This week, Diageo shocked the world with the news that both Brora and Port Ellen distilleries would be up and running again in 2020, after a multi-million financial injection in this ‘project’, refurbishing the stills and upgrading the distilleries. A visitors center? We have to keep in mind though, that even under the same name, the whisky probably won’t be the same. So the old stuff will increase in price, while the new stuff… we’ll just have to wait and see. ##
Back in the day these distilleries were closed for a reason. It just wasn’t that good. After a long maturation the rawness and defects were polished away and these whiskies became suburb drams. Most of them became unaffordable for most people and some of them became legendary, like the 1977 Rare Malts edition (also released by Diageo). These whiskies were also released consecutively for the Diageo Special releases series. I love these specials, some releases score high in the 90s rates in international reviews.
Last month Diageo released its specials for this year at their special releases event in Amsterdam and I was granted the opportunity to taste the Brora 2017 and the 2016 version back to back.
Are you wondering what my take is on these babies?
Brora 2016 Special Release 37 years old 50.4%
Nose: Peated tones this is Brora! I love the maritime notes in the nose, silty tones and lots oysters. I love oysters. This reminds me of the oysters I eat annually at the Feis Ile festival at the Lagavulin stand….this pure love in a dram!
Mouth: Oomph…wow! This has the oyster fest dancing around in the mouthfeel mixed with some liquorish and silty tones. I love this…this is what we Brora fans long for, for sure.
Finish: Dry and very lingering and little sweet oyster finish!
Balance: This is a very well balanced dram for sure and in complexity it hauls in a big score. Those oysters are just top notch and this makes this dram so much interesting. Those Brora’s from the seventies are just suburb!
After this delicious dram let’s see what the 2017 release brings us.
Brora 2017 Special Release 34 Years Old 51.9%
Nose: Lightly peated and almost creamy tones. It has some fruity flavors like apricot and bananas mixed with some butterscotch.
Mouth: I’m missing the ‘oomph’ factor here. It’s a little peated accompanied by some barley notes. The fruit notes mentioned earlier are there, but just not as much as in the nose. It’s more the typical bourbon style bananas.
Finish: A long licorice finish, maybe more like laurel?
Ballance: The balance is not as expected but the finish is very complex.
Conclusion: The 2016 was so much more Brora than this year’s release. Okay, it has a minor age difference, but the overall style is different. I have been tasting them back to back and I can only conclude that the overall quality was so much better in the 2016 special release. I loved the oysters, the maritime notes, the raw and robustness… the peated notes and everything that Brora stands for is in there. This is a winner by far, no doubt about it. Not that the 2017 is a bad whisky, not at all. The 2017 is just not the Brora profile that brings tears to my eyes from longing for more. It was more a lightly peated version of a good Clynelish!
Personally, I would prefer the older Broras from the seventies over any dram from the decade after that. The seventies decade was overall very good for the Brora distillery. The style is very different, unlike anything you have tasted before. I have tasted quite a few drams of the 70’s in my days and all of them reveal their supremacy in its make. The prices for these rare gems will increase majorly the next few years, no doubt about that. If you have the chance to purchase one, you should! And if I may speak on Diageo’s behalf; let’s give Diageo a fair chance to show us their new releases from these legendary distilleries. After all it’s just a question of whether you like it or not. Let the drams speak for themselves and not the media biases. I’m no Uri Geller or fortune teller here, but I would prefer affordable drams for the masses over unaffordable releases for the happy few.
Blog by Nils van Rijn
Whisky Specialist for Best of Whiskies.