Aug 072015
 

Brora 25 y.o. (2008) Closed Distilleries Photos 017

56.3% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

Brora has become my own personal rabbit hole.  My red pill, if you will.  I was lost to it completely upon first taste (an almost incomparable 2005 30 y.o.), and have continued to fall end over end with each subsequent expression I’ve tried.

Malts like this remind me of the double helix of a DNA strand, intricately weaving together the nuance of spirit itself with the complexity of historical context.  Those two pieces become inseparable in whiskies like this and are an intrinsic part of what makes them unforgettable.  It’s arguably part of the rationale used in justification of pricing schemes and collectability.  Let’s face it, Scotch is a drink built on history and tradition.  And Brora has an infinitely fascinating story.  Let’s not get too deep into it here, but do head over to our friend Serge’s Whiskyfun site to learn a bit more about Brora’s backstory.  Well worth the effort.

For now though, quick and dirty must suffice: Brora was a Highland distillery that last flowed in 1983.  It has subsequently been partially dismantled and now languishes dead in the shadows (literally) of the Clynelish distillery, its sister/replacement/pseudo-doppelganger/what have you.  The last remaining drops of Brora have crept further and further away from the laymen’s tax bracket, but nearer and dearer to our hearts.  Ergo we end up with a bunch of sentimentalists dying to try the malt, but an ever-decreasing chance of that happening.  Sad times indeed.

Is this the best Brora I’ve ever had?  Nah.  It’s exceptionally good, but we’re talking degrees of greatness now.  Like trying to pick the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady) from a field of other great QBs, then looking back in prespective to see all of the hundreds of thousands of never-rans that can’t even compete at that big league level.  Make sense?

This 2008 Diageo official release was limited to just 3,000 bottles.  I feel blessed to have drunk my share.  And a little guilty ’cause I probably drank a few others’ shares as well.

Nose:  Great nose, built on fruits and more earthy, organic notes.  Peat, yes, but faint and very secondary to the dominant profile.  Pistachio, marzipan and cream.  Apple and orange and lemon.  Wet rock, grass and damp barley.  A light floral note and wisps of smoke.  Closer to Clynelish than the older, peatier Brora I lean toward.  Very multi-dimensional.

Palate:  Way bigger on the palate than the nose.  Oily and thick.  Waxy and flinty.  More smoke and peat here.  A nice toast/char note.  Also a dry nuttiness that reminds at once of almond and oaky Chardonnay.  Caramel apple and lemon.  Popsicle sticks or tooth picks.  Quite drying.  Leaves behind notes of old cask, herbal tea and green apple.

Thoughts:  Not in the same league as the 30s or 35s, but special nonetheless.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:23 am
Mar 262015
 

Brora 35 y.o. (2013)110

49.9% abv

Score:  94.5/100

 

I know the thing to do is to play it cool and pretend we’re not too excited about trying these rare old drams, but that’s just not me.  Whisky is fun.  It’s supposed to be something to get excited about.  Maybe it’s gauche, but I’m tickled pink to be able to sit down and sip away at this stunning old dram.

Brora is one of the grail malts; those few legendary whiskies that form an intrinsic part of the ‘cult whisky’ phenomenon.  It’s a distillery that has been closed for more than 30 years and seems to have a remaining back stock only a fraction of the size of its fellow shuttered legend, Port Ellen.  Brora releases of late seem to be limited to the annual Diageo expressions, and unfortunately, the days of independent bottling appear to be behind us.  This probably has something to do with Diageo making efforts to buy back any existing casks sitting in others’ warehouses.  Just a guess.  Either way, what I’m getting at here is that any opportunity to sample a Brora is an occasion.

This 2013 official bottling is composed entirely of 1977 stock.  Its fruity, mildly waxy and smoky profile is Brora through and through, but seems almost restrained compared to some of the other Diageo Broras I’ve tried.  This is no bad thing.  If anything it shows an elegance that lifts this one even higher.  Possibly (probably) my favorite Brora so far.

