Visit report from a short trip to Scotland
After almost ten years of research and having completed the first draft of my second book, it was time to visit another time the Diageo Archives in Menstrie, to take some last photographs of the Brora distillery and to have a discussion with S.S. to clarify details about the history of the distillery.
The Diageo Archives
The Diageo Archives are located at Menstrie, on the site of the former Glenochil distillery, just beside the International Supply Technical centre. In 2014, £1.5 mio has been invested in the Archives, in order to increase the number of warehouses from 1 to 3 and to add meeting rooms and an exhibition hall for the education of the worldwide Diageo employees and to display the heritage from the Company. Over 4000 bottles were on display, mainly malts and blends, but also of gin and other spirits.
|The new "Library" at the Diageo Archives in Menstries|
The Archives are supporting the other functions of the company. External visitors are allowed to consult the archives by appointment only and after completion of a confidential agreement.
At my first visit, the number of archives from the Clynelish (old) distillery I could consult was limited and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a table full of boxes related to the distillery this time.
|Boxes of archives associated with the old Clynelish distillery at the Diageo Archives|
After a full day of continuous work going through the archives, I drove straight to Dornoch and to enjoy a pleasant night at the excellent Dornoch Castle, after a good dinner at the Rosette restaurant and a long stay at the bar!
|Part of the whisky selection at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar|
The selection of whiskies at the bar was very good, with a nice range of blended and malt whiskies, ranging from a few pounds to £150 for a 1940 Macallan. The first whisky, tasted blind, was an excellent peated malt, dirty, slightly salty, on old mineral sherry influence and dark chocolate, without any rubbery influence. Well, it turned out to the famous “Solera” Springbank bottled by Phil and Simon Thomson containing some old Springbank, including some of 1954. Well done! Afterwards, I opted for the Brora 1976 Gordon & MacPhail, a nicely peaty and farmy expression of Brora, with pleasant spicy flavours. Intense and complex. I also took the last sample bottle of Linkwood 1970 Private Bottling from Gordon & MacPhail and one of the last sample bottles from the Brora 1982 13 YO from Cadenhead’s. The old Glen Grant 10 YO 70 Proof was a rather peated and complex old fashioned whisky, with a rather mineral sherry influence, on cocoa and tangerine. Finally, I enjoyed a 14 YO Royal Brackla distilled in 1969 and bottled by Gordon & MacPhail. Another very good whisky, spicy, lightly to moderately peated, with some old wet wood, honey, light floral notes and a nice mild sherry influence, with some cocoa and tangerine.
|Some of the whiskies from the night at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar|
The evening was not only spent at eating and drinking whisky, but talking about whisky as well, in particular about the Dornoch distillery. The distillery will be equipped with pot stills, but as well as with a column still in order to produce gin. Permission should be granted very shortly. The plan of the two Thomson brothers is to produce a total of 27,000 litres, from which 13,000 will be malt whisky. Different varieties of whisky will be produced, mainly matured in octave casks at the beginning, as well as some ex-rye octave casks. Experimentation with different type of yeasts is expected. The crowfunding should be starting now or follow very shortly. Start of production is not expected before July.
With my tour booked for 11.00, I took the opportunity in the morning to take photographs from the surroundings of the distillery and of the Clyne burn.
Since my last visit, the wooden tanks for the worm tubs were taken down and the top of the roof of the warehouse were damaged by a recent storm. Otherwise, the external condition of the old Brora distillery remains rather good.
Based on the latest press releases, I was hoping to see the construction for the extension in progress. Unfortunately, the extension project has been put on hold, but an upgrade will take place instead, as no major work has been done on the Cynelish (new) distillery, after the addition of the two wooden stainless washbacks. Extension at Teaninich is however in progress, as they started the work, before a slow down in the whisky market took place.
|A photograph of the Brora and Clynelish distilleries|
As some maintenance work is to start in the still house of the old Brora distillery (as visitors attraction), it was unfortunately not possible to visit it. Inside the warehouses full of casks (over 4000), only 2 casks were left at the distillery, a hogshead of Bora 1977 and a hogshead of Brora 1982. Unfortunately, they could not be tasted. However, at the Visitor office, not only different tours are organised, but you can also taste several Special Releases, including several versions of Brora. As I did not had the opportunity of tasting the new Clynelish Select Reserve 2015, I opted for this one (£20 for a 25 ml measure). The 2015 version is more to my liking, as it is spicier, more complex and more intense, at the cost of some smoothness and subtlety. Very good, but I wished the priced tag was more friendly.
After a long discussion with S.S. over lunch on the history and anecdotes of the Brora distillery, I was already time to make the rather long journey home.
With that, I should be able to fill most of the few gaps missing in my book and to have it ready for mid-year.
Thank you Jo and your colleague for sorting all the requested archives, Sandy for all your efforts and time, Phil and Simon Thomson for a pleasant evening and lengthy discussions, and the visitor centre staff at Clynelish distillery for their hospitality.