It's still winter in Speyside
Nor is it any closer to Spring up in the Highlands, where our Speyside tour led us next. Admittedly, this one got away from us a bit; at first we only thought to nip over to Glen Ord but of course Glenmorangie's just up the road.... Anyway sure enough we spent the afternoon at Clynelish.
This is a distillery I'd wanted to visit for some time but just hadn't managed to make the trip up there (being a good two hour drive from Speyside, especially in lashing rain). Fortunately by the time we reached our destination the sun had broken through the clouds. Despite not receiving as many visitors as they might further south, the grounds of Clynelish are very well kept and it's an impressive and dramatic setting on the coast of the North Sea.
Perhaps not the most prominent of single malt brands, Clynelish is nonetheless of significance to the world of whisky for its importance to blending, being a significant component of Johnny Walker expressions (sure enough, marketing material for the new ‘White Walker’ label was prominent, but we won’t go into that…) A part of the Diageo family, the character of the spirit and its consistency is of particular importance. Clynelish produces an excellent and distinct single malt, known for it’s waxy aromas; this is in fact its designation within the Diageo classification system, as opposed to ‘fruity’, ‘grassy’, etc.
We discussed this during our visit and learned of the effort that goes i to maintaining this quality. A number of production aspects contribute; the fermentation is kept long following the production of clear worts, laying the foundation for a light and fruity spirit. The waxiness is enhanced as the condensed spirit makes its way to the receiver along lines that are not cleaned to the fullest extent for just this reason. The fusel oils that separate out at the end of the distilling process are usually removed during a distillery’s silent season, when production is halted for full cleaning and maintenance. There was a sudden drop in the spirit’s waxy character when this was last performed, so now this oily material is left alone to work its magic on the spirit.
Of course, we didn’t drive all that way North just to visit Clynelish. Just across the road is the sister site to Clynelish and one of great significance to whisky lovers: Brora. Mothballed in 1983, this is the home of a whisky that has now achieved huge popularity as well as auction results (seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with the name give it a quick Google). Brora was in fact the original Clynelish distillery, built in the 19thcentury during the Clearances, when crofters were evicted from their Highland homes to make way for more profitable ventures by the likes of the Duke of Sutherland.
It became a part of DCL (now Diageo) in 1925 and is still owned by the spirits giant. They constructed a new facility in ’68, which is the Clynelish we know today. The original site continued to produce spirit for blending, briefly under the guise of ‘site B’ before being renamed ‘Brora. While Islay was experiencing production problems, Brora was able to create a heavily peated spirit to fill the gaps in the company’s blending portfolio; this individuality is what makes Brora so sought-after today.
This may seem like ancient history now, but as you may well already know Diageo confirmed rumblings of rumour within the industry by announcing the revival of Brora, which naturally prompted this little Single Cask Sojourn. As is our luck, we arrived just a couple of days after the removal of Brora’s stills; they are currently at the Abercrombie facility for some much needed care and attention. Indeed, the whole site was bustling with activity and we can’t wait to visit again soon with the Dram Drone to see how work is progressing...