For almost a decade, Arran kept releasing fresh NAS batches.
However, because this bottling doesn't have an age statement
you could never know for sure if a bottle from 2002 contained
malt whisky that was three or seven years old. That being said,
the first batch I tried in 1998 pleasantly surprised me...
My score of 61 points may not seem particularly impressive to the casual observer,
but that’s actually pretty good for a whisky that’s just 3 years old. And I'm happy to
report that the malt whisky from Arran has improved considerably since then.
This time around, I could actually notice notable improvement at Arran.
A score of 67 points still isn't a stellar score by any stretch of the imagination, but
it's the area where I'm starting to have some genuine fun. So, while I may have given
lukewarm recommendations about the earliest bottlings, most of their releases after
2003 can now compete with many of the more established whisky brands out there.
Around the year 2000 Arran released some 'special' bottlings like the 'Painters'
series and the 'Robert Burns' (shown below). The lack of any further information
on the actual age of these bottles and steep prices kept me from investing much
money in these bottlings, but by 2003 the 'Non-Chillfiltered' bottling appeared.
By the way, Arran also has its own blended whisky - like many other distilleries.
Usually I don’t care for young blends, but the Arran’s Lochranza blend isn't half bad.
I can't say I really 'love' it (50 points), but I like it far better than many of the mainstream blends
like J&B, Johnnie Walker and William Lawson's. And the Lochranza is pretty good value too here in Holland.
The only potentially disturbing fly in Arran's ointment could be the large quantities of single
malt and blended whisky that have already been bottled and sold at a fairly tender age. The
Arran distillery may have a substantial production capacity of circa 750,000 litres per year,
but for a long time they only produced a fraction of that; 125,000 litres.
Will there be enough (good) casks left to satisfy demand by the time the very first Arran
whisky reaches its prime around the years 2015-2020? What's more, were they able to
secure enough decent casks in the first place? Judging from the wide variety of different
finishes that Arran distillery has released in the early noughties, the results of maturation
in their regular (bourbon?) casks often required further 'tweaking' before the
Arran malt whisky was deemed suitable for mass consumption.
I'm not a conservative person, so I don’t mind some experimentation and
unconventional measures when the situation calls for it - provided they get results...
The Arran distillery was opened in 1995, but the number of expressions remained very
limited during the first decade. Until 2005, the most widely available expression of Arran
was the NAS (no age statement) bottling at the left, released for the first time in 1998.
In a way, Arran is one of the most remote distilleries in Scotland.
It’s not the farthest away from the whisky heartland (the Speyside region),
but it’s located on an island: Arran. That means that you have to travel by
boat or aircraft to get there. Not surprisingly, the distillery offers no tours.
The island has plenty of attractions for intrepid travellers though...
Arran’s closest neighbours to the West are the Springbank and Glen Scotia distilleries, located on the Campbeltown
peninsula - widely viewed as one of the Scotch whisky regions (the traditional ones). But Arran’s closest neighbours
to the East are Auchentoshan and Ailsa Bay in the Lowlands. So, how do the ‘Arranians’ view themselves?
I asked Arran’s Jaclym McKie and she defined Arran as a ‘Single Island Malt’ - so there you have it...
1) During the construction of the distillery, a pair of Golden Eagles built their nest on a cliff near the distillery.
Since Golden Eagles are a protected species, construction of the distillery was temporarily halted.
The eagles even made it onto the official Arran logo (at the right) a few years later.
4) In 2010 Arran distillery sold 13,500 cases of malt whisky and made a profit of a little over 100,000 GBP.
And around the year 2011, +/- 20,000 litres of Arran’s production was a peated malt whisky with +/- 20 PPM.
3) Until the 1830's there were three whisky distilleries on the relatively small Isle of Arran, all of them located
on the Southern part of the island. However, the Arran whisky that is made today comes from the North.
5) If all goes according to plan, Arran should have two more working stills by March 2017.
2) Arran hit puberty in 2007 and they decided the old logo with
the countours of the Isle of Arran at the left needed a make-over.
But not all changes were ‘’cosmetic. Arran didn't have its own malt
mill until 2007, which meant they had to purchase ready made grist
from the mainland. However, in 2007 a proper malt mill was installed.
That means that Arran distillery now purchases their malted barley from the
East coast while everything else (except the bottling) is done on the island itself.
So, that makes Arran one of the more ‘local’ distilleries operating today.
The chapter “In The New Millennium” only covers a
fraction of the lifetime of most distilleries, but when
I write this update in 2016, Arran had already spent
three quarters of its life in the third millennium.
2009 - A new racked warehouse with a capacity
of circa 3,000 casks is added to the Arran distillery.
