Spotlight: Brora

As from April 2016, if you visit the modern Clynelish distillery [above left] in ‘closed season’, they take you round Brora [above right] instead – result! If i’d known, I wouldn’t have sneaked round back to take photos the previous day.

Brora with the new distillery up the hill

It’s amazing to think that Brora [originally known as Clynelish], was essentially a stock-filler operation that met short-falls from DCLs other distilleries to fulfil demand for their blends – the majority going into Johnnie Walker.


An early settlement here was known as Inverbrora, Inver derived from the Gaelic ‘inbhir’ meaning river mouth. From the Norse, ‘Brua-a’ means bridge-river – so this is a place with a bridge crossing over the mouth of the river.

The river provided a successful salmon industry for the village which inevitably led to the near eradication of shoals here. Brora however is one of the very few rivers to have seen an increase in both returning fish & numbers caught, due to a restocking policy alongside conservation measures by the River Board.

clynelish stensils

In 1813, the Duke of Sutherland had the harbour built to serve his mining & brickworks industries. It was at the time, the Highlands only coal port.

In 1817, the Countess of Sutherland had a brewery built ‘to discourage locals from making their own concoctions‘, according to the Highland Council. Two years later the Duke had a distillery built in Clynelish village, apparently to ‘stamp out smuggling & the illicit whisky stills hidden in the local hills‘ [also from the HC] – though in reality both of these ventures were lucrative businesses for the Duke & Duchess.

The old Clynelish distillery closed in 1968, only to be re-opened the following year due to shortages at Caol Ila. It was renamed Brora whilst the new distillery next door took on the old name of Clynelish. The Brora distillery ran until 1983 when it was mothballed, often making peated spirit [supporting Caol Ila] whilst the new Clynelish distillery kept things phenol-free.

The distillery buildings are incredibly intact. They include [amongst all the rest], the malt house, the chimney, the pagoda, the filling station, the tax & excise office and the warehouses – some of which are still being used to store a wide selection of Scotch and the odd Brora cask [see picabove].

The stills, though bird splattered appear to be only a polish away from full rejuvenation. Above: wash still [left], spirit still [top right], spirit safe & receivers [bottom right]



Back at the Clynelish visitors centre, it’s time for the refreshment break. Clynelish produce 100,000 litres a week, and according to our tour guide Jessica, currently 95% of that output goes to Johnnie Walker.


Clynelish 14yo [2017] Ob. 46% WB84.65[454] WF87

  • N: Fruity cereals with a concrete/firm mineral bed and salty-farmy suggestions.
  • T: The decency continues. Tasty, interesting, beefy, layered, poised. 14 years seems an ideal age for this spirit.
  • F: Good length and sustained power. Keeps its form & profile throughout.
  • C: One of the strongest core [aged entry-level] expressions from any distillery.

Scores 87 points

Clynelish Distillery Only NAS [2017] Ob. [6000 bts] 57.3% WB85.49[104] [WF]89

clynelish distillery only bottling

  • N: Between 8-10 years old and bourbon only, theres some huskiness, ozone and spongy citrus. Straight-ahead [simple] in comparison to the standard 14yo.
  • T: Very pleasing bourbon vibe and soft on the palate. Quite savoury at first then with a clean acute, lemon drizzle>chocolate cake.
  • F: True vanilla finish.
  • C: Nice enough but not nearly as memorable as the Brora tour.

Scores 83 points


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