About this SPIRIT
Clynelish Distillery, Highlands
The name and the history of Clynelish (the first syllabe rhymes with "wine" and the second with "leash") are closely associated to the adjucent distillery, Brora. It was built to augment the capaicity of the neighbouring, century-old Brora distillery, but eventually, demand proved insufficient to sustain both in production. Brora was eventually mothballed in 1983.
Clynelish is settled in a rural setting with a still house with great windows overlooking to the fishing and golfing resort of Brora. Its buildings are the exact replica of the Islay distillery, Caol Ila.
Clynelish is Sutherland’s only distillery. It was established in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford who was later granted the position as the first Duke of Sutherland. Originally, it was used as an outlet for cheap grain which he obtained from his tenant farms during the Highland clearances. In addition the location was selected due to its proximity to Brora coal field that had operated since the 16th century.
As such, it was one of the first purpose-built distilleries, commencing production in 1821. In the mid-19th century the distillery was improved and extended by George Lawson, who, with his sons, was responsible for the combination of running the distillery in parallel with farming for 50 years. During his visit in 1886, Alfred Barnard reported that Clynelish whisky was a tremendously fine spirit, and was to be highly regarded by its consumers. Thus the distillery supplied only private customers throughout the kingdom.
The recession of 1931, following the American depression, forced Clynelish to close and full production was not restored again until the end of World War II. Electricity replaced coal at Clynelish in the 1960s and, in 1968; a new neighbouring distillery was added. The two distilleries operated alongside each other up until 1983, when the original one was closed.
The whisky from the original distillery was sold as ‘Brora’ and subsequently now is available only as a highly sought after collectible. Clynelish single malt whisky was selected by Diageo as one of its ‘Hidden Malts’ in 2002. The team at Clynelish claim to produce their own genuine brand of liquid gold – not just because of the quality of the whisky – but because the water drawn from nearby Clynemilton Burn runs over veins of gold on its journey down Col Bheinn.
It operates a copper-domed, full Lauter mash tun, eight larch washbacks, two stainless steel washbacks and six large stills. The spirit stills are unusually larger than the wash stills. Barley is supplied medium-peated from Glen Ord’s maltings, and the current Clynelish spirit is far less peated that Brora.
Clynelish is a classic case of a coastal malt having a slightly "island" character (it uses a medium peating), noted for its oily, beeswax flavour profile. A long fermentation and slow distillation, coupled with a precipitation of natural oils in the low wines and feints receivers, contribute to the spirit’s uniquely waxy character.
Maybe because it is the largest geographical area, the Highlands is also the hardest Whisky region to pin down stylistically. For this reason it is easiest not to consider the Highlands as one large are, but as 4 smaller and much more distinct ones.
North-Highland malts tend to be light bodied, delicate whiskies with complex aromas and a dryish finish sometimes spicy, sometimes with a trace of salt. Northern Highland distilleries are almost all coastal. The most northerly is Old Pulteney, situated about as far north as you can go in Wick, which produces a delicious, fragrant, dry whisky.
Working south along the route of the A9, next comes Clynelish at Brora (built in 1969, beside an earlier distillery who’s whiskies are known as Brora) - a sophisticated and complex whisky older expressions are very highly regarded and the malt deserves to be better known. Perhaps the reason that it is rarely seen as a distillery bottling is that it’s malt is a key component of Johnnie Walker.
The best known of all the Northern Highland malts is Glenmorangie. Glenmorangie, is made at Tain on the Cromarty Firth, and is the most popular malt in Scotland. Over the last decade Glenmorangie pioneered the now often copied process of wood finishing. Althoght this process is not universally popular; it transformed the company’s commercial success.
The Eastern Highlands produce a number of whiskies that can be confused with those of Speyside. In the north of the region close to the southern border of Speyside, whiskies which are smooth, sometimes with a little smoke, malty-sweet, such as Macduff, Ardmore, Glen Garioch and Knockdhu are made.
Further south is Fettercairn, and Glencadam, at Brechin, which produces an unusual creamy, fruity malt. The area between the Moray and the Tay has two distilleries of note; Royal Lochnagar and Glendronach. The first is a wonderfully smooth, rich whisky made in the shadow of the mountain of the same name in a distillery established in 1825 The second is also luscious and often sherried.
In the Western Highlands there only two distilleries on the mainland those of Oban and Ben Nevis. Oban is a perfect, sheltered harbour makes it the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands. Its whisky has a misty, briny character, with a background of heather and peat.
The Oban whisky stills used are among the smallest in Scotland; the cramped nature of the site is attested to by the odd position of the worm tubs, fed by unusually short lyne arms, and nestled in the ‘vee’ between the roofs of the still house and an adjoining building.
The whiskies of the Central Highlands are a mixed bag. Generally they are lighter-bodied and sweeter that their cousins to the east, but not as sweet as Speysides.
The Central Highland single malts used to be known as 'Perthshire Whiskies'. Most are found along the valleys of the Tay and its tributaries. The furthest north is Dalwhinnie, which is almost in Speyside indeed; it is at the very head of the river, over sixty miles from Grantown-on-Spey.
Blair Athol and Edradour whisky distilleries are both near Pitlochrie. The former was founded in the 1790s and was substantially rebuilt in 1949 Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland - a happy survivor of the days of 'farm distilleries' - yet produces a clean, fresh, attractive and justly popular whisky.
South again is Aberfeldy distillery, on the edge of the pretty town of the same name. Glenturret, at Crieff is one of the claimants to being the oldest distillery, although it was dismantled in the 1920s and is much changed.