Is it really that good?  No.  It’s better.

Nose:  Oh…dear…gawd.  A waxy and earthy backdrop.  Almost mushroom-like at first, before an explosion of softer creamy fruits.  Clean hay.  Yes, faintly peaty.  Also faintly coastal.  Pineapple and a bit of lemon.  Sweet, soft baking notes.  Some more semi-tropical orange fruits.  Vanilla cream.

Palate:  A little more farmy now.  Flinty and hints of oyster on the shell with a squeeze of lemon.  Peat and a little bit of dry smoke.  Licorice.  Make that salt licorice.  Pineapple again.  Threads of vanilla and oak.  A light toasted note.  Grapefruit pith and peel (but not so much the fruit itself).  Long, loooooong sweet finish.  Utterly magic.

Thoughts:  Holy hell.  I had high expectations, but they were not only exceeded, but blown away.  A great malt.  Simply incredible.  Limited to 2,944 bottles.

* Thanks to Andrew Ferguson at KWM for the hookup on this one.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:46 am
Nov 262013
 

Brora 21 y.o. Rare Maltsbarry's place pics 156

56.9% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Let’s do another Brora.  This time from the Rare Malts line released by Diageo (then UDV, I believe…or maybe just having become what is now known as Diageo?) back in the late 90s. 

The Rare Malts line-up ran for a decade or so, from 1995 through 2005, before ultimately the decision was made on high to discontinue the branding and concentrate exclusively on the parallel annual releases, which were being bottled to similar standards and strengths.  The Rare Malts releases are now secondary market fixtures, highly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs.  If the opportunity does arise for a taste, do try.  It’s like drinking a piece of history.

Whisky in its late teens or early 20s tends to fall right into a bit of a sweet spot for me.  There’s just something so vibrantly alive in Scotch within this age bracket, yet at the same time they tend to be sophisticated, complex and able to wear the years with grace.  This Brora is no different.  In fact, it’s a shining example of just that.

Any contemporary releases of Brora (while few and far between) are now hitting the shelves in their early 30s, sue simply to the fact that this Highland distillery was mothballed (and subsequently partially cannibalized) in 1983, a solid three decades ago.  Having gone through a couple of the more mature variants recently, it seemed about time to look back a little and see what this distillery can boast of in its younger incarnations.  As it turns out…quite a lot.

This particular release is cask #2758 from 1977, and it’s a different kind of Brora.  Lighter and sweeter than I’d expect.  There’s a home-iness about this one that rings true and rockets it up my list of favorite drams.  Very clean.  Very defined.  Great personality.  It makes me think back to farmhouse kitchens (and yes…when I was wee I did spend a LOT of time in ’em), with a profile hinting at back-to-the-earth farmy characteristics well met with the pleasant memories of home baking.  While those are my immediate olfactorily driven connotations, it ignores the fact that this is a hefty dram at nearly 57% abv.  That should tell you that, while I refer to it as ‘pleasant’ and ‘gentle’, it is certainly not one for the faint of heart. 

Great whisky from a distillery we miss very much.*

Nose:  Orange and nutmeg.  Some lovely cherry notes and warm leather.  Fresh hay.  A little peat, yes, but surprisingly tame here.  Soft, gentle and beautiful.  The comfort of warm caramel pudding.  Wonderfully sweet and balanced.

Palate:  Smoke now.  Grainy and farmyard-like.  Citrus tang and some fruit skin flavours and feel.  Anise.  A whiff of eucalyptus.  Bold delivery belies the softness of the nose.  Gorgeous.  Simply gorgeous.  I would think this was older than 21, to be honest.

*Do note…last I read the stills and such were still in place.  One can only dream of a Lazrus act, no? 

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:23 pm
Nov 262013
 

Brora 30 y.o. (DL Old & Rare Platinum Selection)barry's place pics 155

57.5% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Oh boy.

This is a special dram.  Like…really special.  Just sitting down with a few drops of this is immediately one of those truly unforgettable whisky moments.  Being able to do it more than once is like marrying the prom queen. 

