Clynelish is a lesser-known Highland Scotch whisky producer with a cult following and fascinating history that is intertwined with the highly coveted and once-lost Brora Distillery.
Clynelish was built at the height of the whisky boom in 1967 after its owners decided their existing distillery, located next door, was not large or modern enough to meet the current demands for blends. The original 19th century distillery, named Clynelish, was mothballed for two years and reopened in 1969, when it operated in tandem with the new distillery under the same name. In 1975, legislation forced the owners to change the name of one of the distilleries and the older of the two became Brora.
In the early years of production, before Brora was built, Clynelish – which means “slope of the garden” – produced a very distinctive, waxy new-make spirit. Traditionally, these characteristics were produced by the unique production process at the distillery and a piece of equipment scarcely discussed – the low wines and feints receiver. A thick, oily residue, deemed undesirable by most distilleries, builds up in this storage vessel between distillations and is normally cleaned out once a week. Clynelish, however, opted to only clean this out once a year, resulting in a much oilier and waxier distilled spirit. Today, changes in production method have reduced this trademark style but it is still prominent in the spirit.
During the late 1960s and early ’70s, both Clynelish and Brora – as it would be known – produced heavily peated malt. Bottlings from this time until 1983, when Brora fell victim to the whisky loch and fell silent, are highly collectable.
Today, approximately 95% of Clynelish’s five-million-litre annual production goes into blends, the most famous of which is Johnnie Walker – a partnership which dates back to the early 20th century. The majority of the whisky produced is aged in ex-Bourbon casks. Clynelish also makes a 14-year-old single malt.
Old Clynelish bottlings are astonishingly rare. Diageo’s series, including the likes of Flora and Fauna, The Rare Malts and Special Releases, have becoming incredibly collectable. There are also some highly desirable independent bottlings.
Clynelish’s character is robustly distinctive with aromas of scented wax and heather.