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When the Isle of Arran distillery opened in 1995, it was the first on the island for more than 150 years. The last distillery was situated at Lagg in the south and ceased operations in 1837. It was distilling of an illicit nature however, that this small island off the Ayrshire coast was perhaps better known for…
In the late 18th and early 19th century, the fertile island of Arran was the ideal place to make whisky and the south in particular, endowed with a coastline riddled by sheltered coves and secretive caves made perfect cover for those who wished to remain hidden from sight.
The spirit produced on the island was much in demand, with regular shipments to the mainland fetching a similar, if not greater price than the famed spirit of Islay. When the infamous Excise Act of 1823 was passed however, the island’s distillers failed to make the transition to legal businesses and one by one the stills fell silent. Quite why Arran didn’t follow the likes of Islay and Campbeltown remains something of a mystery. One would think its proximity to the mainland would have stood it in good stead but alas, the island was soon completely bereft of the whisky making craft.
All of that changed of course when work began on a new distillery just outside the village of Lochranza in the early 1990s. This picturesque site in the north of the island was selected due to the regular supply of crystal clear water which ran freely from the surrounding hillside, though construction soon had to be halted to allow for nesting season when a pair of Golden Eagles were found to be resident in the cliffs above.
The distillery finally opened its doors in 1995 and has gone on to become an incredible success story. In 2015 alone, the company enjoyed a 25% increase in net profit whilst the welcoming visitor centre entertained some 65,000 guests over the course of the year.
For many years now, the Arran distillery has produced primarily unpeated single malt, though a peated version known as ‘Machrie Moor’ (named after the dramatic location of some ancient standing stones to the islands west) has also been established. 2019 however will see the dawn of a new era, now that a second distillery, appropriately located at the village of Lagg, has gone into production. With plans to open the doors to the public in summer of this year, the new plant will concentrate solely on the production of a new, heavily-peated Arran whisky.
Recent years have seen 18 and 21 year old expressions of the Arran single malt appear for the first time, though it is perhaps the 14 year old which has been their greatest success thus far. Bottled at 46% abv, at natural colour and without chill filtration, it retails for around £45.
Smell: Lots of Peach with Creamy Malt and Chocolate Orange. Caramel, Vanilla and a touch of Pepper and Oak.
Taste: Honey and Caramel, Orange and Peach, Creamy Vanilla, Biscuit and subtle Ginger Spice.
Thoughts: I’ve always found Arran malts to be very sensibly priced and despite countless dramatic increases across the industry in the last 12 months or so, they have thus far resisted the temptation to follow suit. Indeed, given their commendable insistence on bottling at higher strength, one could make an argument for Arran being one of the best value single malts currently on the market with the 14 year old being the perfect embodiment.
A wonderfully fruity and malty dram that comes at a great price. I’ve long been a fan of the Arran spirit and I can’t wait to see what they come up with at their new facility in Lagg. In the meantime however, there are plenty of great drams from their original distillery to be getting on with. Starting with this 14 year old.