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Friday, 20 August 2010

Arran Adventure - Part 1

A visit to a new distillery always fills us with such trepidation and excitement. What are we to expect? Do they do things differently? And more importantly, what will we get to try??

Well earlier this week, us Caskstrengthers got a superb opportunity to visit The Arran Distillery , whose new operation is now in the full swing of things. We say new, despite the fact that they have been up and running since 1995, but this is of course a mere infancy, when compared to the more established west coast island distilleries, or neighbouring Campbeltown.

Our initial expectations of Arran were fairly limited, as we began the first leg of our trip on the train up to Glasgow. Both Joel and I had tried the Founder's Reserve bottling, produced in 2001, which was very youthful tasting indeed and didn't really give many solid indications of where the single malt was heading. In fact, this was one of the very first reviews we had ever done for Caskstrength, back in March 2008!

We also had a small sample of some new make spirit from 1995, blessed with a highly fruity/floral aroma. But our hosts, our good friend Andy Hogan, Arran's North American Brand Ambassador and Distillery Manager James MacTaggart had lined up a tasting of the most recent bottlings from the distillery's core range; the 10yo and brand new 14yo, as well as some superb single cask expressions and a rare treat- the 15yo Anniversary bottling, produced for this year's open day.

Arriving at the distillery, one is immediately taken with the truly beautiful scenery, which surrounds the site. Goat Fell and Brodick Castle are right on the doorstep, so anyone who enjoys the real Scottish outdoors should plan a trip, taking in the distillery on the way. It is also possible to take a walk up to Loch na Davie, the distillery's water source, but as time was tight on this visit, we made tentative plans to return soon, dressed in full gorse-proof tweeds and heavy brogues.

With the sun blazing down on our outdoor tasting table, we got stuck into some scrumptious dramming...and boy, were we in for a shock...

The overall house style of the distillery is one of a light, fruity and vanillery aroma, with a salty undertone using a mixture of predominantly fresh bourbon casks and sherry hoggies/butts. Our first gleaming glass was the standard 10yo, which proved to be anything but 'standard'.

Isle Of Arran - 10 yo – (50% refill sherry 25% fresh sherry 25% fresh bourbon) 46%

Nose: Light and zesty, fruit sherbet, vanilla custard, absolutely no nose prickle. With water, the fruitiness (fresh crisp green apples) comes through in abundance.

Palate: Sherry makes itself apparent, a hint of dry vermouth, but still maintaining the vanilla sweetness. Some gentle spices, mix with a gentle maltiness.

Finish: Very fresh, green beans and more light notes. Some salted capers with water.

Overall: Absolutely wonderful. Light, and perfectly summery. Although this shares a lot with the classic Lowland style of whisky making it is refreshingly different, giving Arran its own regionality. (£32)

Next up- the brand new 14yo release, which was so new, the distillery shop was still waiting for its allocation!!

Isle of Arran - 14yo – 46%

Nose: Summer pudding!! Fresh strawberries, mint, malty bread, raspberries, and vanilla. Given time, some banana toffee and fresh apricots emerge. With water, even more vanilla custard.

Palate: A rich mouthfeel, Crème Brulee, licorice, a little pepper, but backed up by the fresh fruit.

Finish: Slightly salty/briney, but then back into the fruits – hints of green banana and a little creaminess. Surprisingly lengthy for a light style.

Overall: Another cracker, with more sweet fruity goodness. This bottling highlights just how well the whisky is maturing. Stay tuned for an 18yo in the future!! (£38)

After a couple of cask samples including a single cask sherry bottling, (much drier, but still retaining that wonderful fresh fruit and vanilla) and a Calvados cask (baked apples, butter and spice... think Tarte Tatin) it was time to sample the distillery's prized Anniversary bottling. And after the 2 previous drams, our expectations were running high! The casks used to produce this bottling were 3 of the very first casks in the distillery's inventory, specially selected by James for their exceptional balance.

Isle Of Arran - 15yo Anniversary bottling– 600 bottles from a vatting of 3, 1st fill Bourbon casks– 51.4% – (Heaven Hill Casks) - Released at the 2010 Arran Distillery open day

Nose: Pannacotta time! A sensational vanilla and summer fruits nose. Absolutely beautiful. Fresh, vibrant, yet with incredible balance. With water, a hint of waxiness (ala Clynelish, but not as huge) and a peppery rye note. Clearly, the casks which went into this bottling were absolutely top draw indeed.

Palate: Rich, malty, very complex, the bourbon influence is devastatingly apparent. Cinnamon, coconut, that wonderful vanilla, mint and then some milk chocolate.

Finish: The fruit and fresh bourbon notes give a spiciness which lingers for a few minutes. This is 'second dram stuff', without a doubt!!

Overall: If you can, get a bottle of this now- there are only a handful left, but it is undoubtedly a landmark bottling for the distillery- some of the oldest casks of the distillery stocks have gone into this and it is a true time capsule for the rise and rise of Arran's wonderful whisky making. (Only available from the distillery in person, or via mail order here) (£95)

Part 2 of our Arran trip will be posted shortly, where we got a chance to see the distillery at work, as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of the warehouses and the faint whiff of a familiar friend at work...