Inside this very ratty sample bottle—a recycled 50 ml mini that originally held god knows what—is a whisky with a very high reputation from a legendary distillery. The 5th release of the Brora 30 came out in 2006—almost 25 years after the distillery was closed—and the whisky illuminati rate it very highly. As a blogger of the people I have not had very many of these special release Broras—or very many Broras at all—and so I am not going to be able to offer any insight into its quality relative to the others (I think the only other that I’ve reviewed is the 6th release, which has the same abv—my bottle of which I am still nursing).
As you may know, Diageo has recently revived Brora (and Port Ellen). Construction was ongoing when I was at Clynelish briefly in June. I have no idea what the nature of the whisky produced there will be, and I doubt very many people will be able to compare it to whisky of similar age made at the distillery before it closed, and certainly from its heyday in the 1970s. And it’s going to take a long time for the new production to get to the age of the releases that made its reputation long after it closed. Alas, I will not be around to taste 30 yo whisky from the revived Brora. I can still taste this though.
Brora 30, 5th Release (55.7%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Some ashy smoke wafts up as I pour but the first note when I sniff is of sour butter; it’s followed right away by a mix of organic notes (wet hay, sack cloth) and brighter notes of lemon. The butter goes away and then it gets quite salty as it sits and there’s sweeter, mineral notes as well along with cracked coriander seed and a bit of white pepper. The smoke is still here, still ashy. With more time the lemon moves into preserved territory. With more time still a bit of that butyric note returns. Let’s see what water does. Well, it knocks the butyric out and pulls out more preserved lemon along with some ground mustard seed and some saddle leather; the smoke recedes as well.
Palate: Everything from the nose but more intense and integrated. Peatier here and there’s a lot of peppery olive oil. Thick texture. More bitter on the second sip but it’s a bracing bitterness (apple peel) that works well with everything else. Water makes the texture even richer and pulls out more lemon here as well—but it’s sweeter and oilier here (rather than salted). More peppery than smoky now.
Finish: Long. The smoke takes over here but the salt and the sweet mineral notes poke out as well. Less smoke and more citrus with water here too; at first, anyway: after a bit the smoke comes roaring back (smoked lemons?).
Comments: Can a whisky be austere and rich at the same time? This one is. The 6th release has more fruit but this is smokier. I think I like it a bit better. I think I have said this before but there is contemporary whisky being made in this vein but it’s in Campbeltown. So mourn old Brora by all means but don’t sleep on Springbank and Kilkerran (I’m referring to whisky made in the last decade and a half; older Talisker also shares much of this profile).
Rating: 92 points.
Thanks to Scotchio for the sample!