A taste of Caithness at Brora distillery as new visitor experience opens
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It may be situated on the outskirts of Brora but aspects of the newly transformed Clynelish Distillery distinctly remind you of Caithness.
Greeting you at the shop is brand home manager Lauren Caithness who, despite her name, hails from Orkney originally and now lives in Inverness.
"I'm a great blend of all places north," joked Lauren who manages the Clynelish shop where a variety of quality gifts are available apart from various Johnnie Walker whiskies.
And, to add to the Caithness connection, one of the brand home lead guides on the distillery tour is Wick-born Ian Sutherland who also worked locally as a police officer.
Ian and fellow guide Daisy Mackenzie show visitors around the mash house and explain the long and complex processes involved in creating the spirit with huge copper condensers and wash baths.
"The vapour rises and the copper works its magic to pull out what you don't want," said Ian as he points to one of the copper condensers which acts somewhat like a kettle.
The first part of the fermentation process gives an eight to nine per cent by volume solution and the second phase ramps it up to 24 per cent, he explains.
"In most distilleries the wash stills are larger than the spirit stills but ours are the other way around – nobody seems to know why, it's one of those mysteries of life."
Daisy explained how some of the stills are new and some are refurbished after originally being taken to the site in 1967. "From grain to glass it takes 14 years," she added.
The two guides not only show visitors the nitty-gritty aspects of creating Clynelish but start off with an interactive, multi-sensory experience with secret rooms and hidden keys, each unlocking elements of the whisky’s unique story, as well as revealing stories of the local people, landscape and culture.
"No photos or recording please as we want to keep it all a surprise for each visitor," says Daisy as she leads the way into a specially designed room that takes you on a tour of visual and historical treats related to the whisky. There are even tastes and odours that will linger with you long after.
No expense has been spared with the making of this new site and attention to detail is quite extraordinary. Ian shows how the flooring panels in the distillery's shop are cut at a 24 degree angle that exactly mimics the angle of tilt on the Johnnie Walker labels. "The attention to detail in this place is just amazing," he adds.
The all-new visitor experience at Clynelish Distillery is part of a whisky tourism initiative by parent company Johnnie Walker to create its special "Highland Home" at Brora and lies conveniently on the North Coast 500 scenic route. Scottish cycling legend and sustainable travel advocate Mark Beaumont officially opened the new Highland Home of Johnnie Walker last month in what the company call the latest step towards the recovery of Scottish tourism.
The record-holding cyclist, who is known for being the fastest man to cycle around the world, is an ambassador for the NC500 and welcomed the global drinks company’s investment in sustainable tourism and the new offering it brings to the iconic route.
He said: “Scotch whisky is such an important part of Scotland’s tourism eco-system, along with our incredible natural environment and our beautiful Highland and Islands communities.
“It is vital that we rebuild tourism in the right way for the environment and the community. The future has to be about high-quality visitor experiences that are thoughtful about their local environment, and it is great to see that exemplified with the new Highland Home of Johnnie Walker at Clynelish Distillery.”
With great respect to the area it sits within, the company talks of its pride in employing locally and respecting the surrounding environment. The Clynelish label even has the image of a Scottish wildcat – an animal that was venerated throughout the far north in ancient times and is still found in isolated areas of Caithness and Sutherland.
The site’s renovation is part of Diageo’s wider £185M investment into tourism in Scotland which will see it transform its Scotch whisky experience and advance its sustainability initiative across its network of visitor centres.
In line with the latest advice from the Scottish Government on tourism and travel, the brand home will be open to all domestic visitors across the UK. Diageo has also begun a staggered reopening plan for its other Scotch whisky visitor experiences, which will see ten of its 12 distillery brand homes gradually reopen to the public in the coming weeks.
For more information and to book a tour at Clynelish Distillery, please visit www.malts.com/en-row/distilleries/clynelish