Brora distillery profile - Highlands whisky

Brora - a.k.a. 'Old Clynelish' whisky

Brora Scotch Whisky

Brora  (Pronounced: BRO-ra)
Northern Highlands
581'25.7808 N, 352'13.3068 W
Clynelish, Balblair, Glenmorangie, Old Pulteney
Closed (in 1983)
Clynemilton Burn
1 Wash, 1 Spirit
None - the stills are not operational anymore
Diageo > UDV (since 1986)
Brora, Sutherland KW9 6LB, Scotland
Sort of - Diageo still releases some old stocks
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Where to find Clynelish?
Clynelish location

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Scores & tasting notes:

Trivia about Brora

1) In 1529 the first (and only) coal mine in the Highlands was opened in the town of Brora.

2) Brora isn't just the name of the harbour town, it's also the name of a nearby river.
Rumour has it that the Brora river is one of the very best spots for salmon fishing in Scotland.

3) Founded in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford, the old 'Clynelish' whisky distillery was managed by many different licensees and owners until the Clynelish Distillery Co. Ltd. acquired it in 1912. In 1925 it was sold to DCL, after which the Brora distillery was silent from 1931 to 1939 - and then again until 1945 due to the second world war.

4) The two pot stills of 'old Clynelish' (Brora) were converted from direct coal heating to internal steam heating in 1961 and the steam engine and water wheel were replaced with electric power in 1965, which is also the year when the floor maltings were used for the last time. In 1966, the boiler itself was converted from coal to oil burning.

5) Brora distillery didn't start to produce heavily peated malt whisky until 1969 - and the owners decreased the peating levels again from 1973 onwards.

Brora single malt whisky

Brora 30yo Limited Edition (54.3%, OB, 3000 Bottles, Bottled 2010)
Nose: Smooth and polished with a good dose of sherry and fruit. The peat remains in the background.
Opens up nicely, but it never reaches the complexity of earlier batches. Speculaas? Toasted and a tad nutty.
Taste: a little 'wobbly' - not sure which direction it wants to take. Gritty finish with 'dead' wood.
Score: 84 points - I'd say that Diageo has been scraping the bottoms of their barrels with this one.
Not enough peat for me. A good malt whisky, but not up to the standards that Brora set a few years ago.

Brora 25yo '7th Release' (56.3%, OB, Bottled 2008, 3000 Bts.)
Nose: Very odd. A dirty cleaning mop? Cabbage in the background? Fairly complex; character drifts over time.
Some very subtle fruits emerge after a few minutes. Grows sweeter & more phenolic after some breathing.
Taste: More solid than the nose suggests. A faint touch of peat. Fairly harsh centre. Prickly finish.
Sweetens out after some breathing & water. Finish grows harsh & drier after some time. Touch of cinnamon?
Score: 79 points - some other maniacs liked it better, but this was just a shadow of the brilliant 30yo's.

Brora 30yo (56,3%, OB, Bottled 2005, 3,000 Bts.)
Nose: Erm… Vomit? Sour notes move to the fruitier end. Far greater whisky than these notes suggest.
Needs time and water to open up to beautiful peat and organics. Some fruit candy in the background.
Taste: Hey, peat… I didn't find that in the nose at first. Fairly flat start. Meaty notes in the background. Smoke.
Score: 90 points - this improves with time. In fact, this one needed an hour to finally make it to 90 points.

Brora 20yo 1982/2003 (46%, Chieftains, Sherry Butt #1195)
Nose: Very light and grainy at first, then veggy and farmy notes start to emerge.
Not nearly as expressive as the 19yo, although it does open up significantly over time.
There's the faintest hint of peat in the background, but to me it's hardly detectable.
Taste: Sweetish on the palate. Quite fruity. A tad woody and bitter in the dry centre.
Pinch of salt? The peat only shows itself in the finish at first. And even then there's not a lot of it.
Score: 77 points - not up to the usual Brora standards, if you ask me.

Brora 21yo 1982/2003 (50%, Lombard's Jewel of the Highlands)
Nose: Ah... Sweet and creamy. Not much sherry, but much more expressive than the Chieftains.
Fruits and spices are next. This is the sort of lively 'bourbon whisky' profile I like - not dull at all.
Pear? It had a brief 'medicinal' episode before it turned into a more 'organic' direction.
Sweaty. Hey, now I get 'onion rings' potato chips... This is an odd little sucker...
Water didn't change the profile much at first, but after half a minute it just dropped dead.
Ant acid? Wait a minute - after a few more minutes it comes back to life. Well, Sort off..
Taste: Nice, if a little nondescript. At first the peat only shows itself in the aftertaste.
I found it a little bit dusty on the palate. Dried apples? Wow, a blast of peat and menthol!
Well... is that menthol? Maybe it's something medicinal rather than menthol or eucalyptus.
Whatever it is, if you don't add watewr this one seems to grow more powerful with time.
Dry finish - not complex but very long. Maybe a little sweeter in the centre with some water.
Score: 85 points - the bouquet of the Lombard's takes some pretty unexpected twists and turns...
The amazing development makes this Brora a 'jewel of the Highlands' indeed...