The concept of Brora fellation is not new.  For years the hype has been building from one of an undercurrent flowing through the blogs and forums to a crescendo of deafening despair for lost opportunities and being born years too late.  It’s ok, friends.  I’m wailing along with you.  It’s whiskies like this that lend credence to the argument that these lost distilleries were something really special.  

This 30 year old Douglas Laing (bottled years before the Laing brother break-up) was packaged under the Old & Rare Platinum Selection Single Cask Series.  You always have to wonder whether or not a single cask is the best representation of the distillery, but in this case it doesn’t even matter.  This is a beautiful whisky irrespective of brand, providence, marketability or price point. 

Born in the mid seventies (a couple years prior to the birth of your ‘umble narrator), this spirit left the comfort of cask and made for the big time via bottle in 2007.  That a few last bottles lingered on shelves until just weeks ago speaks not to the quality of the whisky in any way, but simply to the sad fact that the powers that be have more intellect than we’re wont to give them credit for, and have priced the dram accordingly.  (About $800CA give or take, if memory serves).  The thing is…money comes and goes.  Whisky like this however?  Well…it just goes.

I should note…a mate of mine with exceptional taste in whisky didn’t find this one quite up to the standards that I did, but it brings me back to one of the greatest sentiments I’ve ever heard expressed regarding differing opinions.  For the life of me, I can’t recall who said it, but I’d love to give credit where credit is due (was it on Connosr somewhere perhaps?).  It went something like this:  “Thank God we all have different tastes, otherwise everyone would be in love with my wife.”

Not 100% certain, but this is quite possibly my favorite Brora yet.  Exceptional.

Nose:  Peat and farmy notes collide up front.  A lot of moist lovely tobacco.  Dark cherry.  Rubber and billowy smoke.  Man…what a glorious collision of peat and fruit…simply magic.  Some mixed fruits atop warm cream of wheat.  Wet rock.  Caramel.  There’s more here, but now I just need to sit back and enjoy with eyes closed.

Palate:  Some impossibly beautifully sweet notes.  Peat and smoke.  A little but wine-ish.  Overwhelmingly intense mouthfeel.  Salt and pepper meet lemon.  Gooey orange and possibly raspberry.  Touch of Amaretto, brings together some sweet fruits and drying nutty flavours.  Wow.  Just wow.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:36 pm
Nov 252013
 

Brora 30 y.o. 2009barry's place pics 153

53.2% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

As Brora becomes more and more scarce on the scene, the odds of most drammers having an opportunity to taste it are becoming more and more stacked against us.  It’s a sad fact in a world ruled by free market and supply and demand.

The good news, however, is that we’re in an age of more potential ‘Broras’ than ever.  Not in the literal sense, of course, but figuratively speaking.  Back in its day, Brora was just a peated spirit from yet another Highland distillery, and not necessarily recognized as the legendary elixir it is now often given to be.  As we speak, there are well over a hundred operational distilleries in Scotland and apparently a whole bunch more in the early stages of planning, permitting and construction.  Where I’m going with this?  There are many opportunities to discover the ‘next Brora’.

Any folks out there who may be wanting to approach the flavour profile (as near as I can figure it) but are unlikely so score their own bottles of Brora…I’d suggest maybe saving your money for older Longrow releases.  The oldest OB Longrow released to date has been an 18 year old, but fingers crossed that at some point we see 25 and 30 year variants.  I think they’ll reach a similar profile.  These and maybe Port Charlotte when it finally approaches its early 20s.

For those not in the know, Brora was a Highland distillery that closed its doors in 1983, amid the rash of distillery closures tied to whisky world’s version of the Great Depression.  I’m not sure what the young Brora malt was like at that point, but what little was left to slumber in the warehouses gradually took on a flavour and mystique of epic proportions.  It was also generally bottled at a healthy two or three decades of age.  Rightly or wrongly this is the standard to which Brora is held to today.  You can see the unfairness of holding what we contemporarily think of as a standard Brora (if there is such a thing) in the same league as most other distilleries on the menu, which are usually served up at a whopping old age of…12.  Or if you’re splurging…18.  Hmmm…if all whiskies were allowed to hit 30 years, I’d bet the farm we’d see a lot more ‘Broras’.  Just my speculation.

