Brora, Scotland: Highlands Region

The story of Clynelish Distillery is in fact the story of two distilleries. The original distillery was built in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford (who later became the first Duke of Sutherland) in order to provide a ready market for the barley grown by his tenant farmers.

Sounds sweet, doesn’t it? What a nice landlord, looking after his tenants like that. Nope. Sorry. Dear ol’ Marquis Marq and his funky bunch were in fact responsible for what is known as the Highland Clearances – the forcible eviction of about 15 000 crofters from their land. The reason? The soon-to-be Dukey needed the land for sheep so that he could supply the booming wool industry.

Many of these crofters moved to the coastal areas, where they eked out a living farming barley. In an effort to increase their income, the farmers also set up or supplied illicit stills. Our friend the Marquis wasn’t having any of that, and built Clynelish Distillery instead as a legal market for the farmers’ produce (and a cash cow for himself).

Indeed, the whisky produced at this distilley was held in extremely high regard, and sold only to private customers until the turn of the century. At that point, a change in ownership led to expansion of the production facilities and retailing of the whisky to trade customers. The whisky was marketed as “The Finest Highland Malt” and was sold at premium prices.

In 1967, the distillery discovered the benefits of that new-fangled modern invention known as electricity, leading the company to build a larger more up-to-date facility right next door to the old one. For a time, both distilleries were referred to as Clynelish (A and B), but the old one was eventually renamed Brora.

While the new distillery continued to produce the light and fruity single malt so prized by its customers, Brora began production of a heavily peated malt. This change in direction for the old distillery was necessitated by the temporary closure of Caol Ila, an Islay distillery also owned by the same company at the time. Brora stepped in to pick up Caol Ila’s production and ensure continuous supply of the market for the peaty malt. Unfortunately, as an “extra” distillery, Brora was one of the casualties of the recession in the 1980s, closing its doors in 1983. Its buildings are now used as warehouses for Clynelish.

Today, Clynelish is one of Diageo’s Classic Malts, although only about 1% of the distillery’s production ends up as a single malt. The rest plays a large part in the Johnny Walker Gold Label blend. Kind of appropriate given that the distillery’s water source (Clynemilton Burn) was at the heart of the Scottish gold rush of the 1800s. If you visit Clynelish to taste their “liquid gold” you may want to take the time to get yourself a permit to pan for gold while you’re there. Yes, there is still gold in them thar rivers, enough that a couple was fairly recently able to make themselves wedding rings from what they found!

General Tasting Notes

Clynelish Whisky Distillery Tasting Notes

Clynelish Whisky Distillery Tasting Notes

Specific Tasting Notes

Clynelish Distiller’s Edition 1992:

This is double matured in Olaroso Seco sherry casks, so it’s no surprise that a sweet sherry flavour comes through in this whisky. There’s also a gentle spiciness, reminiscent of Christmas cake – cloves, raisins, dried orange peel, and cherries. And, if you close your eyes and breathe deeply, there’s a hint of the sea as a reminder of the distillery’s coastal position.

After reading all about the Clynelish distillery, we bet you’re curious to taste their whisky – click here to buy a bottle of Clynelish now!

Distillery Contact Information

Address: Brora, Sutherland, KW9 6LB


Tel: +44 (0)1408 62 3000

Fax: +44 (0)1408 62 3004

Tours: All year, though opening times are restricted during winter, and the distillery is closed over the festive season. Tours cost GBP4.00 per person (though this gives you a voucher which is redeemable in the gift shop towards a bottle of whisky).

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