The Arran is what’s known as an Islands distillery because it resides on, as you probably guessed, one of the Islands surrounding Scotland. Other notable Island distilleries include Talisker, Highland Park, Scapa, Jura and Tobermory. Founded in 1995 this upstart began by releasing what was its flagship NAS whisky in 1998, The Arran, and it continued to be it’s only widely distributed expression till 2005 when they started releasing a variety of whiskies.
That variety has continued to grow over the years and here in 2015, 20 years after its founding, I got a chance to sit down with their brand ambassador and some fellow whisky geeks to taste nearly all of the expressions currently available on the market. It was an exciting evening made doubly so by the presence of the Kilchoman ambassador, another young distillery, who had brought an equally impressive lineup, but that’s going to be a post all its own.
- Nose: Malty sweetness, orchard fruit, citrus, hay, smarties and a bakery making donuts
- Palate: Tropical fruit, hay-like malt and fresh donuts (no icing)
- Finish: Malt, banana heavy tropical fruit and superman ice cream
- Overall: B (83-86) This is some good whisky. Not mind blowing or anything, but a good solid basic single malt and seeing as how it comes in around $50 it’s pretty darn good.
The Arran 14 years (46%) <- current
- Nose: Fruity, a bit malty, dark fruit leather, smarties, spice and citrus peel.
- Palate: Fruity, a bit malty, brittle, citrus and a bit of darkness – like a dried dark fruit essence.
- Finish: Malt, fruit, hay, wheat toast, marmalade and Necco wafers.
- Overall: B (83-86) This one straddles the B / B+ line, but since I always go with the lowest it scored a B, though it’s definitely on the higher end. Very tasty.
The Arran 14 years (46%) <- old label
- Nose: Nearly the same as the current Arran 14 except this one is a bit fruitier and a bit less malty.
- Palate: Palate is noticeably lighter and more mild than the current 14, but the flavor profile is the same.
- Finish: Much fruitier finish than the current but, again, quite similar.
- Overall: B (83-86) Where the current Arran 14 straddles that B / B+ line this one is a solid B.
The Arran 16 years (46%)
- Nose: Fruit, citrus, Pixy Stix, vanilla, caramel, tangerine and orange creme wafer cookies.
- Palate: Fruit, malt, citrus Pixy Stix, hay and a light minerality.
- Finish: Orange creamsicle, malt, hay and fruit syrup.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Complex and interesting this is a fantastic expression of The Arran.
- Nose: Rich malty sweetness, vanilla, spice, honey, citrus, caramel, grassy hay, butter, smarties and dark fruit.
- Palate: Malty sweetness, vanilla, dried strawberries, citrus, dark sweets, caramel, brown sugar and a touch of wood.
- Finish: Malty, fruit, hay, butter and wood.
- Overall: A- (90) The Arran 18 is pretty darn good… heck I’d even say it’s great. I started the night with it, tried it again in the middle and was one of the last 2 drams I had before the evening ended. The warm sweet malt driven nose transitions nicely to a fruity palate and hearty finish. It’s nice all throughout (enough to have it 3x that night) and is a great addition to their annual releases.
The Arran 12 years Cask Strength Batch #2 (53.6%)
- Nose: Rich buttery fruit, butterscotch, hazelnuts, caramel syrup and some hay.
- Palate: Toasted nuts, malty hay, caramel sweetness, ash and dried strawberries.
- Finish: Fruit, malt, graham and a tart bite.
- Overall: A- (90-93) Shockingly low alcohol bite for the ABV, it was smooth as silk, flavorful and aromatic. I could have sipped this one all night and been happy as can be.
The Arran 12 years Cask Strength Batch #4 (53.2%)
- Nose: Fruit, toasted nuts, caramel, malt, toffee, citric acid and more of an alcohol kick than batch #2.
- Palate: Fruit, malt, toffee, wheat toast, hay, dried berries and a bit of caramel sweetness.
- Finish: Fruit, hay, citrus and smarties
- Overall: B+ (87-89) It’s good, but not as good as batch #2. The fish was a bit drying and it was noticeably hotter than Batch #2.
