Brora is one of the most mourned of the distilleries that have closed in the modern era. Its story is well known to all whisky geeks. In short: Brora was the original Clynelish distillery; superseded in the late 60s by the newer Clynelish distillery that continues to bear the name, the old distillery was at first mothballed and then re-opened to produce a peated malt for the parent company’s blends (due to shortfalls from the Islay distilleries). Fairly heavily peated malt was produced at Brora through the early-mid 1970s, and these distillates are the most prized. However, most of this stuff is gone or astronomically priced if you can find it. The stuff from the mid-late 70s also has a good reputation as do a smaller fraction of the malt distilled in the early 1980s before the distillery was closed in 1983 (along with many others).
The whisky I am tasting tonight is a sample from one of the 1980s bottlings, from a refill sherry butt, released in Signatory’s Un-Chillfiltered Collection in 2003. Signatory bottlings of Brora, along with low strength Gordon & Macphails, remain the only ones within reach of middle-class geeks in the US, and for these too you will pay a premium that can be out of whack with what is in the bottle. Whether this is worth it is a difficult question to answer. If all you care about is the whisky in the bottle then maybe not; however, you may wish to sample whiskies from lost distilleries, and for that you have to pay a premium as you do for most scarce commodities. It is certainly the case that as of a few years ago it is harder each year for anyone but the wealthy to purchase the increasingly enthusiastically priced Broras in Diageo’s annual
money grabspecial releases.
At any rate, here is my review of this 1981 Brora that I received a sample of in a swap; tomorrow there will be a review of another 1981 Brora–that one a Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask bottle from which I sent a sample in return for this one.
Brora 21, 1981 (46%; Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection, refill butt #1586; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Minerally peat and just the faintest hint of rubber. Not particularly sherried at all at first sniff. Salted almonds after a few seconds and then the rubber expands a little. There’s some wax too now and the peat gets sweeter and more minerally. Not much smoke as such, more like being in a room with a coal stove that was put out a few hours ago. With more time some fruit begins to emerge: there’s some citrus, maybe a hint of apricot; also, a touch of gunpowder; gets saltier too as it goes. With a touch of water and some more air the citrus resolves to lime peel and there’s more salt. I may be imagining it but there seems to be the faintest hint of toffee sweetness now too.
Palate: Sweeter than on the nose but quite similar: sweet minerally peat turning saltier with a nice peppery bite (like a peppery olive oil). Negligible smoke on the palate at first and none of the fruit either; later’s there’s that not quite smoky, coal stove quality again. Nice, thick mouthfeel. With more time, the smoke/coal expands some more and turns a little bitter; and some fruit shows up as well–pears mostly, almost reminiscent of eau-de-vie. Water brings the lime out on the palate as well and the minerally peat gives way to the taste of wet pebbles
Finish: Short’ish. No real development here: the pepper and the minerally sweetness go out together with some salt coming back again late.
Comments: This is almost clear in the glass. That and the minimal obviously sherried notes suggest a fairly inactive cask. The nose is quite similar to that of the Cadenhead’s Ardmore 1977 I reviewed some months ago. I quite like it but then I’ve grown to like this relatively austere, minerally peat profile. Still, I wouldn’t pay what the going rate for this bottle would be in most stores today, if you could even find it. South of $150 I think this is a Brora you can feel excited about having scored. North of $200 you will probably have to talk yourself into liking it a lot. At either price, if this is the only Brora you’ve had you might wonder why so many people rhapsodize about the distillery.
Rating: 87 points.
Thanks to Bryan F. for the sample!