Brora distillery reopens after 38-year absence

By Michelle Johnson | 20 May 2021 | Indulge, Leaders

Famed whisky maker unveils brand new releases following extensive renovation

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The word iconic is overused, but what other term could describe the legendary status of Brora? The Highland distillery in Sutherland, Scotland, was sadly closed in 1983, after a 202-year history of creating a single malt that was key to the finest of Scotch blends and that, enjoyed on its own, defined the ‘age of peat’. 

Since its closure, Brora’s rare historic bottlings gave the brand cult following as a ghost distillery among the world’s most discerning collectors – in 2019, a bottle of Brora 1972 Limited Edition 40-Year-Old sold at Sotheby’s for a distillery record of £54,450. 

Now, following an extensive three-year restoration by premium spirits brand Diageo, Brora’s has reopened once more. On 19 May local master distiller Stewart Bowman – son of the last exciseman at Brora – reopened the distillery’s wildcat gates and filled the first cask of Brora spirit in more than 38 years.

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“Growing up in the village we often wondered whether Brora would ever return, but [now] we filled the first cask,” said Bowman. “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.”

The restoration was announced by Diageo in 2017, as part of a £35m investment to bring Brora and equally renowned ghost distillery Port Ellen back to life. Brora will now begin producing up to approximately 800,000 litres a year from the carbon neutral distillery.

Archivist Joanne McKercher worked alongside Bowman and a host of specialists to restore the Victorian distillery buildings and replicate the original conditions, equipment and processes that were key to the characteristics of the spirit – including the original copper stills, which were restored by hand to exact historic specifications. 

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“When we first opened the doors at Brora we walked into a time capsule,” says McKercher. “As a historian and an archivist for malts, I had never seen anything like that before. It was unbelievable just how untouched it was: as if the guys had just finished their shift and walked out… You’re not just looking at stills or a physical building, it’s all of the emotion.”

Using a combination of tasting notes, archive material – including the discovery of documents dating back to the 1890s – and modern distilling knowledge, restorers are able to replicate the operation of the distillery as it was in 1983.

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Master blender Dr Jim Beveridge OBE said: “It was a wonderful challenge – one of the most rewarding that I have faced in my career as a whisky maker. By sampling remaining old stocks of Brora and using historic tasting notes, we slowly built a picture. With my colleague Donna Anderson, we were able to make this vision of the liquid a reality by reverse-engineering the production process. It is our hope that we have safeguarded that beautiful Brora spirit character for generations to come.”

The first release from the distillery, first unveiled in April, was the Brora Triptych – a three-piece collection of extremely rare single malt whiskies each representing a distinct style of Brora’s heritage – and now it is joined by The Brora Distillery Collection: Hidden Beneath, a Brora 1982 39-Year-Old. 
“When people walk into Brora distillery, I want them to feel a connection to the past,” says Bowman. “To be able to understand the history of the place, and why we’ve put the distillery back together, [so] that we can continue its legacy into future generations.”