Arran distillery is relatively young by Scottish standards.
This usually the first thing I say to people who have not yet heard of the distillery or their bottles of Scotch. And it is true. Having started production in 1995 this is relatively true in the grand scheme of things and given the history boasted by many of Scotland’s other distilleries.
The Isle of Arran Distillery is located – unsurprisingly – on the Isle of Arran. The island lies just east of Campbeltown and well east of Islay and the distillery itself resides on the north of the island at Lochranza.
Arran’s first official Single Malt Scotch release was back in 1998 with a Limited Edition 3-year-old.
Going by my own faulty memory – Arran has been sold in Alberta since around 2003 or 2004. I was introduced to Scotch for the first time back in 2002 and immediately fell in love and started going to tastings and festivals. This is probably why Arran is so near and dear to my own heart. It feels like the distillery’s own evolution in whisky somehow mirrors my own personal growth and experience with whisky.
Arran started distilling and then releasing their first bottles at a fortuitous time both within Alberta and within the Scotch Industry as a whole: Alberta was in the midst of its economic boom. The province had also had privatized liquor stores (such as Kensington Wine Market) for a decade at this point and seen a large jump in the amount of available whisky available to new enthusiasts such as myself.
The Scotch Industry was also starting to see a much-needed boost in sales and was entering a boom of its own. Part of this was a new generation of drinkers turning their backs on that boring, intentionally flavourless alcohol known as vodka and looking for more interesting libations. The other part had to do with emerging markets of China, India, and Russia and the new middle class (and luxury class) that had opened up overseas.
Looking back at the early years of Arran releases that we were lucky enough to get in Calgary I remember tasting (and buying) a lot of single cask finishes from Arran. The company took a similar marketing and release route to another distillery at the time: Bruichladdich. Both had a tremendous amount of one-off releases – many of these were finished in wine casks or casks that held other spirits beforehand such as rum, calvados, cognac – you name it. I have fond memories of weird corrugated cardboard packaging of rum and Champagne cask-finished bottles of Arran.
These releases enabled Arran to release young whisky that was still interesting to whisky enthusiasts young and old. It gave us an idea of the distillery style and went a long way in showing us that that young whisky could still be good whisky. It also, of course, allowed Arran to develop an income from their own whisky well before they had their official 10-year-old hit the market.
Arran Single Malt has always been solid – even in its youth. Their younger than 10yr whisky releases were (and still are) always approachable yet also very flavourful with the distillery profile typically showing notes of ginger, spices, creamy orchard fruits and sometimes into tropical fruit notes.
Most of these releases were either bottled at cask strength or 46% ABV and they were also typically non-chill filtered with no colouring added and stated this right on the packaging. This is a trend that Arran continues to this day.
The boom for Scotch Whisky also meant prosperous times for Arran – the distillery recently added four more stills to increase production – though the amount produced there is still dwarfed by major mainland distilleries such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan.
Now it is 2017. I have been into whisky for more than 15 years – tasting and drinking Arran malt some shape or form for most of that time. The Isle of Arran Distillery has been in operation for 21 years and has been successful enough for its private ownership group to work on building a second distillery on the same Island – this one in the south overlooking the cliffs at Lagg. A ground-breaking ceremony at the new site took place on February 16th of this year. The plan is to focus on peated whisky at the new distillery once it is up and running.
The core range of Arran now consists of the 10, the cask strength 12, the 14 and 18-year-old and a few regular cask finish bottlings such as the Madeira and Amarone. They also release the moderately peated Machrie Moor line and the Robert Burns line of Single Malt and Blended Scotch.
Kensington Wine Market has been lucky enough to have a very good relationship with Arran and its representatives for a long time. We just bottled our 9th and 10th single casks with them. Joining our peated 7-year-old single casks are two 20-year-old unpeated malts both aged in separate sherry hogsheads.
