Whisky Review No.12 - Arran (Distillery bottlings vs Independent bottlings)

March 07, 2016

Whisky Review No.12 - Arran (Distillery bottlings vs Independent bottlings)

March 07, 2016

This week's review focuses on four different whiskies from the same distillery, namely the Isle of Arran distillery. For the purposes of comparison, there will be two distillery bottlings going up against two independent bottlings in order to showcase the different nuances that all four possess.

The distillery grounds

One of the first things that visitors will see at the distillery

But before we get into the reviews, let's first delve into the history of the Arran distillery. The distillery itself was established in 1993 by Harold Currie, came onstream sometime in August 1995 and has been producing whisky ever since.

In terms of its setup, the distillery sports a semi-lauter mash tun, six wooden washbacks made from Oregon pine and one pair of stills. This setup provides the distillery with a maximum production capacity of 750,000 litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis and incorporates both unpeated and peated spirit.

The distillery has been producing increasingly larger amounts of peated spirit since 2004 and recent production numbers have included 60,000 litres of spirit peated to 25ppm of phenol as well as 30,000 litres of heavily peated spirit (50 ppm of phenol), most of which will eventually end up in Arran's peated Machrie Moor whisky.

The wash backs

The spirit safe

Arran whisky's increasing popularity around the world has forced the owners to realise that their current production setup needed an upgrade in order to keep up with the demand for their whisky. They have therefore constructed a new blending and vatting store as well as a new warehouse on site in order to address this issue.

However, the biggest boost to their production capacity will be put in place sometime this year, when the new pair of stills ordered from the famed Forsyths still manufacturing company in Rothes are installed at the distillery. It is expected that the addition of another pair of stills will push the distillery's maximum production capacity to 1 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis.

A dram of liquid gold!

Unlike other distilleries, which have raced to upgrade or even build new bases of operations as quickly as possible, Arran has taken its time to do so. The reason for this leisurely expansion is environmental in nature as there are a pair of golden eagles nesting on the mountainside right behind the distillery. As such, great care is taken by the distillery to not disturb the protected birds in their natural habitat.

The distillery produces a wide variety of spirits and liqueurs and their core expressions are as follows:

- Arran Lochranza Reserve

- Arran 10 Years Old

- Arran 12 Years Old Cask Strength

- Arran 14 Years Old

- Robert Burns Single Malt Whisky

- Robert Burns Blended Whisky

- Lochranza Blended Whisky

- Arran Gold cream liqueur

The distillery also produces limited edition expressions such as:

- Machrie Moor (A peated offering from the distillery)

- The Devil's Punch Bowl (A vatting of some of the oldest casks in the distillery)

- Arran Bere Barley (A celebration of the oldest type of cultivated barley in Scotland)

- Arran Millennium Edition

- Arran Sauternes Finish

- Arran port Finish

So, let's dive right into the reviews!

Arran 10 Years Old (46% abv, Distillery bottling)

Colour: Bright gold

Nose: Fresh and grassy on initial entry, with fragrant barley, coastal sea spray and orchard fruits such as apricots and lemons on the bountiful nose. The spirit is quite youthful, yet sophisticated.

Palate: Fresh and fruity initially, with a dollop of barley sugar sprinkled with sea salt entering the fray after some time. Quite citric on the palate, with the apricots and lemons from the nose making an appearance along with cough drops and some sweet malt.

Finish: Relatively short finish, with cinnamon and citrus intermingling with fleeting barley notes. The mouthfeel is slighly oily.

Balance: Quite a nice dram which is perhaps more on the spicy side of things due to the presence of the cinnamon. Definitely rather young, but in no way out of its depth.

Arran 14 Years Old (46% abv, Distillery bottling)

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Malty and fresh, with notes which are somewhat reminiscent of apricot jam. Fragrant barley, lemon and a biscuity note which is rather pronounced. Quite a sophisticated and enticing nose.

Palate: Fruity, spicy and malty in equal measure, with the apricot jam making an appearance. The sweetness is somewhat understated though, with notes of sea salt and dried red chili appearing along with a hint of golden syrup.

Finish: Medium finish, with sweet malt, hints of dried chili, sea salt and some citrus bringing things to a close.

Balance: A rather well balanced dram in which all the nuances work in tandem with one another. Quite easily drinkable and no off notes to speak of.

Arran 1997 15 Years Old Port Finish (46% abv, Bottled by Douglas of Drumlanrig)

Colour: Golden syrup

Nose: Slightly jammy, with an understated sweetness coupled with chewy malt. With time, some berry compote emerges along with fleeting whisps of nutmeg. The nose becomes increasingly sweet and somewhat winey in character when left for some time.

Palate: Fresh and fruity on initial entry, with some wood spices (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular) and some sweet malt appearing. Aniseed, apricot and some floral notes emerge later on and there's a slight hint of alcohol burn on the palate.

Finish: Medium finish, with nutmeg, red fruits and more of the winey notes on the palate following through to the very end.

Balance: Initially this dram was rather inaccessible, but with time it opened up to reveal more of its nuances. A drop or two of water will definitely aid in the process and overall this is a decent dram, although a longer finish in the port casks would definitely have helped.

Arran 1996 17 Years Old Sherry Cask (46% abv, Bottled by The Maltman)

Colour: Burnished copper

Nose: Enticing red fruits and medium sherry on the quite enticing nose. Quite malty with a floral note that is reminiscent of cherry blossoms. Quite a pleasant and not overly complex dram.

Palate: Sweet and sherried on initial entry, with more of the red fruits (and apricots in particular) intermingling well with cloves and other warming spices. The sherry is rather understated and does not overpower the palate, preferring to sit back and allow the other nuances to flourish.

Finish: Medium on the finish, with cloves and chewy malt giving this a sweet and spicy mouthfeel. The dram has an almost jam-like feel which adds to overall experience.

Balance: Nicely sherried dram which is well balanced and very enjoyable. The sherried nature brings out the best in the base spirit and makes this dram a definite crowd pleaser.

All four whiskies are available at The Single Cask (30 Victoria Street, Caldwell House, Chijmes, #01-25, Singapore 187996) and can be purchased in the bar for prices ranging from $210 to $365 per bottle (with an additional 10% service charge levied on top).

Alternatively, all four whiskies are available to be sampled by the dram with prices ranging from $21 to $35 per dram (with an additional 10% service charge levied on top and paired with a bespoke chocolate to complement the whisky).

Customers are also allowed to purchase the bottles for takeaway purposes and this can be done so at a 30% discount on the in-bar price and without any service charges levied on top.

Written by Brendan Pillai for The Single Cask Singapore.



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