This is not the bottle for the true sulphur-sensitive or the sulphurphobe. I’ve had it open now for a few years and the notes of sulphur, which were muted at first, have expanded a fair bit. The sulphur here is of the savoury gunpowder/struck matches variety; and I am in the seeming tiny minority in the whisky geek world that does not find this to be objectionable per se, and indeed sometimes quite enjoys these notes when in balance with others. All this to say that while I am not overly bothered by the notes of gunpowder here, I can see how others might dismiss this as a flawed whisky. I myself might not be very pleased if I’d paid an exorbitant price for it, but I found it a few years ago sitting in plain sight on the shelves of a local liquor store with the original price from the time of release still below the bottle. Or rather, the price tag was below an OMC Glenlivet bottle but the manager found the right bottle in the back (he was insistent that if they’d actually sold out of it they would have removed the tag from the shelf).
Brora 21, 1981-2002 (50%; Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, sherry cask; from my own bottle)
This was distilled in June 1981 and 360 bottles were bottled in October 2002. I note these details as there’s no further cask information on the box or bottle.
Nose: A lot of gunpowder and struck matches at first sniff, and also at second and third. Below it there’s orange peel and some toffee and increasing salt and some smoke as well. Let’s wait a while and see if the gunpowder dissipates a little. Well, a few minutes later it’s still there but the oranges are speaking more loudly too now and there’s just the slightest bit of maple syrup too. With a lot more time it may be that my nose has adjusted to the gunpowder but it is far less dominant. Now I get lime and ham and brine with mustard seed and other sharp spices in it. More toffee now too and a bit of rubber; something creamy too. With even more time (sulphured) raisins and dried apricot. Water (added more than 30 minutes after this was poured) pushes the gunpowder back a little and brings out more of the sweet/savoury ham notes.
Palate: Some gunpowder here too but also citrus peel and brine and some sweet smoke. With time it’s quite sweet and the ham/savoury note is here as well. A lot of time and air brings out more of the citrus and fruit leather on the palate as well along with some toffee but the gunpowder never goes away. Water pushes the gunpowder back a little on the palate as well and brings out far more sweetness (brown sugar and barley water)
Finish: Medium. The gunpowder lingers as does the smoke. With time the finish lengthens and becomes quite a bit sweeter. With even more time the citrus and salt linger into the finish. Well after the last sip there’s a distinct peaty aftertaste.
Comments: Again, I can see how someone who has a low sulphur tolerance might hate this (see, for example, the notes at the bottom of this post at Diving for Pearls). But as someone who, as I think I’ve mentioned before, ate a lot of rock salt/kala namak based sweet and savoury treats as a kid, I have a very high tolerance, nay fondness for this particular flavour of sulphur. Still, this is a whisky that needs a lot of time, air and patience and a large enough pour to allow for proper development. The whisky I’ve had recently that most puts me in mind of this one is the Highland Park Loki, which has a similar, though more muted, gunpowdery, leathery, briny quality.
Rating: 88 points (starting out in the low-80s and climbing slowly). Go ahead, call me crazy.