Anyway…these annual Diageo special releases are probably the most accurate representation of true Brora, as they are a vatting of multiple casks, whereas most of the others you’ll find (if at all) are liable to be single cask variants by the independent bottlers, and highly subject to variations.  Make no mistake due to the rambling nature of my lead-in, though…this is Brora.  And it’s fucking awesome stuff.

Nose:  Much lighter than the only other 30 year old OB I’ve tried (2005 edition)*.  White pepper.  Lightly aromatic farmy, peaty and smoky notes.  Musk.  A perfume-iness meets some floral influence.  Vanilla is fairly up front.  Orange and lemon.  Fresh ground spice (dry, dusty and somewhat exotic…shorthand for ‘I can’t quite put my finger on it).  Paraffin.  Soft, chewy cookies with mild baking spice.

Palate:  Quite some peat and dry pepper are mashed up with some syrupy sweetness.  Anise and flint notes follow in step.  Peat and heat follow a moment or two after that.  Smoky, as to be expected.  A neat little bit of tartness.  Utterly delicious.

*Oops…that was a lie.  I was one of the guilty few at Andrew Ferguson’s place who helped speed up the evaporation rate on a bottle of the 2010 edition.  It wasn’t my fault though!  Blame the Maltmonster.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:09 pm
May 022013
 

Brora 30 y.o. 2005

56.3% abv

Score:  93.5/100

 

This Brora was a real game changer for me.  Kind of a touchstone.  It was one of a small handful of whiskies that sort of forced a recalibration and an adjustment to earlier scores in some of my reviews.  A true-up, if you will.

This malt (along with a few others sampled in and around the same time) made me take stock of what I truly thought a great whisky was.  When you taste something like this, you begin to realize just how much is out there and exactly what sort of dazzling heights it can reach.  Make no mistake…this is a great whisky.  Nearly flawless, in point of fact.

Of all the other Broras I’ve yet tried (great as they may have been), none are as good as this 30 year old 2005 Diageo release.

As you may know by now, the early 1980s saw a rash of distillery closures amidst a far-reaching and heartbreaking whisky recession.  While the casualties are mourned by collectors and enthusiasts even today, it was the sound of the gates swinging closed on two distilleries in particular that resonated loudest and longest.  The first…Port Ellen.  If you’ve been reading here long enough you’ve likely heard me waxing poetically about this loss.  Enough so, in fact, that I won’t devolve into another sobfest of Port Ellen sentimentality here.  The second however…is Brora.  And for Brora…I feel no qualms about sharing a few romantic thoughts.

This whisky is a seriously overwhelming experience.  The tightrope walk, balancing a rather hefty peating and the mature waxy notes of age, is brilliantly executed.  The nuances are rich and deep…yet still subtle and seductive.  This whisky was pulled from the cask and bottled at precisely the right moment.  This is apex.

While we do still have a distillery at the site of what was once Brora, it’s impossible not to recognize that the whisky being distilled there at Clynelish is just not cut of the same cloth.  That’s no knock against Clynelish, of which I am a fan.  It’s just that Brora was a one-off, not to be replicated.

This review has been far too long coming.  I was sorta saving it for an occasion, but…whatever…now’s as good a time as any, no?  Everyone wants to know what Brora is like – especially as it becomes more and more scare and expensive – so let’s share a few notes…

Nose:  Wow.  A stunning mature, farmy and salty dram.  Peat, smoke and iodine.  Leather.  Rubber bands.  Lapsang Souchong tea.  Buttery peat (not far off from Bruichladdich’s signature peating style), and creme caramel.  Citrus.  Something very fresh.  Also something very mature.  Brilliantly dissonant from the majority of the whisky world, but incredibly harmonious unto itself.

