Isle of Arran 12 Year Old ‘Cask Strength’

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In the first few reviews I looked at recognisable brands that are regularly available in big supermarket chains. This time I’m taking a different approach and reviewing a dram from a lesser known distillery, situated in the islands of Scotland. Many feel that the islands should represent a sixth scotch region but as yet this has not been accepted by the Scotch Whisky Association who recognise just five regions… the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. Generally, the islands are considered part of the Highlands but that’s never really felt right to me. If nothing else, Islanders are proud of being just that and calling them Highlanders (or anything else for that matter) would be denying them their identity. The same goes for their whisky.

The Arran distillery is relatively new by scotch standards. Building began in 1994 but had to be halted for a short time due to the presence of a pair of Golden Eagles nesting on the nearby mountainside. Things had to be put on hold for the nesting season due to the protected status of the species but the spirit finally ran from the stills in 1995. The tour guides will tell you that the Eagles performed an honorary flyover on opening day in thanks for halting construction. Nonsense of course but the best kind of nonsense. Whisky and mythology go hand in hand and why shouldn’t new distilleries have their own fables? As a reminder of this little tale there are two eagles on every bottle of Arran whisky.

In the short time the distillery has been in production it has built up a reputation for producing top quality, unique whisky. Their range includes the ‘Robert Burns’ malt, bottled at 40%, a 10 and 14 year old, both bottled at 46% and the peated ‘Machrie Moor’ also at 46%. On top of this there have been some excellent single cask releases, some wonderful wine cask finishes and some highly sought after collectors editions. Not to mention the release this year of their first ever 18 year old.

However, for this review I’ll be looking at the 12 year old. To be exact, I’ll be reviewing one of 15,000 bottles of the Arran 12 year old Batch 3 which was bottled in September 2013. It’s bottled at a wonderful cask strength of 53.9% abv, there’s no colouring added and it hasn’t been chill-filtered. This is proper, naturally presented whisky as nature intended! It also states on the label that it has been matured in a ‘higher percentage of first-fill sherry casks’ so we should be in for lots of flavour here.

On the nose there’s three things that leap out, Dark Chocolate, some Orange and an odd, Musty smell – like an old damp attic. That sounds unpleasant I know but it really isn’t… There’s also a touch of Almond and Marzipan and when water is added, a note of Lemon.

On the palate there’s very prominent Orange and Lemon with Dark Chocolate andCoffee. Light Bodied, though still a nice mouth-feel. Tiny bit rough when drinking neat maybe (well it is 54%) but it didn’t take a lot of water to take the heat off and settle it down into a very pleasant dram indeed.

The ScoresAbout the scoring system

Smell: 17/20. Feels like it really leaps out at you. Almost aggresive. I could see people being a bit put off by that musty smell but I find it quite intriguing.

Taste: 18/20. A nice big flavoursome dram.

Value: 9/10. This comes in around the £40 to £45 price range and for me that’s a great price for what you’re getting here: a 12 year old, non chill filtered, natural colour whisky with bags of flavour and some unique characteristics. Recommended.

Total: 44/50

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