Friday, July 19, 2024

Lightly Peated

Whisky, Blabber 'n' Smoke

BlabberDistillery Visits

Clynelish And Its Child

“The tramp was big and squarely built, and he walked with the rolling stride of the long road, his steps too big for the little streets of the little town. Shivering in his thin coat, he passed aimlessly through the crowd while rosy-faced Christmas shoppers quickened their steps and moved to give him room.
The sound of music made him stop at a toyshop where the door, continually swinging open and shut in a moving stream of people, jangled its bell and sent warm air and Christmas carls out into the street … He put his face close to the window, and looking past the toys there, peered into the shop … As the tramp watched, the saleslady opened a box and took out two toy mice, a large one and a small one, who stood upright with outstretched arms and joined hands. They wore blue velveteen trousers and patent leather shoes, and they had glass-bead eyes, white thread whiskers and black rubber tails. When the saleslady wound the key in the mouse father’s back he danced in a circle swinging his little son up off the counter and down again while the children laughed and reached out to touch them. Around and around the danced gravely, and more and more slowly as the spring unwound, until the mouse father came to a stop holding the child high in his upraised arms.
The saleslady looking up as she wound the toy again saw the tramp’s whiskered, staring, face on the other side of the glass. She pursed her mouth and looked away, and the tramp turned from the window back to the street. The grey sky had begun to let down its snow, and the ragged man stood in the middle of the pavement while the soft flakes fell around him and people quick-stepped past him.
Then, with his big broken shoes printing his footsteps in the fresh snow, he solemnly danced in a circle, swinging his empty arms up and down. A little black-and-white spotted dog sat down to look at him and for a moment the man and the dog were the only tow creatures on the street not moving in a fixed direction. People laughed, shook their heads and hurried on. The tramp stopped with arms upraised. He then lowered his head, jammed his hands into his pockets, and lurched away”

That is the opening The Mouse and His Child  by Russell Hoban(http://www.russellhoban.org/title/the-mouse-and-his-child). When I think about Brora I think of a face pressed against a shop window, looking at the wonderful things inside but being unable to enter. I am that tramp, I can imagine what the whisky might be like but I will never get close enough to know. The latest Diageo Special Release is available for a modest £1,450 and it is beyond the realm of any possibility that I could buy or even taste the contents of a bottle. It is a different whisky world, one of myth and scarcity.

I might not be able to touch but at least I can visit and instead of pressing my face to a shop window, look at its source. Here I find that the luxury price is not a reflected in the look of the buildings.  The entrance is like a 1960s terrace – not the stuff of legend. If you look to the left you can see the 1968 distillery and to the right, past the warehouses is the old distillery, which, after it was superseded was given the name Brora. The mid Twentieth Century building was designed by in-house architects led by George Leslie Darge and you can see the similarity with another SMD project at Coal Ila. It is perfectly fine, perfectly functional but is a house style and is of its era. The old building is just that – old. But the fun comes when you get close and you see that it is being propped up. There is a strange form of preservation going on. Nothing is being done to refurbish or make right, it is just being held in place and the stills that have not been used in 26 years stand dusty and untouched. It is beyond possibility that they could be brought back to life – things have gone too far but they stand there. We can go in and look at them from behind a pane of glass but they have no purpose other than to decay. They are the undead.

Being there is half way between being in a museum like Dallas Dhu, which is there to tell a story, and going round a working distillery. You are really looking at a piece of industrial archeology that is evidence for a story which elevates a good whisky and forces up the price. It is a mixture of romance and ghosts – and so much of whisky appreciation is a matter of romance and ghosts. When we drink we internalise the images and mix them with the direct evidence of our senses, and each of us in our own way is wanting to touch, taste, ingest some sort of magic.

The Brora story mixes the fact of closure – so there can be no more, with an act of  transformation. The initial plan had been for a new distillery to built, alongside the old, as a straight replacement to replicate the character of what was, but just make more of it. Indeed, for a short time the plan was followed and the old distillery was closed. But there was a drought in Islay in 1968, which stopped production at Port Ellen, and then the  Coal Ila was knocked down in 1972 to be re-built. So there was shortage of the peated whisky needed for the increasingly popular Johnny Walker. Something had to be done. The old Clynelish plant was available and so it was dusted down, fired up and commissioned to produce a replacement peated whisky. To avoid confusion the old distillery/new whisky was named Brora, after the village (whilst Clynelish comes from the fact that Brora is in the parish of Clyne). So a new type of whisky was produced (with varying degrees of peat) from 1969 to 1983. 14 years of atypical whisky is exactly the sort of thing to get collectors excited.

But, I think, dwelling on this period does a disservice to the fact that Clynelish has had a good reputation for a very long time. Dave Broom, in the ‘World Atlas of Whisky’ states that it was at one time the most expensive of malts. (I don’t know the source of this information, the years, the merchants, or how this was established – I will  have to research further as it could be interesting to see a history of comparative prices). But there is  evidence of its reputation from two pre-war books. In ‘Notes on a Cellar Book’, in 1921, George Saintsbury named Clynelish (he wrote it Clyne Lish) was one of a small number of his staple whiskies. He also reported that an Oxford friend of his thought that a blend of Clynelish and Glenlivet was the finest whisky he had tasted. In 1930 Aeneas MacDonald wrote his famous book about whisky where he says: “Sutherland has a distillery at Brora were the famous Clynelish is made.” From this I would guess that Clynelish as a single malt had more renown before the war than it has had more recently (probably because of its value for blends and the fact that it has never been pushed with a big range of official bottlings). I think this makes it even more intriguing indian viagra 50mg.

What the pre 69 Brora was like I do not know. My guess is that as they went to a lot of trouble to replicate the flavour in the new distillery and they were happy with the job, it must have tasted something like what we now know today. What the post 69 Brora tastes like – again I don’t know. It is too rich for me to try. So again I return to the image at the top of this piece. I visit the distillery and I look around but I am the tramp, at Christmas time, looking into the toyshop window. I can see but I can’t get too close

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