Arran 14yr – 46% ABV
“Bottled at 46% after maturing in Sherry and Bourbon Casks this whisky retains the soft fresh citric character of the 10-year-old but with added layers and depth.” This is pretty much what our website states and I agree. While the Arran 10 shows much more Apples and pears the 14 exhibits much more tropical fruit and honeydew melon plus a beautiful creamy delivery on the palate. This is one of the best official bottlings from any distillery given its age and incredible value. $80
Old Malt Cask Arran 19yr – 50% ABV
This 19-year-old Arran is exclusive to KWM in Calgary, bottled at 50% from a Refill Hogshead (HL11885), a total of 288 bottles were produced with just 30 coming to Calgary. Distilled September 1996 and bottled: September 2015.
Only two bottles of this barrel remain for us at the time of writing and it combines the best of the regular 10 and 14-year-old in my opinion: The pear and green apple notes are back at the fore with a bit of spice and bitterness on the fade to battle the sweet, creamy palate. $170
Arran Madeira Cask Finish – 50% ABV
An apparently one-off release that is part of the Arran cask finish lineup. On the nose, this exhibits some grassiness as well as the typical Arran fruit forward style on the nose along with just a hint of smoke/struck match. There might be a whiff of sulphur in there somewhere. On the palate toasted almonds, fruit, vanilla and spice battle for domination with all of them lasting through the finish. This is a really cool bottling at a very good price if the ‘S’ word doesn’t bother you (or if your name isn’t Jim Murray). $80
Arran 20yr KWM Cask 964 – 52.5% ABV
Arran 20yr KWM Cask 1649 – 50.8% ABV
These are our TWO brand new Arran Single Casks that have just arrived – and the reason for our cask launch tasting. Both are from Sherry Hogsheads. Cask 964 shows more of the typical Arran tropical fruit and candied ginger spice while Cask 1649 shows a bit more sherry influence with more dried fruits and marmalade coming to the fore. Both are great (in my biased opinion). I typically prefer Arran in more of a creamy and tropical style so my personal favourite so far is Cask 964, but I may be in the minority on that! $150 each
Scotch Malt Whisky Society 121.81 – 55.2% ABV
This Arran was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – which is the largest member’s whisky club in the world. More information on the SMWS and their bottles can be found here.
INTENSE, LIVELY AND DELICIOUS
From a refill hogshead, this 15 year old Islander is 55.2%
Flavour profile: Spicy & sweet
Outturn: 286 bottles
Panel’s tasting note: ”The nose infantilized our panel – one was on her school break (grass, pine, paper, lollipops); another was savouring his trick-or-treat goodie bag. It was certainly attractive – honey, Belgian waffles, Haribos, rose and lemon, but with ample spice speculation to add interest. The palate was amazing – mouth-drawing, lip-smacking, intense, lively and delicious – flavours of orange oil, Christmas spice biscuits, cinnamon Danish pastries, roasted chestnuts, maraschino cherry and rum and raisin chocolate. The reduced nose – toasted marshmallows, rhubarb crumble, a spice cupboard and a candy hoard. The reduced palate – jasmine, peaches, violets, After Eights and a hint of cigar to finish – Mmmm! “
Drinking tip: ”When the kids are having candy – this could be your version of indulgence or reward”
Arran 7yr Peated KWM Cask 1131 – 56.8% ABV
This was the first peated Arran cask we ever selected for our shop of the numerous Arran single barrels we have had bottled just for us. The stated 7 years old might seem young but this bottled has to be tasted to believe. Moderate smoke and peat with bracing salt and pepper notes and a bit of maritime influence. It is young and fresh but by no means immature – the malt sings in this one and it still maintains the wonderful Arran style beneath the smoke! $105
So there you have it! That was the lineup we tasted our way through. As for favourites, we ended up with a three-way tie for first place:
As a stated in the tasting though – there is not much out there that is not great from Arran. Even the regular 14-year-old which many people had tried got quite a few votes. The newest of the regular lineup from Arran – the 18-year-old is so good itself might have stolen the show if I included it in the tasting.
The bottom line is if you have not tasted any Arran lately (or at all?!?) then what is stopping you?
A big thank you to Cured Delicatessen for providing some charcuterie for us to nibble on during the tasting.
Cheers and until next time,
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