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The 1983 Tasting Series #6: Brora

At last, the mighty Brora.

If you’re a follower of Serge over at Whiskyfun, you know that Brora occupies a spot somewhere near “holy sacrament” in his whisky preferences. It’s certainly in the upper echelon. I’ve had a fair number of whiskies from Brora and found them to be hit or miss – when they’re on, they are nearly unmatched; when they aren’t, they’re good-to-OK. In comparison to Port Ellen which is usually wildly consistent, Brora can be a crazy grab-bag. That’s what makes this fun, right?

Brora is an interesting distillery. It’s almost impossible to mention it without mentioning Clynelish – a sister distillery, and in fact, the name that the distillery we call Brora bore at one time. So: older Clynelish (mid-60s and prior) is actually what you’d see now as Brora; Clynelish from after that point is a separate building. Brora these days usually — but not always — implies that there will be a moderate-to-heavy peating level included.

A while back, K&L scored a pretty surprising coup in their 2011 Single Cask program when they had a 30 year old Brora bottled by Chieftain’s, from a first-fill sherry cask. I and many others jumped on this bottle almost immediately. It sold out long before arrival. K&L split the cask with Binny’s and Binny’s may have a few bottles left, but this one is fast disappearing.

I’d held my bottle aside for a special occasion, not knowing what it might be. When this closed distillery tasting came along, I suspected this may be the perfect occasion. This 1983 tasting has been conducted with some people who are not extremely experienced with Scotch whisky and I thought this would be a fun one to share – it reminds me of Sku’s generosity.

A couple years ago, on a fairly hot summer night, I had a really fun evening at Sku’s house. I’d met him a few weeks prior, and was getting my feet wet in the LA whiskey scene. He generously invited me over to his house, and even more generously opened a trio of Diageo Broras. He then went on to open so many other amazing bottles, and this has been indelibly stamped on my mind as the model for generosity that we should all aspire to. I had a lot of fun that night, tasting some all time favorites (Brora 30y 2007) and some all-time least-favorites (Usuikyou 1983). All in short supply, all generously shared. I hoped perhaps this tasting would let me pay that generosity forward in some way.

So, back to the Brora in question. K&L/Binny’s; 1981 distillation, 30 years. As dark as you’d want to see a whisky; gorgeously deep brown.

The nose had rich, full woody notes, with a light hint of oranges, and slight dust – kind of that “old study” quality (I guess with some oranges on the table). It was lightly earthy with fig and a hint of balsamic vinegar with a touch of molasses. The nose was intoxicating. I could just nose this whisky all day.

The palate was perfectly mouth-coating, with a sherry nuttiness and earthiness with plenty of wood. There was a slight quality of Kiwi shoe polish, some leather, and light sichuan peppercorn mouth-numbing heat. Cayenne pepper, figs, and molasses rounded it out with some faint peat in the background.

The finish had tons of dried fruits, pepper, and wood. There was a really nice apple skin note on the background, almost tangibly from a fresh Fuji apple. There was the slightest hint of rubbery quality but it worked so well.

This was one of the most phenomenal Broras I’ve ever had, with a fabulous cask influence and a luxurious mouthfeel.

Now, to step back briefly. I had a sample of this one quite early on, and it had received quite a bit of air in the sample bottle. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it at the time, and I thought it had more than a bit of wood to it – to the point that I’d dismissed it as being somewhat overoaked. The fresh bottle experience is quite different and on a shortlist of favorites. In all honesty, given the data points, I’d expect this one to have the potential to oxidize to something unpleasant. I’d suggest if you have a bottle of this or come across it (like I said, Binny’s may have a few but the K&L ones are long gone), you might want to consume it quickly – better yet, share with many friends. If those are not options, you should definitely consider gassing it with Private Preserve.

As I finished my whisky, I thought, “boy, there’s part of me that wishes I hadn’t shared this and kept it to myself”. I’m still reminded of the generosity of Sku sharing his great whisky with me and that makes me feel better about spreading the love on this one. That said, you better believe I called to try and secure more of this.

Most surprisingly, and this is largely a story for another time, I had the privilege of scratching one of my “bucket list” of drams off this weekend – Brorageddon. Brorageddon is an absolutely fantastic and almost impossibly dense and nuanced whisky. And yet – I think I might prefer this barrel pick. Write me off as a dilettante or a no-palate feeb; but I really loved this. If you can find some, you should absolutely try it. As with all of the 1983′s, these are vanishing fast now.

At a glance:

Brora 1981 Chieftain’s 30y for K&L & Binny’s, 1981 #1523, 54.6%
Nose:  Rich wood, light hint of oranges, slightly dusty. Lightly earthy, a little hint of fig and a faint hint of balsamic vinegar. A touch of molasses.
Palate:  Mouth-coating, beautifully nutty and earthy with plenty of wood. A little hint of kiwi shoe polish, a touch of leather, some light sichuan peppercorn and cayenne pepper. Lightly figgy and a touch of molasses. Very faint peat in the background.
Finish:  Nice. Dried fruits, some pepper, plenty of wood. Some really nice apple skin on the finish too. Slightest rubbery hints in a good way.
Comment:  Really excellent. Perfect cask influence. Just beautiful. One of the best Broras I’ve ever had.
Rating: A-