Founded in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford, later the much reviled Duke of Sutherland, the distillery at Brora provided his Grace with a valuable rental stream. It also furnished the tenant farmers with a steady outlet for their golden barley. The actual name of the distillery, Clynelish, is a clear indication of the agricultural richness of this east coast strip of Scotland, meaning sloped garden. The local climate is enhanced by the warm Atlantic currents brought ashore on the Gulf Stream Drift. Today Brora is a resort famous for fishing, golf and whisky.
The history of Clynelish distillery was fairly straight forward until 1967, when a new complex was built to distil the Clynelish spirit. The product of the existing distillery was then bottled as Brora, before closing down in 1983. New spirit from the new distillery was casked in 1969 and the close proximity to the sea has certainly imparted a salinity to the finished product. For a long time Clynelish has been enjoyed by connoisseurs and is now developing an almost cult following. Clynelish malts are also surprisingly peatier than other Highland whiskies. The 14 year old single malt is bottled at 43% alcohol by volume and has a luscious, complex flavour, with a long, delightfully bitter finish. Dark chocolate has been mentioned. So has mustard.
The atmosphere and the oak casks, two of the five natural ingredients used to produce malt whisky, come into play in this corner of Sutherland. The oak timber, which grew for more than a century, all the while breathing for the planet, is conjured over three years into wooden casks. From this point on, the barrels will breathe for the whisky developing within. Not only does the magic of the wood, but the previous contents of the cask, play a tremendous part in the maturation of the spirit. Both flavour and colour will be imparted to the whisky. Re-cycled bourbon barrels and sherry butts are brought to Clynelish for this purpose. The whisky is bonded both at Clynelish and at the now closed Brora distillery.
The Barley, entirely harvested around the fertile north-east, is malted at Glen Ord, in Ross-shire. Even though the grain is malted without any peat being used, there is a smokiness carried through to the Clynelish whisky. This must come from the soft, peat-laden water the distillery takes out of the Clynemilton Burn. The barley, water and peat are fused by the mashing, fermenting and distilling processes, the new spirit finally condensed from a spirit still somewhat larger than the initial wash still. That, in its self, is rather unusual. After the essential period of maturation in the casks, the Clynelish whisky is bottled at Leven, Fife. There is a range of single malt Clynelish expressions, some marketed by independent bottlers. Most, however, goes for blending, especially into Diageo's Johnny Walker range. Now that, at the moment, is a very emotive issue.