Built in 1967 in a rural setting in the Northern Highlands opposite its now-silent sister distillery, Brora, Clynelish has continued to produce a muscular, slightly peaty whisky much valued by blenders “ it is one of the base spirits for the excellent Johnnie Walker Gold Label.
Interestingly, the distillery building is an exact replica of Caol Ila. However, prior to the new distillery being built, the Clynelish name belonged to the distillery now known as Brora...
The Clynelish name started life in 1819 when a distillery was founded in the village of Brora by the Marquis of Stafford, later known as the Duke of Sutherland. This notorious character is more famous in Scotland for his part in the Highland Clearances of the same year, when he evicted around 15,000 crofters from his land in order to farm sheep. It is speculated that he started the distillery to provide a market for his barley and to put the local moonshiners out of business.
After enjoying immense popularity almost from its inception (for long periods in its early history the malt produced at Clynelish was sold only to private customers and not to blenders at all), the distillery, in common with most of the industry, suffered in the period between the beginning of Prohibition in America and the end of WWII. Production ceased in the years 1931-38, and again from 1941-45.
During the subsequent recovery after the war demand from blenders for Clynelish malt was extremely high, so in 1967-68, owners Distillers Company Ltd (DCL, which was eventually to become part of Diageo) built a new distillery adjacent to the existing one to increase capacity. This distillery was also called Clynelish, as the company wished to trade on the existing good name of the old distillery. Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion and lack of agreement as to the exact sequence of the events which followed in the history of the two distilleries, with little or no agreement on the dates.
It would appear that the original distillery ran in tandem with the new distillery under the names of Clynelish A and Clynelish B (sources disagree over which was the new distillery and which the original Clynelish) during 1968/9. Predictably, this arrangement was not to the liking of the Customs & Excise folk and the SWA due to the dissimilarity between the types of whisky being produced at the two distilleries. The original distillery was closed down in 1969 and then reopened at some point in the 1970s under the new name of Brora. The date of there-opening is unclear, although everyone seems to agree that it was definitely producing by 1975. It then operated intermittently, producing heavily peated (around 40ppm) whisky for blending purposes, before eventually becoming a victim of the DCL cull of distilleries in 1983.
The new Clynelish distillery was built as an exact replica of DCL's modern Caol Ila distillery on Islay and has continued to produce a muscular, slightly peatymalt that ismuch valued by blenders “ it is one of the base spirits for the excellent Johnnie Walker Gold Label. In recent years Caol Ila's profile has increased thanks to some excellent independent bottlings and its incorporation into Diageo's 'Classic Malts' series.