The Clynelish Distillery boasts an interesting, if slightly complicated, history.
Brora, a picturesque seaside village, built at the mouth of the river from which it takes its name, was once a thriving coastal village. The years have reduced industry in villages across the most northerly parts of Scotland and Brora now boasts only small remnants of its former success. Following the Clearances in the 1900s the village enjoyed an influx of residents – mainly those evicted from their highland crofts to make way for sheep farming – and it was around this time that the original distillery was founded in 1819. Built by the Marques of Stafford, the first Duke of Sutherland, in an effort to encourage farmers not to sell their grain to the many illegal stills in the area, Clynelish became the second most northerly whisky distillery in the Highlands of Scotland. It is one of the only reminders of Brora’s former glory days.
The Distillery was purchased in 1896 by James Ainslie & Heilbron. Production at ‘The Old Distillery’ continued un-interrupted until 1968 when a new distillery building was built – this one three time larger than the original. The original Clynelish Distillery was shut down, many thought for good, whilst the new distillery began production of over 3,400,000 litres of malt whisky each year. It might boast a larger production capacity, but its stills are an exact replica of those built in the original distillery; the aim being the maintenance of the quality and unique peated taste of the original Clynelish House malt.
If not for a severe drought on the Western Isle of Islay the old distillery might have remained abandoned and unused; but, due to the shortage of peated malts being produced and the similarity of the Clynelish Malt to the more heavily peated malts of Islay, the original distillery was reopened in 1969. Its main focus was production for brand owners DCL to make Johnnie Walker, a blend which relies heavily on peated Islay malts. Having been renamed “Brora”, which derives from the Old Norse “Bru’r aa” (meaning “the bridges river”), the old distillery continued production until 1983 when it was closed again; this time for good. Meanwhile, the new Clynelish Distillery continued production and success. It passed into the hands of United Distillers in 1986 and in 1998 United Distillers merged with IDV (International Distillers & Vintners) to form United Distillers & Vintners, which is now part of the enormous and impressive whisky portfolio owned by Diageo Plc.
After producing mainly volume malt whisky used for blends, the distillery released its official 14yr old Clynelish malt in 2002. Since then the distillery has released a variety of its own single malts, ranging from 12 years old to 36 years old varieties. Production continues to this day. The distillery boasts a huge 4.2 million litre production per year – the fourth largest production capacity out of the 27 active distilleries owned by Diageo Plc. The old distillery buildings and warehouse have been given a new lease of life and it is currently used as a popular visitor’s centre.
Brora may not be the thriving coastal village it once was, but it enjoys a continued popularity with tourists, the Clynelish Distillery being one of its most popular visitor attractions.