's no equipment left, some others say there's only the spirit safe missing... Bah, if you know more about these aspects, please drop me an email!

Yes, please, tell me all you know for certain about Brora, that could help me complete and/or change this or that aspect of these page's content. Just drop me an email here (remove NOSPAM):

Serge Valentin / Maltmadness / Malt Maniacs