It’s easy to look at the 1983 closures and say they were an unfortunate necessity, or perhaps (as I read elsewhere recently) an overreaction to a slump in the sector. However, that misses one point worth considering. DCL did the world a favor when it closed today’s distillery – variably known as North Port or Brechin. (Since our bottle for the day calls it Brechin and that’s shorter, that will be the preferred nomenclature). It’s easy to look back and say, “boy, it’s a shame there’s no more Port Ellen”, or “Clynelish is good but not quite Brora”. But Brechin? Good riddance – in my opinion.
This is not my first Brechin. When I started getting into closed distilleries, Brechin was one of the earliest purchases I made. I wasn’t too impressed. At the time, I thought that bottle (a Connoisseur’s Choice edition) may have just been underwhelming. I’ve also managed to sample a Duncan Taylor Rarest, which normally is a satisfying label, and the whisky was just all alcohol fumes and indistinct, generic woodiness. That’s why I was excited when I found an Old Malt Cask edition of Brechin. OMC bottles are generally solid to quite good, and I can’t think of one in memory that has disappointed. This Brechin was also a little darker than others, so it seemed like perhaps there would be some sherry in the mix – as well as, I’d hoped, some flavor beyond “inert cask” and ethanol.
However, as I was pouring out samples of this one, I got a couple whiffs that made me wonder what this held. It wasn’t that it was overtly bad, there was just something different than the smells I tend to associate with a nice, well-aged older whisky. For weeks, Brechin sat on the bar, glaring back at me like some sort of whisky eye of Sauron; some sort of atavistic evil scarcely contained in a Boston Round.
When the time came, I poured the Brechin into my glass and prepared to take my notes. I had a feeling this was going to be interesting, but the OMC label kept me helpful.
The nose was bizarre out of the gate – distinctly watery, with this kind of burnt hair meets barbicide note. There was a woody tone to it, but it was unplaceably funky. Plastic, solvent, and some kind of lower key overripe fruit notes. And yes, that capstone quality for any whisky: a hint of garbage.
Well… that’s certainly tempting. In the name of science, I guess it’s time to find out how it tastes.
There’s a weird mixture of bitterness and sweetness. Plastic, apple cores, and burnt hair. With time, it also starts to get hot. And that’s about all there is to say. The finish is hot and uneven with more apple cores and plastic.
In an act of pure optimism, I decided to see how it changed. The nose actually has an intensification of the burnt hair and plastic with water. It stays around for the palate, though there’s some woody fruitiness and faint pepper. The finish settles down a bit but is still identifiably “off”.
This, to me, was flawed in the extreme. It reminded me of a Duncan Taylor bottle of Glen Elgin I’d had recently that had the same burned hair quality. I don’t know if it’s a specific cask flaw or taint that I’m picking up on, but it’s a flavor that jumps out at me when it’s present and is just foul.
For me, this puts my experience with Brechin at 0 for 3. At this point I think I’d be happy to see Brechin fade into the mists of time like some of the lesser-remembered Tom Hanks movies. Apparently there are some OK ones – Serge scored two in the low 90s; but the Whisky Monitor shows nothing scoring higher than 86 in aggregate. LAWS scores them low as well, though it looks like the 23y Rare Malts release from several years back was the best of the bunch. That’s only going to show up at auction of course.
If you’re not sure if you’ve gotta collect ‘em all, I’d urge you to start with skipping Brechin.
Interestingly, the rest of the tasting group likes this one better than I did, so perhaps I am sensitive to something on this.
At a glance:
Brechin (North Port) 1976 Old Malt Cask – 28y 50% ABV
Nose: Watery with burnt hair, kind of a funky off note from the wood too. Plastic, a little solvent, some low grade overripe fruit. A faint hint of garbage. Water brings the burnt hair and plastic notes up.
Palate: A weird mix of bitter and slightly sweet; a little bit of plastic, apple cores, that burnt hair note. Hot with time. Water keeps a burnt hair taste and brings a little woody fruit notes up with some faint pepper.
Finish: Hot and uneven, a little old apple core, a bit of the plastic quality again. Water helps this by taming some of the more objectionable notes, but it’s still off.
Comment: Flawed in the extreme; this is very reminiscent of a DT Glen Elgin that had a lot of the same burned hair/plastic notes. Has to be some sort of a cask flaw or taint; it’s pretty foul. The search for an acceptable Brechin continues.