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Brora, 38-year-old, Highland, Single Malt Whisky, Btd 2016, 48.6%

Brora, 38-year-old, Highland, Single Malt Whisky, Btd 2016, 48.6%


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The Producer

Brora Distillery, Highlands

Brora Distillery, Highlands

Brora distillery closed in 1983 and ceded its original name – Clynelish – to the new distillery built just across the road from it. Clynelish lies just to the north of the small Highland resort of Brora, some 70 miles north of Inverness. Back in the 16th century Brora was a prosperous town under the control of the fearsome Earls of Sutherland.

The original distillery was founded in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford who had married into the Sutherland family. His aim was at least partly to take control of local whisky-supply away from the smugglers. The Marquis was an astute businessman and notorious for the cruel methods he used against people living in the surrounding villages to fend the off his land, just to leave the fields to sheep that were in his view more profitable.

The distillery changed hands a few times it become part of the John Walker group in 1925, that eventually closed the Clynelish distillery. The distillery reopened in 1938 for a brief spell (3 years). World War II forced Clynelish just as most of the other distilleries to temporary closure due to a lack of barley. In 1967 a new distillery has been build near the first one, under the name or Clynelish 2. The old distillery closed in 1969 and reopened in 1975 under the name Brora before closing for good in 1983.

Brora produced the most peaty malt of the Highlands. Its nickname was The Lagavulin of the North. It is still possible to find Brora malt. The spirit from very highly peated barley was a prime material to produce an Islay type of whisky for blending; As there was no in-house bottling of Brora as a single malt, casks were acquired by independent bottlers such as Berry Bros.

The independent bottlings demonstrate quite splendidly the earthy, spicy and peaty Islay-styled malts, and the elegant, creamy texture of Northern Highland malts. Last distillations took place in 1983 so, theoretically, some stocks will be around for some time yet.

The Region

Highlands Whisky

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.

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