Brora 30yo 1972/2003 (47.4%, The Whisky Shop, Sherry hogshead, 220 Btl.)
Nose: Loads of sherry. Fruit and smoke. Furniture polish. Wood. Excellent. Organics. Salmiak. Molasses.
Leather, just like in the '72/'02 for Germany. Maggi. Something spicy as well. More smoke with time.
Taste: Big and fruity with a big kick in the centre. Feels a bit winey without too much tannins.
There's smoke as well - more smoke than peat, actually. It's especially dominant in the finish.
A 'Buysman' (burnt caramel) bitterness in the whisky, but here it somehow works for me. That's a bit odd.
Score: 90 points - but you have to be willing to overlook / accept some 'rough edges' on this sherry monster.

Brora 30yo 1972/2003 'Broraggeddon' (50.8.%, DL for Plowed, 201 Bottles)
Nose: Aaah. yes, another sherry monster. But it's a little sweeter and friendlier than the TWS bottling.
Marzipan and toffee. Fondant or fudge? Then some smoke emerges. Again I found no apparent peat.
Then it's time for organics. Five minutes later some medicinal notes joined the party. Some rubber too.
Taste: Smooth and full bodied in the start - first fruit and sherry, then lots of smoke in the centre.
Remains smoky until the very end of the long finish. Quite hot. A little 'winey' like the TWS bottling.
At one point I thought I found something in the camphor / eucalyptus spectrum - or did I imagine it?
Score: 92 points - once again I'm quite satisfied with my initial score - one of the best Brora's ever.

Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (46.6%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask for Germany, 204 Botttles)
Nose: A straight shooter. Serious. Spicy. Brine. Smoked fish. More and more organics. Leather.
Rubber. Is that a hint of something metallic? This malt somehow creates a 'brooding' atmosphere.
It doesn't jump at you. You have to work at it, but if you make the effort this offers many rewards.
Taste: A sweet, peaty punch - great 'organic' peat. This feels just perfect. Great body at 46.6%.
Score: 91 points - two more points than my initial score of 89! A genuine peat monster.
I can imagine how this Brora went down very well with the Germans.

Brora 22yo 1980/2002 (51%, Clan des Grands Malts, Hogshead #823)
Nose: Light yet peaty. Organics quickly emerge - and bring a lot of complexity with them.
After a few minutes I got an odd citrussy note. It has a dusty episode as well. Hint of sulphur?
Leather. I can't put my finger on it, but this bouquet just touches me in all the right places...
A whiff of ant acid - just like in the Lombard's - but fruit and organics remain dominant.
Water doesn't do much for the nose at first - but I've learnt to give it some time.
Hmmm... No, in this case water didn't reveal any hidden layers of complexity.
Taste: Smooth, sweet and peaty in the start. Beautifully balanced. Powerful, but not too hot.
Over time the sweetness takes a backseat and things move in a smokier direction. A solid Brora.
Score: 89 points - but it might have made the 90's if water had opened it up some more.

Brora 18yo 1983/2001 (52.9%, Signatory Vintage Silent Stills, Cask #40)
Nose: A little sweeter and rounder than the 'Clynelish'. Hints of grains and fruits. Eau de Cologne.
This is more expressive than the last one. But once again I found no strong evidence of peat at first.
Over time more of the same farmy organics I found in the last one appeared. Light & heavy...
More and more subtleties emerge in the background while it opens up further and further.
Taste: Very fruity in the start - almost like a liqueur. It feels very light on the palate, though.
Well, for a while. After a minute it becomes harsher and extremely smoky. Quite dry as well.
A faint hint of liquorice. It's odd, this is quite powerful but it feels a tad thin on the palate.
Score: 86 points - this Brora earns most of its points in the nose, but peat freaks will love the palate as well.

Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (46%, Chieftains, Sherry Casks #1189-92)
Nose: Sweet, fruity and very sherried. Later more smoke and organics emerge.
The development seems to stop completely after a few minutes, though...
Taste: Dry and smoky and a little bit flat at first. Much bigger centre.
Fruity and winey; quite lively. And then there's some peat in the background.
After a few minutes the smoky finish becomes quite overpowering - too much so.
Score: 82 points - my original score stands, but first I was inclined to go higher. Only after the development in the nose stopped and the smoke took over the finish my overall enjoyment stabilised around 82 points. Brora is famed for its peat, but this is primarily smoky, woody and dry - and that's just not the same...

Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, Sherry, Bottled 9/2001, 240 Bts)
As I found out, I've tried this one before as well; in February 2003 to be precise. It gave it 88 points.
Nose: Sweet and mellow with a growing fruity presence. Coconut? Obvious sherry impact. Spicy.
Some organics in the background. Turkish delight. After a few minutes distinct citrussy notes appear.
Peanuts? Excellent development over time - and unlike the Chieftain's, it doesn't stop developing.
It grows more serious over time, with even a pinch of peat popping up. Wow - this is very complex!
Taste: Big and fruity. Chewy in the centre; becoming even more fruity. Unripe pineapple? Yoghurt?
Just like the nose, it grows more 'serious' over time - peat, smoke and maybe even a pinch of salt.
Score: 90 points - I had it in the very upper 80's for a long time, but given time this is 90's material.
Proof that the Brora's of the 80's were less peated than those of the 70's?

Brora 19yo 1981 (58.8%, The Prestonfield, Distilled 6/81, Butt #1083, 545 Bottles).
Nose: Sweet, nutty and spicy. Not a trace of peat at first, but then it slowly drifts to the surface.
Dried apples. More and more peat emerges. Hint of rubber? Next the organics came to the foreground.
Sweaty with hints of leather and horse stable. Excellent - even if less complex than the Silver Seal.
Taste: Big, sweet, hot and fruity. Feels VERY good on the palate, although the finish is a tad dry.
It becomes extremely smoky in the finish - but this is the kind of smoke I like; 'sans parfum'...
Liquorice. In the end it loses one or two points because the smoke masks any trace of peat.
Score: 87 points - a mighty pleasant dram but not quite as complex as the Silver Seal.

Brora 14yo 1982/1997 (60.6%, Cadenhead's Authentic Collection)
Nose: Aaah. The richest profile so far - with what seems to be the strongest sherry influence.
It's no sherry monster, but it has the nice oaky / tobacco notes with the oriental spices. Nice!
Just like the other two it shows rich farmy overtones as well. My favourite nose so far, I'd say.
With some water I got some weird 'dentist' notes. Something inbetween herbal and spicy too.
Taste: A bit too harsh and strong at cask strength - it knocks out the palette like many Cadenheads.
With a little water it appeared fuller and sweeter in the start with more smoke in centre and finish.
Score: 87 points - the rough palate pulls it down a few points - even though I love a powerful punch.
With a little more refinement on the palate it would have been the winner of the evening for me.
It has the peaty and smoky power I love, but little sweetness to balance it.

Brora 20yo 1975/1996 (60.75%, UDRM, 20cl)
Nose: Takes a while to open up. First some organics emerge, then some 'bakery' aroma's. Raw rhubarb?
This really is too powerful at cask strength, so I quickly added some water - quite a lot, actually.
With some water it seemed sweeter and I got whiffs of rubber and 'wet dog'. Still a little restrained.
Even more water brought out some faint dusty notes. It teases but hardly ever reveals anything.
Taste: Feels excellent at C/S, but at that strength it's hard to pick up many details. Peat, of course.
After I added some water it seemed a little sweeter in start and centre. Still peaty, smoky finish.
Pinch of salt in the finish as well? Not very 'defined', but it feels really excellent on the palate.
Smooth, even after I added water twice. This is one of those rare malts that can stand lots of water.
Score: 89 points - one point up from my initial 88 points but not quite 90's material in my book.
Maybe it suffers from the 'death seat' in this flight, but the nose isn't expressive enough for me.
There's some complexity in the bouquet, but you really have to work at it to bring it to the surface.
Quite similar to the 'Clan des Grands Malts' bottling - that one made most points on the palate as well.
Maybe this just isn't quite sweet enough for my tastes?

