Google Celebrating the reopening of Brora

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

May 19, 2021


Hurray, it's alive!
(Celebrating the reopening of Brora)

I'm happy to report that it is right today that Diageo have officially broadcasted the inauguration of refurbished Brora Distillery. Amongst friends, I'm calling this new step the beginning of 'Phase III' because in my book, there have been a Phase I and a Phase II. I'm trying to keep an already complicated story as simple as possible; remember the distillery was first named 'Clynelish' – we sometimes call it Old Clynelish to avoid any confusions with 'New Clynelish' – so that's 'Phase I' as Old Clynelish lasted from 1819 to May 1968, when they decided to close the Distillery since the 'new' Clynelish had been completed and had started producing. Then, in 1969 they decided to restart the old distillery to produce some peatier, 'Islay-style' whisky which was in very high demand from blenders. It first became 'Clynelish II' for a few months, until it was decided to rechristen the distillery 'Brora' from December 2, 1969 on. That's the beginning of 'Phase II' in my book, which lasted until March of 1983, when they closed the Distillery 'for good'. Then, I believe around 2017, Diageo decided to refurbish and reactivate the Distillery, with some important work to be done, but without any major changes or alterations done to the equipment and to the methods of production. For example, the now refurbished stills have not been changed, they were still there as we all know, probably because you couldn't take them out without cutting them into pieces – or dismantle the roof or the whole still house.
So right this morning, the Brora Wildcat Gates have been opened and the first official cask of Brora has been filled in 38 years. Which means that in my book  'Phase III' has started right today! There's been a ceremony this morning (rather a movie première), which I could attend 'virtually', and here are further bits of information that I could gather…
- The aim is 'to make Brora like it was then'.
- Fermentation will be long.
- The still house has been rebuilt using the original Brora stones.
- They'll use malt from Ord Maltings, as was the case before.
- Maximum production will be 800,000 litres a year.
- The distillery will be a carbon-neutral site.
- They'll welcome visitors from July 1st on.
- There will be a distillery exclusive bottling, a Brora 39 yo 1982.
- I've heard a Distillery rep, can't remember whom, say that 'they'll try to make it even better than in the past'. That's going to be the trickier part, if you ask me!


A few pictures before we proceed with the tasting...




So to celebrate the reopening, Diageo have created a 'Triptych', a set of three decanters that shelter three major styles that have been made at the Distillery in the past, a 1972, a 1977 and a 1982, all bearing 'funny names'. We need fun anyway, don't we.

We shall now try all three, but first, just one or two wee warm-me-ups if you don't mind… I have already tried and scored both, but never wrote any proper tasting notes and I believe this is an occasion better than any other to remedy that awful situation.

Brora 21 yo 1977/1998 (56.9%, Rare Malts)

Brora 21 yo 1977/1998 (56.9%, Rare Malts) Five stars
One of those fantastic Rare Malts by United Distillers. Colour: pale gold. Nose: you know, we were that impressed with the 1972s that any subsequent vintage used to be deemed as 'much less peaty'. But in truth, and this is a perfect example, these vintages were still very peaty. It starts extremely coastal, really on oysters and any other living beings from the sea, before some typical whiffs of brown coal and 'farmyard' would start to emerge. What's sure is that I find it much purer and brighter than before after all those years, but maybe is that the effect of perfect bottle ageing? With water: gets awesomely medicinal. Old-style mercurochrome (remember when it was red) and wet crushed limestone. Very pure, with a farminess that's, well, gone. Some perfect rubber too (new scuba suit).Mouth (neat): fantastically lemony. Salted lemon cake and oysters with lemon. It is extremely compact, which is totally an asset in this context. With water: perfect zing. Crystal clean coastal peat, well I find it more coastal than any Islays. Finish: long, blade-y, extremely vertical. And medicinal. Comments: I remember we used to buy these from Nicolas for 79€, but you could sometimes find it at 59€. And sometimes 50€ when we were complaining because the boxes were missing. Should we keep believing in progress and mankind?
SGP:366 - 92 points.

Brora 30 yo '2002 Edition' (52.4%, OB, 3000 bottles)

Brora 30 yo '2002 Edition' (52.4%, OB, 3000 bottles) Five stars
A Special Release from before the Special Releases, the first Brora in this series and the first OB if you take neither any 'Old' Clynelish, nor the Rare Malts into account. Oh well we used to classify the Rare Malts as 'official independent bottlings' anyway, which sounds extremely silly in 2021. We've never let anything stop us. I also remember well the first time I tried this one blind, in front of a few hundred people. 'It's Talisker!' did I exclaim without thinking. After almost 20 years, I keep feeling shame… Colour: gold. Nose: I wasn't remembering all this coriander, cardamom, and even curry. It is fatter than the RM, with more oak and certainly more spices, especially pepper. That's probably why I had thought it was Talisker… back in 2002. It is also clearly farmy, this time, but that was really a trait of the 1972 vintage. With water: a lot of hay, almonds, coal, also mint, and distant whiffs of the very friendly farm dog barking at you for no reason. Mouth (neat): more ashes than in the 1977, more very dry and tarry lapsang souchong, and with all those spices that keep fighting you. Coriander seeds, chiefly. With water: awesomely almondy and mentholy. Touches of salt, smoke, smoked salmon, fatter oysters… Finish: long, a tad bitterer and grassier. Comments: in my view these very early 1972 'SRs' were somewhat stuck between the otherworldly younger, more brutal Rare Malts, and some older 1972s that had gained a fabulous complexity over the years. But they remain high-class.
SGP:467 - 92 points.

