Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Three Old Broras

Wow! Today I review Broras, and not just one Brora, but three Broras. I feel like Serge over at Whiskyfun. Maybe I should start including concert reviews.

Why Brora and why now? Well, it's depressing economic times, so I decided to reach back into my closet for some of the most expensive stuff I own. Consider it a sort of goodbye to the luxuries we may not be able to enjoy for a while.

To the uninitiated and unobsessed, Brora is one of the fabled shuttered distilleries of Scotland. Opened by the Clynelish distillery in order to produce a more peated malt, Brora operated only from 1969 to 1983, and the peating level became lower in the '80s. Now, Brora is an obsession with malt-heads and collectors. Among the shuttered distilleries, only Port Ellen rivals its popularity, which is pretty impressive for a distillery that was around for less than fifteen years.

Most Brora on the market is from indie bottlers. Diageo, which owns Clynelish, inherited the old stock of Brora and annually releases some as part of what it used to call its Rare Malts series; they usually make it to the US just in time for Christmas. Today, I'll be trying two indie bottlings (both by Douglas Laing and one of the Diageo releases.

Since the distillery closed 25 years ago, all Brora is old Brora. And, as a corollary, all Brora is expensive. The cheapest one I've seen was about $165 and the Diageo bottlings go for $375 to $400.

Could Brora possibly be worth the hype? I tried a Signatory Brora years ago and found it fairly unexciting. When a whiskey makes it big on the collector's market, it's hard to tell how much of its popularity has to do with flavor and how much has to do with scarcity. On the other hand, I love Clynelish, so I'm excited to see what these three are like.

None of these bottlings uses artificial color or chill filtering.


1. Douglas Laing's Premier Barrel Brora, 23 years old, single cask, sherry cask matured, 46% alcohol ($214.95).

I'm not sure if the kitschy look of the Premier Barrel series of Douglas , with its ceramic bottle, is intended to be tongue in cheek or not, but it certainly is interesting. (The series also includes bottlings of Port Ellen, Springbank and Macallan). The bottle text is full of playful alliteration. To wit, the Brora is described as:

Prodigiously provisioned to purveyors and proprietors of probity, for an absolute appreciation in abundance. It is ablaze with abiding acceptability within this dazzlingly delicious delectation of the delightful distillate!

Okay, I suppose it is tongue in cheek, but how does it taste? Good. Rich, malty, woody, with that Northern Highlands ruggedness and a bit of sweetness and vanilla as well. The smoke comes out late in the palate and a bit on the finish. Very similar to a Clynelish, but much more expensive, so I can't say that it is worth the price tag.

2. Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask Brora, 23 years old, distilled 1982/bottled 2005, single cask, 50% alcohol ($193.95).

Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask is a reliable independent bottling series. They are all non-chill filtered with no artificial coloring and all are bottled at 50% abv.

This one is pure and powerful. Syrupy sweet at first with fruit, then smoky. The flavor is more pronounced than the Premier Barrel version, both in the sweetness and the smoke.

3. Brora Official Release, 30 years old, bottled in 2007, cask strength, 55.7% alcohol ($374.99).

This is both the only Diageo bottling of Brora I've tasted and the only Brora from the 1970s I've tasted. Seventies Broras have the reputation as being peatier than those bottled in the '80s and are much sought after.

Wow! Huge flavor. Dense with smoke, this is far peatier than its brethren. It is more akin to a southern Islay...in a blind tasting, I'd probably guess Lagavulin. Water produces a beautiful nose, hearkening back to Clynelish again, and additional flavors of evergreen and other woodsy things.

This is a truly wonderful whiskey. The good news is that now I get what all the fuss is about. The bad news is, it will cost you.

Next Wednesday: Islay Lite

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