This week, the Isle of Arran single malt becomes the first to be reviewed twice on WhiskyReviews.net… I’m sure there are wild celebrations in Lochranza as you read this. I’m a fan of their product though and this expression allows me to explore a trend that I haven’t covered yet.
Arran distillery is just a baby by scotch whisky standards. It opened in 1995 and only just released it’s first 18 year old whisky in 2015. The spirit produced here is a bit of a surprise quantity, differing from many of Scotland’s other island distilleries by choosing not to use peat smoke in their core range. As a result the Arran has built a flavour profile quite unique to itself. It’s bottled at 10, 12, 14 and 18 years old with occasional specials and single cask releases. In addition, the distilled has also been experimenting with a series of ‘cask finishes’…
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, so are used extensively to age whisky. Of course, all these bourbon casks will impart similar, though not identical, flavours which has led some producers to look elsewhere for their maturation needs. Scotland’s national spirit has an even longer history with European Oak Sherry Casks which impart radically different and often bolder flavours than their American cousins but are in short supply these days, due to declining sales of Sherry. This at least partly explains the rise of a process known as ‘finishing’.
Finishing is when a whisky is transferred to a second cask for a short time before being bottling. For example, spirit could spend ten years in a bourbon barrel before being transferred to a sherry cask for a year or two to give an extra dimension in taste. The process allows distillers to create new and interesting spins on traditional bourbon cask matured whisky.
A shortage of good quality Sherry wood has led many distillers to look at alternative casks – like ex-Rum, ex-Port or even ex-Wine. That’s what Arran are doing here and have bottled a series of single malts under the ‘Cask Finishes’ title… There’s a Port Finish, a Sauternnes Finish and an Amarone Finish. They each have their merits but the latter is the standout for me.
On the nose there’s 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?