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With this, my latest review, the Arran malt becomes the first dram to feature twice here on WhiskyReviews.net (I’m sure distillers in Lochranza are punching the air in wild celebration as you read this). I’m rather a fan of their malt though and this particular expression perfectly highlights the effectiveness of ‘cask finishing’, something of a trend in today’s whisky industry.
The Arran malt is relatively young by Scotch standards, with the first-ever 18-year-old appearing in 2015. The distillery produces a light, fruity spirit, more akin to the whisky of Speyside than the islands off Scotland’s western coast. The dedication to bottle at a higher strength helps to showcase the malt in the best possible light. The core range consists of 10, 12, 14 and 18-year-old expressions, with occasional single cask releases and a series of ‘cask finishes’ which offer some intriguing spins on the distillery character.
As mentioned in my review of Gordon & MacPhail’s Highland Park 2006 cask strength release, Bourbon Barrels account for the vast majority of Scotch maturation. In the past, however, most of the nations spirit would likely have been aged in European Oak casks but the huge decline in the popularity of sherry and port has made them rather difficult to obtain. The flavours imparted by these casks can be radically different and sometimes a blender will play around with different varieties in order to create a richly flavoured dram.
One rather effective technique is known as ‘finishing’ and begins with traditional maturation in bourbon barrels before the spirit is transferred to a secondary cask for additional flavouring. At Arran, such drams have been finished in ex-Sauternes, ex-Port and ex-Amarone casks, each of which is rather unique, though for me it is the latter which really stands out.
Smell: Chocolate Orange (Jaffa Cakes!), Cherry and Cranberry with some Toffee and Chocolate.
Taste: 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.
Thoughts: Arran seems to be quite a flexible single malt. It performs pretty well in bourbon, sherry and apparently, Italian red wine casks. Their cask finish series is pretty strong in general but the Amarone is my personal favourite. The winey top notes add something really interesting to the character of the malt. It’s quite unlike anything else on the market at present – and it’s reasonably priced at £45. Especially for a malt bottled at 50%. Arran took a while to find its way into people’s affections but for me, it’s really found its feet in the last couple of years. I’d even argue that it’s one of the better performers on the market with five or six excellent and affordable drams available. Great wee distillery, great wee whisky.