The Braeval distillery (formerly known as Braes of Glenlivet) was one of the
youngest distilleries in Scotland at the end of the 20th century. It was built in 1973
and 1974 by Chivas. When Pernod Ricard bought the distillery in 2001, they didn’t
waste any time and promptly mothballed it in 2002, together with Allt A' Bhainne,
Benriach, (later revived by Billy Walker & friends), Caperdonich and Glen Keith.
For one thing, the Chivas company was still part
of the Seagram's conglomerate in those days.
New owners can not always rely on existing stocks.
Fortunately, Braeval distillery resumed production on July 11, 2008.
But I’m getting ahead of myself... In 1975, two stills were added to the existing
three and one more still was installed in 1978 - bringing the grand total to six.
Braeval now has two wash stills with internal condensers (capacity 22,000 litres)
and four 'Milton Ball' spirit stills (capacity 10,000 litres), all heated via steam.
As far as I know, Braes of Glenlivet was never officially released as a single malt.
The same goes for Braeval. Just like Allt A'Bhainne, the distillery was designed with
'volume' production for blends like Chivas Regal, Passport & 100 Pipers in mind.
I doubt if the 'recipe' for these blends is the same as in 1974 though...
When the ownership of a company changes, the deal does not always include the
maturing whisky stocks. In that case the new owners have to work with a brand new
'portfolio' of malt whiskies. Some distilleries that contributed to the ‘recipe’ could now
be owned by competitors unwilling to sell or trade - while other distilleries could have
been mothballed or closed alltogether.
That bottling was quite OK (score 79 points), but it wasn’t the best I ever had.
Because so few bottles were ever released (there were just 28 expressions on the Malt Maniacs Monitor in 2008)
I'm pretty confident I found the very best of them so far. That was the Braes of Glenlivet 15yo 1979/1995 (60.0%,
Signatory Vintage, Sherry C#16040) - with a whopping 92 points it ended up on my Hit List of all time favourites.
No mean feat for the product of a 'volume' whisky distillery.
So, if you ever spot an official bottling of Braeval or Braes of Glenlivet malt whisky
at a liquorist or on eBay, it's probably a fake. And even independent bottlings are
hard to find. One of the rare bottles I've managed to obtain in the 1990's was the
bottling by Kirsch Import from Germany, depicted above and at the right.
Braeval has many similarities with its 'sister' distillery Allt A'Bhainne - both were built as
efficient plants in the 1970's by the owners of Chivas Brothers (Seagram's at the time),
bought and closed by Pernod in the early years of the third millennium and re-opened
a few years later. Oddly enough, the single malt from the Braes of Glenlivet distillery
has always appealed more to me than that from Allt A'Bhainne - even though they're
both 'mechanical'. In the words of fellow malt maniac Michel van Meersbergen;
'Braes of Glenlivet Distillery (The hillside in the valley where the river Livet flows)
was built in 1973 by Chivas Brothers (Seagram Co Ltd) and was used primarily for
creating blending material. It was built to look like a traditional distillery, complete
with pagoda, the inside however was built along the latest insights in distillery
management. No malting floors or storage capacity, all aspects of production
done on a single level floor and a small workforce, one person if necessary
made it a very efficient plant. A clean, mean machine so to speak.'
So, why am I much 'madder' about Braes of Glenlivet than Allt-A' Bhainne?
Maybe the design of the stills is different, enforcing certain traits - or perhaps
the wood management is approached in another way at one of these distilleries. .
Whatever the reason, most Braeval bottlings I've sampled so far scored comfortably in the 80's.
Meanwhile, most Allt A' Bhainne's ended up in the lower 70's or worse - meaning I wouldn't recommend them...
The Braeval distillery is located in the far south of the Speyside
region, a little upstream from Tamnavulin and (The) Glenlivet.
The distillery is quite attractive, but that’s largely a moot point.
They don’t allow visitors on the premises to enjoy the beauty.
1) I’ve been told that the (main) reason for the change of the name
of Braes of Glenlivet to Braeval was the fact that the Seagram's
people (at the time also owners of THE Glenlivet distillery not far away)
were unhappy with many other distilleries in the area using the name
'Glenlivet' in their advertising and on the whisky labels on bottles.
Before they proceeded with legal actions against competitors that used
the phrase 'Glenlivet' in their names or promotion they decided to set
the right example with one of their own brands.
2) Braeval claims to be the distillery with the highest elevation in Scotland;
355 meters above sea level. However, according to Google Earth the
Dalwhinnie distillery has the exact same elevation (on average). If we
look at the complete distillery grounds there's no clear winner either,
both vary between 352 and 357 meters elevation.
6) In 1978 a sixth pot still was added to Braeval's equipment - but it seems these days only four stills are used.
3) The Braeval distillery was re-designed in 1997 so that it could be
operated by a single person - much like Allt A Bhainne.
7) In the past, some independent bottlings of Braes of Glenlivet were sold under the 'Deerstalker' name.
However, please note that this name has been used for other whiskies too, including Balmenach and some blends.
5) The focus of the Allt-A-Bhainne distillery has always been on the production of malt whisky for the Chivas blends;
Braeval also produced malt whisky for blenders outside the Pernod Ricard group.
4) The Braeval distillery now uses 13 stainless steel washbacks.
That means that they operate with two less washbacks than before these days.