Brora 1982/2021 'Triptych – Timeless Original' (47.5%, OB, 300 bottles)

Brora 1982/2021 'Triptych – Timeless Original' (47.5%, OB, 300 bottles) Five stars
Someone here deserves a medal for this classy example of the subtle art of using half-oxymorons in copywriting. Timeless original? Nostalgia isn't what it used to be! Joking aside, 1982 was a 'low peat' vintage but they were still pretty different from 'new' Clynelish, perhaps more austere and less citrusy, fat and waxy. Let's see… Colour: straw. Nose: they must have selected some better casks. To be honest we've encountered some slightly wishy-washy 1982s in the past, but this is rather closer to the 1977 RM that we tried just a few minutes ago. Having said that I'm also finding some very pretty notes of ripe gooseberries, with a little metal polish, a touch of coconut, and perhaps a little turmeric. A little curry, and 'of course' lemongrass and zests. Mouth: most probably some blender's work. I mean, most other 1982s I could try in the past have been single casks. This time we're close to some Clynelish 1982 or 1983, many of which having been almost out of this world in my opinion. Waxy citrons and bergamots with a tiny touch of salt and smoke, and a dollop of yellow chartreuse, anyone? I wouldn't say I'm surprised, but… oh well yes, I am. Superb. Finish: rather long and waxier yet. Blind, I say Clynelish and I applaud wildly (not glass in hand). Comments: very smart, very well played. To be honest I had thought this would be the set's Achille's heel (S., boo!).
SGP:552 - 91 points.

Brora 1977/2021 'Triptych – Age of Peat' (48.6%, OB, 300 bottles)

Brora 1977/2021 'Triptych – Age of Peat' (48.6%, OB, 300 bottles) Five stars
All my life, I've been believing that they had made the peatiest Broras in 1970-1972 since that was when they were needing a lot of peaters for their blends. And that since, for example, Caol Ila's extension had been completed, they were in the need for less from 1974 on. And that consequently, the level of peat was decreased at Brora. But a new version - well could be that I've simply been all wrong all those years – is that they actually increased the peat levels until around 1977, and only decreased them later on. I must admit that the 1977 Rare Malts was pretty peaty. Colour: gold. Nose: it is just incredible to nose the RM and this new Triptych in parallel, for they are so close. Someone's burning old pinewood in the fireplace, and coal in the stove! Someone else is doing inhalation baths with camphor and eucalyptus, and a third person is smoking salmon over beechwood. All that in the same room. Mouth: hold on, could this be around 45 years of age? Only yesterday, the 21/1977 RM was in the shops! Quite. So this is austere, ashy, dry, then rather spicier, somewhat in the stye of that first SR, with some curry and ginger. Must be the wood. A lot of tension remaining, which I always found very 'Brora', but there's also more waxy citrus emerging over time. Beeswax, kumquats, a wee bit of yuzu… But the 'bed' remains superbly austere and, yes, vertical. Finish: rather long, fat and tight at the same time. Watch this new silly adjective: 'Meursaulty'. One day, the Scots will jail me. Comments: actually, we've never tried many different 1977s, so it is not that easy to describe the style of that vintage – if we may talk about 'vintages' in whisky. Grand whisky.
SGP:464 - 92 points.

Brora 1972/2021 'Triptych – Elusive Legacy' (42.8%, OB, 300 bottles)

Brora 1972/2021 'Triptych – Elusive Legacy' (42.8%, OB, 300 bottles) Five stars
For decades and as far as Brora was concerned, I've believed that there was 1972 on the one side, and all other vintages on the other side. And between us, that's never been because I used to think that the 1972s were 'elusive', quite the opposite. But that's just a word on a bottle, a funny one at that. Well done. Colour: gold. Nose: oh well oh well oh well. Almost a 50 years old. It is still tight, tarry, a wee bit rubbery, with these whiffs of new Teflon, wee pink artichokes, ski wax, oysters, elastomer, creosote, then a little fresh butter, lanoline, hand cream, newspapers, then kelp and seawater, whelks, fresh crabs (I'm not joking), then bitter almonds, hints of sage and tarragon, parsley, and even, after fifteen minutes, wet dogs! (we're sorry as ever, dogs). Astounding complexity. Mouth: as they say, three things are certain in life; death, taxes, and the fact that Brora 1972 is eternal. What was not totally sure yet was if it would take real old age, especially wood, well. I mean, if the tea-ishness that really old aging usually brings – well always – would mingle well with this spirit's inherent style. The answer is yes. Salted smoked almonds, smoked oysters, magazines, chewing rubber bands, drinking lapsang souchong and young pu-her, smoked oysters, kippers, menthol cigarettes, cannabis resin, salty lemons, white tequila (half a drop), gentian… Well this is endless. Finish: for the record. Comments: every time you try a Brora 1972 it is like if you're having one for the first time in your life. A Brora 1972 always surprises you. I just hope it is this style that they'll make again at the 'New' Brora Distillery. Could they also have been restarting some Saladin boxes somewhere? At Ord? Updtae: they have bot.
SGP:466 - 96 points.

Long life to Brora Distillery! I'm so happy to be able to update the last of my very old pages about Brora, will do that a.s.a.p.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Brora we've tasted so far







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