Palate:  As lovely as the nose is…in this case it simply can’t hold a candle to the palate.  Beautiful.  Big, bold and flawless.  Smoke and pepper.  Rich and earthy peat.  Rubber again.  Stunning array of spices.  Citrus again, but a little sweeter now, but also with some pith.  Salt licorice.  Again with the rich smoky Lapsang Souchong tea notes.  Like a very, very mature Port Charlotte.  Hot and alive, even at thirty years.

I think (and hope) this is where Longrow could end up with enough time in the cask.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:24 am
Jul 182012
 

The story of the Brora distillery is a confusing one, so for the benefit of the great unwashed I will try and explain.  The Clynelish distillery was born in 1819 in Brora, Sutherland and operated under the name Clynelish distillery until 1968, after which the owner changed the name to the Brora distillery.  It then operated under the name Brora distillery until it was permanently closed in 1983.

Congruently in 1968, a new larger distillery called the Clynelish distillery had been built across the road by the same owner as the old Clynelish distillery, now the Brora Distillery.  The new Clynelish distillery was using the same production personnel, accessing the same water source and copied the same still design as the old Clynelish distillery.

The old Clynelish distillery, now called the Brora distillery, was not needed and was to be mothballed.  Because of drought conditions on Islay, the Port Ellen distillery could no longer meet the evil owners’ demands for peated whisky used in their blends so the Brora distillery was then used to produce a peated style of whisky to satisfy that requirement.  In 1983 such a surplus of whisky existed in Scotland that the Brora distillery was deemed surplus to demand and was finally put down, along with the Port Ellen distillery and a few others by the evil minions of Diageo.

Name changing is not new; history is full name changes.  In the case of the Brora distillery the owners changed the name for a reason, which I believe was to keep the well-respected name of Clynelish alive.  The past is full of other notable name changes to serve a purpose, some good, some twisted, while others are not so easily understood.  Some examples of other prominent name changes are:

– Gordon Matthew Sumner, after a run with the law, changed his name to Sting

– Anakin Skywalker was forced to change his name to Darth Vader

– Franc/Deutschmark/Peseta/Drachma/Kroner/Punt/Lire became the “Euro” and then became paper worth a little less.

– Prince Rogers Nelson was born a Prince, then abdicated to become a former Prince, then symbolized himself and finally we hope, kissed a frog and turned himself back into a Prince

– Marion Michael Morrison road into the sunset with the name John Wayne

– Brad’s Drink fizzed into Pepsi-Cola

– After the death of (Phil Krundle ) Landfill, his brother Gil Krundle took his place and then he changed his name to Landfill

– Ralph Lifshitz metamorphosed into Ralph Lauren

– Ernesto Guevara de la Serna had cause to become Che Guevara

– Cigarette brand giant Philip Morris Co. Inc., changed its name to the soothing and friendly Altria Group

 

So to honor this once great and now lost distillery, we gathered the Gang of Four (named after a failed attempt to gain control of Diageo through the voting stock at an annual meeting of the shareholders) together and sat down on a rainy June evening in Calgary to enjoy a range tasting of Brora malts.  We assembled together six wonderful Brora malts but the more things change the more they stay the same, which is why we included a Clynelish malt in with our Brora malt range tasting.  With each malt, we openly discussed tasting notes, mostly enjoyed each other’s company and noted our top four malts of the night.

 

 

Clynelish 14 year old

46% ABV

NOSE:  Candy sweet, citrus fruits, fresh cut grass, waxy.  Pepper and a hint of varnish.

TASTE:  Tart, ginger, again some citrus notes, salty and nutmeg.

FINISH:  Medium and drying at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  A change to a more peated version would do you good; yes a change would do you good.

 

Brora 21 Year Old 1977 / 1998

56.9% ABV

Rare Malts Series Bottle #2758

NOSE:  Creamy caramel, bit winey. Lemons, oranges and some spice.