The Arran Machrie Moore 4th Edition (46%)
- Nose: Peat, fruit, red licorice and orange Pixy Stix.
- Palate: Light peat, fruit, citrus, vanilla, dark funk and an odd sweetness.
- Finish: Smoked meat, vanilla and fruit.
- Overall: B (83-86) Overall it’s a bit light, but it’s nice.
The Arran Machrie Moore 5th Edition (46%)
- Nose: Peat, fruit, vanilla, dark funk and a nice bit of sweetness.
- Palate: Mirrors the nose with a touch of woodiness.
- Finish: Some peat, vanilla and fruit
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Deeper and richer than the 4th edition. I really liked this one.
The Arran Sauternes Cask Finish (50%)
- Nose: Honey, orchard fruit, malt, graham and a touch nutty. There’s an elusive whiff of a floral character that seems to come and go – delicate.
- Palate: Orchard fruit, tropical fruit, honey, malty sweetness, toasted nuts and caramel.
- Finish: Honey, malt, toasted nuts and a light wine character.
- Overall: B (83-86) Interesting how that wine character never showed up till the finish, but all in all a decent whisky. Not one I’m clamoring to keep in the collection, but a nice tasty dram that’d work very well as a daily drinker.
The Arran Port Cask Finish (50%)
- Nose: Malt, Raisinets, dark sweets, dried dark fruit and a nutty undertone.
- Palate: Roasted malt, dark sweets, chocolate covered raisins (Raisinets… in case you didn’t know), dried dark fruit and a bit of orchard fruit.
- Finish: Caramel, orange zest, malt and port. Like the Sauternes that port essence didn’t fully show up till the finish.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) I’m picky about port finishes, but this one does it well. Really enjoyed everything about it and feel like if they left it to finish a while longer in the port casks it could pick up a bit more depth and kick it up to the next level.
The Arran Amarone Cask Finish (50%)
- Nose: Touch floral with notes of malt, dark fruit, vanilla, citrus and a grapy wine note that kicks up a bit more with water.
- Palate: Strawberries, malt, dried dark fruit, citrus, a bit of cocoa and more of that wine note which gets stronger towards the finish.
- Finish: Wine, dried fruit, malt and overworked cocoa.
- Overall: B (83-86) This one perplexes me. One minute I’m liking it, the next I’m questioning it. This is one I’d like a bottle of so I could spend some time trying to figure it out. Very different from the wine finished / aged Bruichladdichs I’ve had which is the closest thing I can relate it to.
The Arran 15 years Sherry Single Cask (51.1%)
Cask: 1979 Distilled: 12-11-96 Bottled: 4-25-12
- Nose: Malt, sherry, dried dark fruit, vermouth, saline, brown butter and a bit of cocoa.
- Palate: Malt, rich sherry sweetness, saline, dried dark fruit, cocoa, graham and a light bit of char.
- Finish: Malty sweet, dried dark fruit, saline and ash.
- Overall: A- (90-92) This was a really good cask. Complex, dense and rich it’s a full sensory experience. Love it.
The Arran 16 years Sherry Single Cask (53.2%)
Cask: 217 Distilled: 2-17-97 Bottled: 2-5-14
- Nose: Sherry sweetness, dried fruit, strawberries, malt, saline and ash.
- Palate: Malt, sherry, ash, tropical fruit, dark fruit, dried strawberries, caramel and a nutty undertone.
- Finish: Malt, ash and dried strawberries.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) A good cask, but I liked cask 1979 much more. While good, it wasn’t as rich and dense as the younger cask which goes to show that older doesn’t always mean better, it just means older.
The most surprising thing about this tasting to me was that there wasn’t a stinker in the lineup. There wasn’t anything here that I would take a pass on if offered. On the whole I’d say it looks like The Arran is putting out some decent whisky and doesn’t seem like you can really go wrong with anything they’re putting out.
What’s your experience been with The Arran? Love, hate or indifference I’d like to see what you have to say.