By The Dram #2: Round the Isle of Arran

Welcome to the second episode of By The Dram, this time featuring five samples from the excellent Isle of Arran distillery.

As always, I’m not affiliated or sponsored in any way to the featured distilleries nor to Drinks by the Dram! 🙂

What’s in a name?

For anyone who’s experienced it, picking a name for a baby can be fraught with dangers. If you’re from a Chinese family, there’s sooo much more to think about.

  • Astrologers want to have their say – pick a wrong name and the baby will be doomed to a life of inexplicable misfortune.
  • ‘Themed’ names –  when the parents decide that all their children must be named after exotic fruits.
  • Generation names – it’s not the baby’s fault if it was born into a generation where the designated generation name is something like Kok or Poo. Please don’t ask me what mine is.
  • And the usual minefield of avoiding a name that is a swear word in another language…  my previous point also very relevant.

I recently had the pleasure of helping pick a name for the newest addition to Her sister’s brood, a bouncing baby boy. The challenge:

  • the name must start with the letter A – as the rest of his siblings are
  • it must have some elements of water – to balance all that Fire karma that he’s obviously born with, duh.

Aristotle, Apollo, Argyll and Ambrosia were all shot down in quick succession… Thankfully, I guess.

My suggestion… Arran! I thought it was perfect. Water element? Check! It’s an island! Starts with A? Er, yeah, I guess. Is it awesome? You bet – because a bloody good whisky is named after it!

I won’t let on what the final name was… but suffice to say it was Arran-ish, with only one letter different. I’ll look forward to the day I’ll be having a dram with Almost-Arran and sharing with him this story, and it will most certainly be a dram of his almost-namesake.

Isle of Arran

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Isle of Arran. Image courtesy of Pixabay

A bit about the distillery first. It opened in 1995 so it is a relative newcomer to the scene. Three years later, Ewan McGregor was the celebrity Scot to help lend some pizzazz to the first cask of Arran single malt to be opened. This was right after filming Star Wars: Phantom Menace completed, and a few months before it (sadly) debuted on our screens

A friend who was there told me that the after party which featured Ewan McGregor on stage at the local pub singing with the village band… the man’s a good lad alright!

They do unpeated malts, so this is not a phenol-chart-busting Islay whisky, nor do maritime flavours feature heavily in it unlike Talisker or Old Pulteney. A more delicate cousin to the other island whiskies, but still a solid punchy one.

The Line Up

arran_IMG_1310

For this round, we have the following whiskies selected:

  • Arran 10 Year Old 46% – their entry level whisky, good candidate to start with
  • That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) Arran Batch 4 52%
  • TBWC Arran 19 Year Old Batch 5 54.6%
  • Master of Malt Arran 17 Year Old 1996 Single Cask 53.6%
  • Arran 2007 Amarone Cask Finish 55%

How did I pick these?

I wanted a mix of their stock whiskies, as well as single casks and indie bottlings. As always, I used the Whisky Bible scores and tasting notes as a guide.

TBWC do some fantastic bottlings, and I had recently just come into possession of a Batch 2 bottle (which scored a stupendous 95 in the Whisky Bible). No chance of getting a Batch 2 sample, so I just went for two others that were available!

Also, they have a stunning line up of wine-cask finishes from which I picked the Amarone which was highest scoring one in the bible (94.5)

Tasting Notes

rocket-545381_1920
No, they don’t malt these. But sure tastes like they did!

The immediate thing you notice about Arran whiskies is just how honeyed and fruity the whisky is. This is followed by a great big whack of tingly peppery mouthfeel, like having chomped a mouthful of rocket or mizuna. This was common to all the whiskies tasted in this session, but to different degrees. As such, a I’ll be giving a Rocket Rating to each, scoring out of 5 (with 5 being the most intense)

Arran 10 Year Old (46%)

Rocket 5/5. Strong smell of honey on the nose. Whisky gives that tingly burn on entry along with a big whack of peppery rocket, but surprisingly a pleasant experience. Graduates to slight smoke (odd, for an unpeated whisky) and less burn. mid #good

This was a great start to tasting session with El Guajiro. As always, one can trust a Karuizawa fan to find a Japanese connection with the mizuna taste!

TBWC Arran Batch 4 (52%)

Rocket 3/5. A finessed version of the 10 year old. The nose, taste and finish reigned in and sharpened to a razor sharp delivery with a stronger alcohol taste, but lacking balance. high #meh

Arran 2007 Amarone Cask Finish (55%)

Rocket 2/5. A most interesting dram indeed. Deep copper colour with a well balanced body, where the slightly dry sweet-&-sour flavour typical of amarone wine wraps its delicate fingers around the punchy Arran.This is definitely one of the better wine-cask finishes I have ever tasted. high #good

The finish was done just nicely; I suspect leaving it in the wine cask any longer would throw the flavours out of whack.

Master of Malt Arran 17 Year Old 1996 Single Cask (53.6%)

Rocket 4/5 The tingliness is back! Explosive tingly burn with high tones of honey that disappears just as quickly as it came. Yes, the brash brilliance of the 10 year old has been tamed by a further 7 years in the barrel, but unfortunately its turned into a sulky all-angst teen. #meh

Typical of single casks, the characteristics of the whisky is brought to the fore front but the lack of any further blending or vatting means it’s quite often a one trick pony. Scored 94 in the Whisky Bible… I’ll chalk it down to a difference of opinion 🙂

TBWC Arran 19 Year Old Batch 5 (54.6%)

Rocket 3/5 The angsty teen has grown wiser and more confident. The tingly peppery burn is now a deep controlled roar, and the fruity honey delivery is steady and smooth. This is Arran done to its potential. high #good

Unsurprisingly, this whisky is a gold-medal winning champ in 2016 (awarded by the chaps at Whisky Magazine).

Conclusion

So…? I took away three things:

  • I really really liked the 10 year old. For an entry level whisky, this is really good stuff at a great price compared to the other candidates.
  • My first amarone cask finish tasting was a success, and is now my benchmark for future amarone-finished whiskies. I look forward to trying more.
  • Growing up can be an awkward journey for whiskies.

I suspect this last point will prove too true too soon for Almost-Arran!

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