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The Arran Distillery was founded in 1995 by Harold Currie, despite his being repeatedly warned against such an endeavour. The scotch whisky industry was not in the best of health at the time, recovering from the effects of over-production and a drop in sales that came to be known as the whisky loch. It was a risky move investing in a new distillery when others were closing down – Whyte & MacKay for example closed both Bruichladdich and Tullibardine in ’94 and ’95 respectively – but Harold was convinced he was onto something and went ahead with his plan. It took a while for the business to become a profitable one, but December 2020 saw the distillery mark its 25th anniversary and even the most stubborn of critics would now have to concede that Mr. Currie made the right decision.
In fairness, no-one could have predicted the influx of distilleries that would follow but Arran’s model of an independent distillery that would capitalise on an already established tourist trade inadvertently created the blueprint for dozens more. 25 years later and their contribution looks all the more significant and they’ve now been able to expand their own little empire with the construction of a second premises at the opposite end of the island.
It’s been a busy couple of years with the new distillery commencing production, paving the way for the creation of a very different style of Arran malt. Lagg will produce a heavily peated spirit, in the tradition of the old illicit stills that once peppered the coves of the island’s south coast. There’s even been talk of creating a blended malt using whisky from both distilleries, north and south.
2019 also saw the launch of a new look for the Arran range, with bespoke bottles and label designs that featured natural materials and colour tones, combined in a mature, simplistic design. The famous Eagles continue to adorn the label, just as they have since causing the construction of the original distillery to grind to a halt during nesting season back in 1994. They’ve become something of an emblem for the distillery since those early days. Perhaps even a good luck charm.
To mark the arrival of this new look came two new expressions: the Barrel Reserve and The Bodega Sherry Cask, the latter of which was matured for seven years (though the bottle carries no age statement) in first fill sherry hogsheads before bottling at 55.8%. It retails around £50 – £55.
Smell: Wonderfully rich aroma of raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes and figs. Also berries, walnut and leather. Barbecue and tobacco leaves. Even a wee touch of coffee.
Taste: Big sherry arrival with fruit cake, raspberry and dark chocolate. Pepper and nutmeg add warming spice before a dry charred oak finish.
Value for money: It’s not often you find a scotch whisky with a price lower than its abv but that’s exactly what Arran have given us here. A fantastic cask strength sherry bomb that’s relatively attainable for those on a lower budget. An excellent purchase.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Arran (both island and distillery) so I was drawn to this as soon as I heard about it. As sometimes happens however, I never quite got round to acquiring a bottle until recently. I’ve tasted it once or twice at festivals but those experiences didn’t really do it justice. Now that I’m able to sample it on a fresh palate, free of the surrounding mayhem that is a whisky festival, I’m finding it to be really quite marvellous. What an excellent addition to their core range. Not one for those who like to taste distillery character perhaps because it’s really all about the cask and its previous contents, but it is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable dram. A great big sherry bomb belter from a cracking distillery.
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