TASTE:  Lemon drops, soft wood smoke, black liquorice and very honey sweet at the end.

FINISH:  Medium-long.  Lovely delicate dram.

ASSESSMENT:  Ch-Ch-Changes pretty soon you’re gonna get a little older, time may change me but I can’t make Diageo reopen the distillery and produce a great younger malt as this.  Tied for the second place malt of the night with the 32 year old.

 

Brora 30 Year Old 1975 / 2005 

56.3% ABV

Special Release Series Bottle #2155 of 3000

NOSE:  Caramel, musty, elegant smoke and lemons.

TASTE:  Pepper, citrus, peaty, black liquorice and a hint of eucalyptus.

FINISH:  Long and lingering.  The English refugee in the gang said “you like this because it reminds you of Port Ellen”, mocking me for my love of Port Ellen (Note to self…must check with Canadian immigration to see if he’s in the country legally).

ASSESSMENT:  Don’t go changing to try and please me you never let me down before, release 2005 I said I love you and that’s forever and it’s a promise from the heart, I couldn’t love you any better, I love you just the way you are.  Have tried numerous bottles of Brora over the years, and the 2005 has always been my favorite and was again rated hands up the number one favorite of the night.

 

Brora 25 Year Old 1983 / 2008

56.3% ABV

Special Release Series Bottle #352 of 3000

NOSE:  Farmy and floral, burned butter, oranges.

TASTE:  Very herbal, smoky, citrus and bit briny.

FINISH:  Medium and little salty at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Diageo now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over and had me believing it was always something that Calgary had done and I don’t wanna live that way now, Brora you’re just a distillery that I used to know.

 

Brora 30 Year Old 1979 / 2009

53.2% ABV

Special Release Series Bottle #893 of 2652

NOSE:  Cherries and oranges, vanilla, candied fruit, sensuous smoke and a little farmy.

TASTE:  Liquorice, green apple tart, lemons.  Where did that complex nose go.

FINISH:  Medium to long and a little oaky at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  We love the peated malt so we keep waiting, waiting on the distillers to change it’s hard to be persistent, when we’re standing at a distance so we keep waiting, waiting on the distillers to change.

 

Brora 32 Year Old 1979 / 2011

54.7% ABV

Special Release Series  Bottle #1353 of 1500

NOSE:  Sweet cherries, lots-o-fruit, lemon and eucalyptus.  Farmy and grassy with infused smoky notes.

TASTE:  Very herbal, pepper and briny.  Citrus notes.  Oily and lots of tannins.  Lots of focused layers to be found on the palate.

FINISH:  Medium to long and a touch briny at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  There were times when I thought the Brora stocks would last for long but now I think they can’t carry on it’s been a long, a long time coming but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will and Brora will live on only in our memories.  Tied with the 21 year old as the second favorite of the night, although the 32 year old had more number 1&2 votes combined.

 

Brora 30 Year Old 1976 / 2007

57.5% ABV

Douglas Laing Old & Rare Platinum Bottle #63 of 109

NOSE:  Succulent ripe cherries, lemon & lime. Farmy and a little musty.

TASTE:  Black liquorice, delicate peat smoke and a bit briny.  Citrus notes and some raisin.  Waves of taste.

FINISH:  Medium to long. Little oaky at the end, although still very pleasant.

ASSESSMENT:  If the stocks of Brora were to leave here tomorrow, would you still remember the taste and if Brora were to reopen things just wouldn’t be the same cause this new Brora would be a different malt and this malt you shouldn’t change, lord knows it shouldn’t change.  Great showing for this malt and was rated a strong number four of the night.

 

– As always, your humble drudge, Maltmonster

 

A Calgarian went to see a judge in order to change his name.  The judge asked what his name was.  The man said, “My name is John Edmontonsucks.”

The judge says, “I can see why you want to change your name, but what do you want to change it to?”

……………………….“Michael Edmontonsucks”

 Posted by at 7:48 pm