Brora is one of the holy trinity of lost Scotch whisky distilleries that has since been reawakened.
Brora distillery – or Clynelish as it was originally known – was established in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford, later the Duke of Sutherland, as part of his controversial Highland Clearances to evict 15,000 tenants by force to make way for sheep.
In 1896, blenders James Ainslie & Co and John Risk (formerly of the Bankier Distillery) acquired the distillery, located on the eastern coast of Sutherland in the Highlands. After extensive rebuilding, and near bankruptcy, the distillery was sold to Scottish Malt Distillers (which was later absorbed into Distillers Company Limited) in 1930. One year later, the distillery was mothballed and remained closed for seven years. After reopening in 1938, the distillery was forced to close again from 1941 to 1945 due to wartime barley restrictions.
In 1967, at the height of the whisky boom, a second larger distillery was built alongside the original. The new distillery was given the name Clynelish and the older distillery was mothballed for two years, before it reopened and the two operated in tandem – both using the name Clynelish. In 1975, legislation forced the owners to change the name of one of the distilleries – the older of the two became Brora, which means “bridge” in Norse.
During the late 1960s and early ’70s, the two distilleries produced heavily peated malt while others struggled to produce peated whisky. Many believe this time until the distillery’s closure in 1983 is the most exciting in its distilling history. There are some remarkable official and independent bottlings from the early 1970s as part of the Rare Malts series and Douglas Laing & Co’s whiskies.
Sadly, Brora was a casualty of the 1980s whisky loch and closed its doors in 1983. In the years that followed, Brora has become one of the most highly sought-after Scotch whiskies. Some of the most expensive bottles ever sold have included the 40-year-old Brora bottlings from 1972 which have sold for upwards of £26,000.
In 2017, Diageo announced that it would bring the Brora distillery back to life as part of a £35 million investment in the rebirth of two lost legends: Brora in the Highlands and Port Ellen on Islay.
Five years later, after demolishing and faithfully restoring the 202-year-old stillhouse, and refurbishing the original two copper pot stills, new-make ran from Brora once more. The distillery is capable of producing 800,000 litres of spirit each year, making it one of the smallest distilleries in Diageo’s extensive portfolio.
The same year (2021), three of the rarest bottlings from Brora, including the oldest public release, were released as part of the Triptych Collection. Only 300 sets of the Brora Elusive Legacy 1972 (48 Year Old), Brora Age of Peat 1977 (43 Year Old) and Brora Timeless Original 1982 (38 Year Old) were available for £30,000 each.
Brora’s original whisky profile was fruity, earthy and coastal with peat smoke.