2001 - Chivas Brothers (owners of the Braes of Glenlivet)
are purchased by the Pernod Ricard conglomerate.
2002 - In a surprise move, Pernod Ricard decides to mothball
the Braeval / Braes of Glenlivet distillery, together with 4 other
malt whisky distilleries in the group; Allt A' Bhainne, Benriach,
Caperdonich and Glen Keith.
2012 - A new mash tun is installed at the Braeval distillery.
It is made out of stainless steel and can hold up to 9 tons.
2017 - While many other traditional ‘blends’ distilleries have manifested themselves as proper brands by now,
whisky lovers still have to turn to independent bottlers if they want to sample single malt whisky from Braeval.
2008 - Braeval resumed production on July 11, 2008.
Braes of Glenlivet 12yo 1989/2001 (62.1%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead)
Nose: Extremely rich. Polished. Organics and spices. Smoke. Horse sweat. Apple. Rotting fruit.
With a few drops of water the sweeter elements come forward. Then the organics return.
Taste: Smooth and soft start with a distinct apple flavour. Big sweet centre. Long fruity burn.
Fabulous mouth feel at cask strength. It becomes a little grittier with some water.
Diluted to about 50% it became even grittier and hotter. Winey finish. No improvement.
Score: 88 points - believe it or not, but this is a malt that should be enjoyed at cask strength.
Don't panic - as long as you make sure to take small sips, even a 62.1% whisky is perfectly drinkable.
Braes of Glenlivet 1977/2000 Madeira Wood (43%, Montgomerie's, D. 19/10/1977, B. October, C#100763)
Nose: Very rich! Fruity. Sweet with candied lemon peel and turkish delight.
Taste: Toffee & coffee. A little gritty on the palate. Oaky and winey dry in the finish.
Score: 85 points - but this Madeira Braes needs several tastings before you really get to know it.
Braes of Glenlivet 17yo 1979/1997 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage, 70cl)
Nose: A deep and powerful sherry symphony. Amazing complexity. Oriental notes.
Starts out with lots of autumn forest notes and keeps developing from there.
And that's before I added water. When I did, the nose became fruitier - but I wouldn't say it improved.
Taste: Very sherried burn, with a peppermint counterpoint. Good wood.
Marzipan in the finish. With water, the finish became too woody and dry.
Score: 87 points - even though his bottle made a sucking noise when I opened it, it actually didn't suck!
Hallelujah! A bit like an Aberlour A'bunadh 'avant la lettre'. Hold the water though; it's almost perfect as it is.
Braes of Glenlivet 10yo 1987/1997 (61.8%, Cadenhead's Bond Reserve)
Nose: Big, rich and complex - but not as sherried as some older Cadenhead's expressions I've tried.
Some 'grainy' notes as well - the 'attick of a grain warehouse' variety rather than the paint thinner variety.
Very subtle organics - half a kilometre away from a cow farm. Maybe a distant dash of peat? Water kills it.
Taste: Lovely minty sweetness on the palate at cask strength. Doesn't respond as strongly to water as the nose.
The sweetness combined with a light peppery feeling and a hint of pine worked surprisingly well.
Score: 80 points - a recommendable malt whisky - but just barely...
Braes of Glenlivet 8yo 1987/1995 (62.7%, Cadenhead's, D06/87, B07/95, 5cl)
Nose: Ah! Smooth and complex with whiffs of gooseberry. Organics. Polished. Wowie!
Over time it becomes very intriguing with plenty of old sherry and tobacco. Subtle sweetness.
This smells like an old men's club where they have been smoking good cigars for many years.
Taste: Aahh... Sweet and powerful at cask strength, with sherry and smoke. Hint of peat?
It has a few traits that keep it from reaching the 90's - something oily and sandy on the palate.
Score: 87 points - this is another great Braeval but after a while the palate betrays its age.
Still a mighty fine dram, mind you - if you can find any. But then again I haven't had a bad one yet.
Braes of Glenlivet 15yo 1979/1995 (60.0%, Signatory, Sherry Butt #16040, D6/6/79, B3/95, 1200 Bottles, 5cl)
Nose: Oh, boy - we have a winner... Rich woody & fruity notes. Autumn leaves.
This is a real sherry monster in the style of the 'old' Glendronach 15yo. Lovely.
After a few minutes it has grown much more complex than the 'Dronach ever was.
Incredibly rich with lots of pipe tobacco. Hints of clay and smoke. Powerful.
Taste: Big and sweet - you barely notice that it's 60%. Firm and fruity.
Not as complex as the nose, but sufficiently entertaining on the palate.
Score: 92 points - what a big bad sherry monster! How Macallan should be.
It might scare some people away, but I admire the uncompromising character.
Braes of Glenlivet 15yo (43%, Kirsch Import, bottle #328 of 690, Bottled +/- 1995)
Nose: Faintly sherried, becoming stronger. Cookies? Nice but dim. It improves in the glass.
Rounder and sweeter with time, but it keeps a relatively low profile.
Taste: Harsh start. A little dusty, but then it brightens up. Liquorice root?
Sherry. Decent burn; quite dry. Sandy. Remains a little bitter in the finish.
Score: 79 points - This malt simply has to many little faults in the taste to reach 'highly recommendable' status.
It was enticing enough to make me curious about other bottlings, though...
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Braeval malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Braeval I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Braeval.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.