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The history of Clynelish is intertwined with that of its older brother and site neighbour, which was closed in 1983. Today, this silent distillery is known as Brora, but was previously called Clynelish or Old Clynelish, prompting some confusion over the decades. We’ll try to keep things simple in this overview of the newer distillery that is situated on the outskirts of the coastal town of Brora in Sutherland.
Visitors to Clynelish are welcomed by a new visitor centre and the distillery itself has been out of action since 2016, undergoing its first refit since it was founded in 1967, at a cost of around £30 million pounds. Clynelish is currently being modernised with no actual changes to the distillery apart from a biomass plant. When it comes back online by spring 2017 everything should be as it was previously including the shape of the stills, but the problems experienced by the production staff running the distillery should be minimised, as Clynelish was beginning to show its age. The defining character of the Clynelish whisky is its waxiness that is believed to come about due to a build-up of residue, or something along those lines, during the distillation process involving the feints receiver. The current belief is when the new stills start producing in 2017; it won’t taste like Clynelish and nor will it for a few months at least, until its character is revived.
The distillery does offer a warm welcome for those who make the trek along the A9 to its remote location. With Brora standing across the road it offers a stark contrast to the more modern Clynelish and it is possible to tour Brora today. The distilleries share the same site and many facilities including its atmospheric stone built warehouses, with the original Brora filling station next door to that used by Clynelish today. The option to tour both is recommended, as is the exclusive tasting option to try whiskies these distilleries.
Clynelish enjoys a widespread following amongst whisky enthusiasts for its complex aromas including a hint of smoke and that legendary waxiness, whilst the palate offers more honey and citrus notes and spices. The classic official bottling is the 14-year-old expression and visitors to the distillery are able to purchase an exclusive younger bottling with a higher alcohol strength. Diageo have also released a couple of No Age Statement bottling’s of Clynelish in recent years that have met with a mixed reception as part of their annual Special Releases programme. The whisky is also an important component of Johnnie Walker Gold and other entries in the universally popular Walker series. It is also sought after by independent bottlers, most notably Compass Box with John Glaser being a particular fan of the qualities it offers.
Clynelish was built by Scottish Malt Distillers in 1968 and almost immediately replaced Brora. In capacity terms it was larger and more efficient, but used replicas of the Brora stills themselves. It was constructed to meet the growing demand for blended whiskies and component stock, with its initial output licensed to Ainslie & Heilbron who bottled various blends including Ainslie’s Scotch whisky. Its history is fairly unremarkable with Brora grabbing all of the headlines and even to this day it remains in the shadow of its more famous relative in more ways than one. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that an official single malt was released as part of Diageo’s Flora & Fauna range to showcase relatively unknown distilleries within its portfolio. Perhaps after this, Diageo realised that Clynelish warranted further attention with the debut of the classic 14-year-old expression that we know today, a very limited bottling as part of its short-lived Rare Malts range and an Oloroso finished Distiller’s Edition have subsequently been released.
Prior to the 2016 refurbishment, Clynelish was capable of producing around 4.8 million litres annually from its 6 stills and was working 7 days a week to meet demand. With Johnnie Walker continuing to enjoy international success, Diageo will have withheld stock to meet blending requirements whilst they await the distillery coming back online. This may mean less independent bottling’s of Clynelish in the coming years and a recent visit to the distillery confirmed that it has several thousand casks maturing on site with more being held centrally; just in case that waxiness proves a little more elusive to rediscover than first thought. Only time will tell is the post-2016 Clynelish lives up to the legacy of this widely respected distillery.
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