Isle of Arran Distillers – Burns Night Whisky tasting
And so on to the first Arkwrights whisky tasting of the year, with the Isle of Arran Distillers, held in the familiar surroundings of the Stanton House Hotel. This tasting fell, rather appropriately, on the eve of Burns Night. Traditionally a celebration of the life and poetry of the Scottish poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns held on or near his birthday, the 25th of January.
Having lined my stomach with haggis, neeps and tatties before heading to the tasting, it was fitting that Louisa Young, our host for the night, started proceedings with a toast to the Bard, and a reading of “A Red, Red Rose”
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
The Isle of Arran distillers were founded in 1995, although with so many distilleries springing up in the past few years they cannot be considered young pups anymore! I remember the last Arran tasting Arwrights ran about two and a half years ago, at the time I was impressed with their inventiveness and bold styling. It had been interesting to hear of their experimentation with aging of spirits in various different cask types (Champagne casks, Bordeaux casks, Calvados casks for example) so was interested to see what sort of progression there had been, and how their expressions had developed. Back then I remember the Port Cask being particularly good (so good I’d bought a bottle) and in more recent times I’d obtained a bottle of Machrie Moor, Arran’s peated whisky. As enjoyable as these ‘early’ expressions are, I’d remembered that in the previous tasting there was a ‘youngness’ to the spirits, a sort of brash, youthfulness that I suppose you would expect from a young distillery looking to make its mark in the industry. However, here we are in 2014, the distillery is now an 18 year old adult, would the expressions be more mature?
We were lucky enough to have seven expressions to try on the night, starting with ‘The Robert Burns’. A 43% single malt, sweet on the nose with almonds and honey that was very easy to drink. Light on the palate, with hints of vanilla and a surprisingly long nutty finish for a dram that initially feels so light and fresh. This was an excellent dram with which to start the evening!
Drams two and three were the 10 year old and 14 year old single malts. Both enjoyable, easy drinking whiskies. The 10 year old had an interesting nose, very much like linseed oil, whilst the 14 had a richer, headier scent. Both had a honeyed sweetness to them, with the 10 year old having an oaky finish and being a little more ‘spirity’ than the 14 which was a more mellow rounded dram, infused with Christmas cake flavours.
We moved on to a cask strength, 54.1%, 12 year old single malt aged in sherry and bourbon casks. The nose had the same thick oiliness I’d been picking up in some of the previous expressions, I was beginning to think this was almost a signature of Arran malts, and there was a sweetness to it, ripe yellow fruits like peaches. The palate was complex, and again very smooth and mellow given the strength. Dark chocolate orange was noticeable, but I could have quite happily had another dram or two to give this excellent whisky more analysis!
Next to sample was the 50% Sauternes Finish. This had an initial oily, rich, lightly spiced nose to it that was very pleasant, it opened up in the glass as time went on though allowing you to pick up fruitiness… banana maybe? The initial taste was rich and thick with dried fruits like raisins & sultanas and a slightly woody finish that was exceptionally smooth given the strength. Usually I would add a few drops of water to a cask finish to see how the whisky develops, however on this occasion I didn’t feel it needed it. Another winner!
The penultimate whisky was the Machrie Moor fourth edition. Earlier in the week I’d had a cheeky dram of the second edition in my collection, thinking that I may have the opportunity to compare it against the latest offering. Machrie Moor is the lightly peated offering from Arran named after the peat bog on the west coast of the island and is bottled at 46%. On the nose you pick up a sweet creamy coconut with just a touch of smoke from the peat. On the palate, it’s more citrusy than you would expect given the nose, with a decent smack of smokiness although not overpowering. In all honesty though, I don’t think this fourth edition stands up to the second edition. Overall I found it to be a little disappointing and lacking in finish.
And so on to the final (or was it?!) dram of the evening. The excellent 53.5% Millennium Casks. A limited edition release with only 7800 bottles available worldwide. Matured in bourbon and sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. The nose yet again has that sweet, rich oiliness with hints of ginger and chili. It’s a very warming, inviting nose. The initial taste is of thick sweet vanilla custard with a hint of allspice, it stays a long time and develops into a richer dark chocolate with a slight peppery bite to it. A hugely enjoyable dram and an excellent way to finish the evening. If the first whisky is an ideal aperitif, then this would be the perfect digestif.
In summary, I would have to say that Arran are producing some excellent, robust, mature whiskies. What I perceive to be their signature sweetness & oiliness is very pleasing, and the depth and complexity of their various expressions should really be sampled and enjoyed. It’s fair to say that the spotty teenager from 2 ½ years ago has grown up!
As is customary after a tasting evening, our group of six retired to the conservatory in the Stanton House Hotel with a beer to discuss and rate the whiskies we’d tasted. The Millennium Cask & Robert Burns were my top two of the night. We were lucky enough to be joined by Louisa from the Arran distillery and an amiable chap whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten (if you happen to be reading this Sir, I apologise!) [Ed’s note – it was the lovely David, who can be seen perusing a dram on the left] who very generously shared his bottle of Glen Garioch with us after the bar had closed. It was a lovely end to the evening… discussing whiskies, sharing stories and enjoying a dram with new friends.
You can check out our selection of Isle of Arran whiskies on the website by clicking here