Interview with the Brora Master Distiller Stewart Bowman
As part of the reopening of the distillery, I managed to get an interview with the Master Distiller Stewart Bowman, who kindly answered my many questions.
As a long time fan of the Brora Clynelish, I am very pleased to see that Diageo reopened this iconic distillery. The celebrations for the reopening of the distillery took place on May 19th, 2021 and the doors will open to the public as of July 2021. For the full press release, click here: https://whisky-news.com/En/news.html
|Stewart Browman rolling the first cask of Brora for filling (courtesy of Diageo)|
Whisky-News.com (WN): Dear Stewart Bowman (SB), as mentioned in the Press Release, you are the son of the last exciseman of the old Brora distillery. Could you share with us your feeling about the reopening of the distillery and your appointment as the Master Distiller?
SB: In 1983, my father wrote in an old distillery ledger ‘Commencement of Brora Distillery silent season (undetermined period)’. Growing up in the village we often wondered whether Brora would ever return, but in May it was a huge honour to be able to reopen the famous wild cat gates once again. It is with great pride that I can now say to my father, the Brora community, and all the ‘old hands’ that worked at Brora and helped to craft a legendary whisky, that the stills are alive and we are making Brora spirit once again.
WN: On May 19th, celebrations for the reopening of the distillery took place, but could you please let us know when the first distillation took place and when the first cask was filled?
SB: The first cask was filled just after 10am on Wednesday 19th May and broadcast live where a small group of devoted Brora fans, collectors and enthusiasts gathered virtually.
WN: Have you been involved from the start in the reconstruction of the Brora distillery? And what have been the biggest challenges you faced from your appointment until the first distillate ran out of the sills?
SB: Diageo unveiled the plans to reopen Brora in September 2017 and I was appointed as Master Distiller in May 2018. We received planning permission in October 2018 and have been working meticulously ever since to restore Brora to its former glory. The whole process of restoring the distillery was an honour for me. Whilst I wouldn’t say it was hard, a special part of the restoration and at the heart of the Brora distillery operation is the original pair of copper stills which travelled 200 miles across Scotland to be refurbished by hand by Abercrombie coppersmiths in Alloa.
WN: Apart from the old stills, have you managed to salvage some equipment
(e.g., spirit safe) that were still in place before the reconstruction of the distillery?
SB: We committed to keeping as much of the original distillery buildings and processes as possible, whilst balancing this against the needs to build a distillery that will be able to lay down spirit for many years to come. After almost forty years, there is naturally an element of decay and this has been addressed through careful renovation, refurbishment and renewal –such as rebuilding the still house using the original bricks.
WN: Many Brora lovers are very curious about the spirit. In the press release, peated malt from the Glen Ord maltings will be used in the distillery. Could you please specify the phenolic PPM of the malted barley? Will you be running also batches of heavily peated or slightly peated barley?
WN: The distillery is carbon neutral. Could you please share some details on how you managed to achieve that, considering the architectural constraints?
SB: Brora will be a carbon neutral distillery, after the installation of a biomass boiler to provide energy for the stills. The biomass boiler will be fuelled by woodchip from sustainable sources in the North of Scotland. By using technical advances over the last 38 years, water efficiency is greatly improved in the distilling processes, cooling for the worm tubs is via an Adiabatic cooling system. While that doesn’t change the distillation regime, it allows the use of new technology to improve the original distillery.
WB: Finally, how does the new make taste? Could you compare it to some old samples of new makes?
SB: We are using all of our skill and knowledge to create fermentation, distilling and maturation processes which meticulously produce whisky that will match the character and quality of the Brora predecessors, however, we will need to wait over one decade before we can see how close the new whiskies are to the ones sitting today in our warehouses. But that is part of the joyful experience of making Scotch whisky.
WN: Thank you very much for your time and answering these numerous questions. Personally, I am very curious to visit the distillery as soon as I can and in several years to taste the new Brora whisky.