This is the first Arran single malt to grace any of the three editions of the Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar. I’ve been fondly selling Arran whisky now, for well over 15 years. At the start their whiskies were young but full of promise. The distillery was founded in 1993 at Lochranza a sheltered harbour at the northern tip of the island of Arran. The island used to be famous for its whisky, though most of it was illicitly distilled. It was the first legal distillery on the island in more than 160 years. The first production didn’t take place until August of 1995, delayed to allow a pair of nesting endangered Golden Eagles to raise their chicks. These eagles have become the distillery’s emblem.
Late in 2015 Arran released its first 18 year old, a now sold out Limited Edition. It was followed up by a core release of Arran 18 Year earlier this year. It is a staff favourite, and has been one of our best selling whiskies since its release. This is largely due to a combination of its price and quality. We’ve had a long and very fruitful relationship with the Arran distillery. This fall we bottled our 5th and 6th exclusive single casks from the distillery. The 5th, was a 2008 vintage lightly peated 7 year old from a Bourbon Barrel. The 6th a 19 Year old Bourbon Hogshead matured Arran distilled in 1997. The latter is the oldest official bottling of Arran yet to come to Canada! The distillery has released a 21st Anniversary 19 year old, but it is not set to reach Canada until in early 2017.
The whiskies from Arran are always good value, and priced competitively. The new make spirit is made with great care, and like Kilchoman, it is close to flawless. The distillery also has a very good wood policy, and only fills its spirit into into good quality oak casks. I can vouch for the quality of their casks first hand. I’ve sampled many dozens of them over the years while looking for exclusive barrels for the store. More often than note we’ve bottled two casks instead of one, because we couldn’t decide between them.
The distillery follows what I like to call the 46 is the new 40 rule. Distilleries who bottle their whiskies above 46% don’t need to put them through a process called chill-filtration. Distilleries who bottle at 43% or 40% (I like to call this accounting department strength), need to run the whisky through a series of absorption filters at a low temperature before bottling. This is a purely cosmetic process that keeps the whisky from going cloudy or hazy if it is chilled or if water is added to it. Whiskies bottled at 46% or higher ABV are able to re-emulsify on their own. There is a lot of debate over hop much chill-filtration affects whisky. I am in the camp that believe there is so little in the whisky giving it its flavour, colour, texture and aroma, that something is surely lost if anything is removed! The fact that Arran doesn’t chill-filter its whiskies, is one of the reasons we love the brand.
I first visited Arran in 2006, the same year they released the distillery launched their first 10 year old. Starting at 125,000L a year production gradually grew over the last two decades. Over time new washbacks were added and new warehousing was built to accommodate the distillery’s growing stock of maturing casks. Arran has been running full out for the last few years, producing 750,000L of spirit a year. Small by the comparison of Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, but not an insignificant sum, especially when you consider that almost all of it is being bottled as single malt. The distillery has been hard at work this fall installing four new stills (replacing two of the original ones) and increasing its capacity to 1.2 million L. But even this won’t be enough, the owners have applied for building permission for a second distillery on the southern half of the island.
Arran 12 Year Cask Strength – 52.9% – Batch 5 – Likely a mix of American and European oak. - Andrew’s Tasting Note: “Nose: creamy, honeyed and fruity; melon with loads of malt, some soft leather and burnt orange; floral and delicate there is no trace of the higher alcohol; soft leather and dark chocolate. Palate: big rich and more heavily sherried on the palate than expected, but pleasantly so; still creamy, honeyed and buttery but with rich spices and loads more fruit than the shyer nose let on; very tropical, juicy malt sugars and sweet milk chocolate. Finish: drying, medium-light but layered and long; very pleasant and refreshing. Comment: this is a very lively but complex whisky; lots of layers and depth, and superb value for $80!” – $80