2011 - A 12yo cask strength official bottling of Arran
is released, along with 'Westie' & 'Sleeping Warrior'.
2013 - In April Arran releases their oldest bottling
yet; a 16 years old expression priced at £59.99.
It is a 'limited edition' of 9,000 bottles; the first in an
annual trilogy counting down to the Arran 18yo in 2015.
2003 - Arran releases the Arran "Non Chill Filtered";
as far as I'm concerned the first really 'mature' Arran.
They also released their first double matured whisky;
Calvados Finish. This was the first in a long range
of different finishes, including Marsala, Champagne,
Port, Bordeaux, Chareau Margaux, Tokaji, Rum,
Cognac, Cream sherry, Fino sherry, Amarone,
Fontalloro, Lepanto PX Brandy, Moscatel de Setubal,
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Mascianelli, Pineau de
Charentes, Pineau de Charentes, Sassicaia,
St. Emillion Chateau Fonplegade, etc.
2007 - Arran becomes more self-sufficient by the
installation of their own malt mill at the distillery.
2016 - By now the actual annual production at Arran has
grown to (almost) 500,000 litres of whisky per year, which
means that they still could grow a little further with their
original pair of stills. However, the Arran distillery closed down
in October 2016 for the installation of two additional stills.
2017 - Not content with expanding the number of stills at
the original Arran distillery, the owners decided to build yet
another distillery. Where might that be, you are wondering?
In the same whisky region and on the very same island!
Arran 20yo 1996/2017 (51.3%, Highland Laird, Sherry Butt, Cask #1337, 520 Bts.)
Nose: Starts deep and fruity - late summer fruits. A lovely profile, mellow but full of flavours. Expanding wood.
For a few minutes it resembles a classic sherried Speysider as they made them a few decades ago.
A faint hint of pepper as well - and some leather. Fantastic development - a malt whisky for time travellers.
Taste: A very soft start, that explodes into fruity sweetness after a few seconds. Evolving into strong tannins.
Lots of development on the palate in a fairly short period of time - unfortunately the magic is gone in minutes.
Score: 87 points - which makes it my favourite Arran ever, I think. (Well, it was a sherry cask after all....)
Arran 1998/2010 (56.5%, OB, Sherry Cask #603, 225 Bts)
Nose: Heavily sherried with a powerful punch in the top of the nose. Sweet and fruity; plums and cherries.
Hints of leather as well. Cinnamon and some other spices in the background. Growing complexity over time.
Taste: Fairly rough on the palate. Pleasant but not very expressive; this keeps the score at 85 points.
Score: 85 points - this is a highly enjoyable Arran whisky - one of the best ones so far!
Arran 14yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Light and fruity on the surface with some 'coastal' organics in the background. It grows quite complex.
Opens up fairly quickly. Sweet & sour. Relatively outspoken amongst the ever more 'uniform' competition.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet. Malty. Slightly uneven, but certainly pleasant enough. Relatively simplistic finish.
Score: 81 points - this somehow reminded me of the Bushmills 16yo from Ireland, but it's more complex.
Arran 10yo (46%, OB, +/- 2009)
Nose: Light. Starts with early fruits, followed by farmy and grainy tones in the sour end of the spectrum.
The slightly odd fruits are pleasant enough, although it feels slightly 'microwaved' or 'pressure cooked'.
Malty. Sweetens out a bit over time, with notes of honeysuckle and a hint of oil. Quite complex for a 10yo...
Taste: Starts off smooth but a tad uneven, but finds a balance after a few seconds. Hint of something herbal?
The centre and the finish are quite harsh, though… During round 1 it reaches the 80's, but barely...
Score: 80 points - I'd say a good portion of ex-sherry or ex-wine casks were used for this vatting.
Arran 1998/2008 (52.3%, OB, Sherry, C#305, 285 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet and mellow. Fresh dough. Fruity notes too. Intriguing spices. After a few minutes organics emerge.
Taste: Solid but a little nondescript. Well, it opens up- over time, becoming bigger, rounder and more complex.
Score: 86 points - It's very nice to see the whisky from this young distillery maturing nicely.
Arran NAS (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1998, Sherry Casks, L9:243:S10 99:13185 11:00, 70cl)
Nose: Oily and creamy - like Isle of Jura. Grain? Banana's and some peppery elements as well.
A little sweet. A pinch of salt. A little smoke and some nuttyness later on. Quite interesting.
Not bad at +/- 3 yo. It picks up slightly after a while, but never reaches recommendable levels.
Taste: Watery. Smooth with a malty burn, then a toffee sweetness. Dry and bitter finish. Tea?
Score: 61 points - it seems we'll have to wait a few more years before it becomes respectable...