Clynelish 12yo (56.9%, OB, Ainslie & Heilbronn for Edward & Edward Italy - 'old' Clynelish i.e. Brora)
Nose: Light and coastal with some 'farmy' notes. It doesn't seem especially peaty to me at first.
Or very expressive for that matter. A little metallic perhaps? It doesn't jump at you but it's quite unique.
Even after finding it on the palate here I didn't find the 'aged' character I find in the nose of some antiques.
Taste: Ah yeah, there's some peat. And I can actually taste the 'antiquity' here. Big and round. Smoky.
This lasts very long - I like it much better than the nose. Smoke and organics. Very nice!
There's a naughty background fruitiness that I find just irresistable.
Score: 88 points - for once a malt makes it into the upper 80's based on the palate instead of the nose.
The palate is among the very best I ever experienced (definitely 90's) but the nose just can't keep up.
That being said, it beats every young 'new' Clynelish I ever tried - this has much more 'oomph'.

And there's more to tell about Brora...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Brora Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Brora page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Brora expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 

Brora whisky distillery in the new millennium

2002 - I don't usually add information about silent distilleries to the profiles of those distilleries, but the introduction of a new series of 30yo official bottlings by Diageo was so significant that I felt I should make an exception. For a few years in a row Diageo released a new batch of the Brora 30yo - usually in volumes of 3,000 bottles.
The first few batches were fantastic, but after +/- 2005 they started to run out of their best casks.
2008 - A 25yo expression replaces the 30yo. Because the distillery was closed in 1983, this will be the last 25yo bottling of Brora that will ever be released. It stands to reason that Diageo has run out of its stock, or that remaining stocks are not up to the high standards set by the early batches of the 30yo - especially the '2004' version.

Brora 22 years old Scotch whisky
Brora whisky - 30 years old Scotch

Especially the fast growing Johnnie Walker blends required a lot of peated 'Islay style' malt whiskies
in their recipes. Even without the dry conditions on Islay it would have been difficult to quickly increase
production there, so SMD/DCL started to experiment with producing more heavily peated malt on the
mainland. An added advantage: this would also be more cost-effective than production on an island.
After some trials at Port Dundas the old Clynelish distillery was chosen. For a while both distilleries
worked side by side. They were known as 'Clynelish I' (the new distillery) & 'Clynelish II' (the old one),
but they eventually decided on a new name for the old distillery; simply Brora - named after the town.

Between May 1969 and July 1973 Brora produced a heavily peated, 'Islay style' whisky,
used for blending. By that time the owners were able to produce enough peated malt
whisky on Islay. DCL had managed to increase production there, so the peating levels
at Brora were gradually reduced. A lot of the whisky that is produced after 1973 was
made in the far less peaty 'Highland' style, but throughout the 1970's the occasional
heavily peated batch was produced too. It seems they stopped this deviant behaviour
around 1980. According to the Malt Maniacs' resident expert on Clynelish and Brora
Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun fame: 'The last batches are very similar to a 'new'
Clynelish, although I feel Brora still had 'something more'

Around March 1983 production at Brora ceases. The distillery is mothballed by
SMD/DCL, along with many of their other distilleries like Banff, Dallas Dhu, Saint
Magdalene, Glen Albyn, Glenlochy, Glen Mhor, North Port & Port Ellen. At the same
time, other spirits conglomerates close quite a few distilleries as well, and yet a
few more distilleries like Glenury Royal and Millburn are closed a few years later.

Brora distillery - when it was still called Clynelish

So, the 1980's wasn't just a bad decade for music,
the whisky industry suffered as well. And whisky
drinkers started to feel the pain a few years later.
With the closure of around two dozen distilleries
the blenders had lost a quarter of their ingredients.

But perhaps the cloud had a silver lining as well...
Single malts were known and respected in Scotland and Italy, but
it was an obscure drink in most other countries. Since less of the
stuff was required for blends in the 1980's, more of it could be
bottled as a single or vatted malt. According to Brora expert Serge
Valentin the first bottling of Brora was done by the Scotch Malt
Whisky Society in 1989. Other bottlers followed not much later.

Brora distillery profile Interactive whisky distillery mapScotland - whisky distillery informationScotch whisky bottlersScotch malt whisky brandsNew distillery projects
Brora distillery, Scotland

The name of the Brora distillery used to be Clynelish, until the owners
SMD built a brand new Clynelish distillery right across the road in 1968.
The old Clynelish distillery (now Brora) was built by the Marquess of
Stafford in 1819. Right before the new, larger distillery went into
operation, the old one was closed down in May 1968. It would quite
probably have remained closed if the weather gods hadn't intervened.

Meanwhile, on the island of Islay the people were experiencing an
unexpected drought during the summer. As a result, Port Ellen distillery
was experiencing problems meeting their production quota of peated
malt whisky that the owners SMD/DCL needed for their various blends.
Forced by these circumstances, they started to look for alternatives...

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