This week sees Arran Distillery become the first producer to be reviewed twice here at whiskyreviews.net… I’m sure they’re celebrating as you read this! The reason I’ve chosen to review this particular single malt is firstly because I really like it and secondly, it allows me to explore a trend that I haven’t yet covered.
The Arran Distillery is just a baby in whisky terms. It was opened in 1995 and has only just been able to release it’s first ever 18 year old whisky in 2015. The whisky produced here is a bit of a surprise quantity, differing from many of Scotland’s other island distilleries by opting out of using peat smoke in their core range. It’s all the better for it as it has built a flavour profile completely unique to itself. It’s bottled at 10, 12, 14 and 18 years old with occasional single cask releases. However, Arran have also been experimenting with a series of ‘cask finishes’ and it’s one of these I’m going to be looking at here.
In my review of Gordon & MacPhail’s Highland Park 2006 I wrote about the popularity of Bourbon Barrels in the production of scotch whisky. These are the most available and reasonably priced casks that a distiller can get their hands on, however the flavours they impart are generally quite subtle (think vanilla and citrus). Scotch has an even longer history with European Oak Sherry Casks and these impart much bolder flavour than their American cousins but are in short supply due to declining sales of Sherry. This could partly explain the rise of a process known as ‘finishing’.
Finishing is when a whisky spends most of it’s life in one cask before being transferred to another for a short period before bottling. So for example you could mature a whisky for ten years in a bourbon barrel and then transport it to a sherry cask for another two years in order to give it an extra dimension. This process can allow the distiller to breathe life into whiskies matured in tired old bourbon barrels and also to preserve the lifespan of their rare and valuable sherry casks.
This shortage of good quality Sherry Casks has also led many distillers to look for alternatives – like Rum, Port or even Wine. The intensity of flavour given by these casks is such that it can easily overpower the character of a single malt if it were to spend its complete maturation period in one of them. However, that same intensity makes them ideal for finishing.
This is what Arran are playing with here and have bottled a series of single malts under the ‘Cask Finishes’ banner. There’s a Port Finish, a Sauternnes Finish and an Amarone Finish. I have to say I like all of them but the standout for me is the latter…
On the nose I get Chocolate Orange (Jaffa Cakes!), Cherry and Cranberry with some Toffee and Chocolate. Amarone is a dry Red Wine from Italy and interestingly this is quite dry on the palate as well – the chocolate orange from the nose continues here with more Cranberry, Red Grapes and a little warming touch of Cinnamon.
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: 18 / 20. It’s an interesting nose – unique and compelling.
Taste: 18.5 / 20. Perhaps not the most complex whisky I’ve ever tasted but it’s got bags of flavour. I have to say, I’ve rather fallen for it!
Value: 9.5 / 10. Comes in around £40 – £45 a bottle but it’s 50%, natural colour, non chill filtered and something that little bit different – making it a very worthy purchase in my opinion.
Total: 46 / 50 – a great big mouthful of flavour at a good price. What are you waiting for?