Arran 12yo 1996 'The Peacock Ltd Edition' (46%, OB, 6000 Bts.)
Nose: Very little character in the nose - and breathing doesn't help. Hint of something herbal. Odd...
Taste: Nondescript start, followed by some toffee notes. Dry finish. Fairly harsh. Below average.
Score: 72 points - it's peculiar that this scores fairly low; recent batches of the 10yo are still recommendable.
Perhaps they used only bourbon or rum casks for the maturation of this one?
Arran 12yo 1996/2009 (55.7%, A. D. Rattray Cask Collection, Cask #96/723, 656 Bts.)
Nose: Starts off with veggy notes, before gaining complexity; cardboard, heather honey and blueberries.
Diesel? Some organics as well. Sweetens out over time, after adding a few dashes of water. Needs oxygen.
Taste: Smooth, with slightly weird fruits. Cool, becomes a little bit cloying. Whiff of oil in the finish.
Based on the nose I was inclined to go for 82 points but the harsh centre and finish keep it at 81 points.
Score: 81 points - but I should add that it needs some time and water to get there.
Arran 1998/2008 (57.5%, OB for LMdW Paris, Bourbon, C#675, 213 Bts.)
Nose: Polished. Balanced. Not terribly expressive, but right up my alley. Some spices emerge after a minute.
Taste: Matches the nose perfectly. Beautiful balance of fruit and wood.
Score: 83 points - Arran has really matured nicely in a decade.
Arran 12yo 1996/2008 (54.7%, Master of Malt, Refill Sherry Hogshead, 301 Bts.)
Nose: Raw beans? Heavy rotting fruits - which is a good thing. Some spices in the background.
On the other hand, it doesn't offer a lot besides the very pleasant complex fruits. No, wait... Dust?
After ten minutes of breathing I did find a whiff of smoke as well. All in all, a very pleasant profile.
Taste: The palate matches the nose perfectly. This shows the fermenting fruits as well.
Not nearly as sweet as one might expect. The mouth feel is quite harsh as well - too bad.
Score: 81 points - proof that the Arran distillery has left the first difficult years behind.
Arran NAS 'Grand Cru Champagne Cask Finish' (58.8%, OB, 308 bottles, Bottled 2005)
Nose: Sweet and grainy, quickly growing fruitier. Faint hint of smoke? Developing organics. Sake?
Ah, this definitely opens up with time. Well, not for long. It drifts in and out of focus. Camphor?
More spices and organics in the nose during round 2. Stock cubes. Quite unique. Smells 'foody'.
Taste: Oy, a hint of pine in the start. Sweet and herbal. Dry and quite harsh towards the finish.
Feels a bit winey at the end with tannins pulling my gums in. Yeah, in the end this is utterly drinkable.
Score: 83 points - not really my 'type', but expressive and a solid overproof whisky (especially on the palate).
Arran NAS 'Non-chillfiltered' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Nutty. Sweet and malty at first - light and very pleasant. Oatmeal? Quite accessible.
Wait a minute - now it's growing oilier and grainier. The complexity vanishes after a while.
I like it better than the normal NAS version but after a few minutes I still found it a tad boring.
Taste: Starts off rather weak, uneven and bitter. Sweeter centre - not altogether unpleasant.
Unfortunately, the finish is dry and very bitter. Bad wood? It loses quite a few points there.
Score: 67 points - I had my first dram at 71 points but my second opinion was less positive.
The whisky shows potential (more than I thought) but in the end it's just too neutral for me.
But the slightly higher proof works, I imagine this could work even better at 50% or even C/S.
Or how about increasing the PPM - that seems to work for the Ledaigs distilled at Tobermory.
Arran NAS 'Port Cask Finish' (50%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Wow... Very sulphury. Heavily finished. I like the expressiveness, but it almost smells like a liqueur.
It settles down after a few minutes. Some spices join the party, but the elements are not really integrated.
Taste: Fruity on the surface, but it has a dusty undercurrent. Centre and finish are quite fruity as well.
Score: 78 points - but I can imagine how the opinions about this Arran whisky will be very divided.
Arran 1996/2008 (56.84%, OB for 'The Nectar', Sherry Cask #1860)
Nose: Subtle old fruits. Dried apples. Complex sweetness. Some polished wood too. An old tobacco store.
Classic sherried profile with a hint of bubblegum. Lovely development over time; doesn't need water.
Taste: Strong and sweet with loads of 'mature' sherry notes. Very solid finish with a touch of liquorice.
Score: 86 points - perhaps a tad harsh on the palate, but a better malt than I'd expected from Arran.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Arran malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Arran I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Arran.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.