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The Malt and the Moor
The Machrie Moor single malt first appeared in 2010. Produced at the Arran distillery in Lochranza, the brand took its name from the peat bog at Machrie, a site of extraordinary archaeological interest.
Machrie Moor is located near the western coast of the island. It is home to six bronze age stone circles as well as several burial cairns and cists, some of which date back to 3,500 BC.
Standing stones can be found all over the world but are particularly common in Western Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland. Little is known about their purpose, though it is generally thought they had both practical and ceremonial uses.
At Machrie, the stones are situated below two steep-sided valleys on the skyline. At the summer solstice, the sun rises at the meeting point of the two valleys, suggesting some kind of spiritual significance to the Neolithic people that put them there.
The most dramatic of the circles is known as Machrie 2. Originally consisting of seven or eight tall sandstone slabs, only three remain, though stumps can still be seen in the grass. The stones range from 3.7 metres to an impressive 4.9 metres. An 1861 excavation of the site found a cist in the centre of the circle. Cists were stone coffin-like boxes, used for holding the bodies of the dead.
Stone circles are shrouded in mystery and often considered rather strange places. I like to think of myself as a fairly practical man. I’m not a believer in magic or spirits of any kind but, I have to admit, Machrie is absolutely dripping in atmosphere.
To reach the three stones at Machrie 2, you have to come down off a small ridge and pass the derelict Moss Farm. On my last visit, I was buffeted by blustery winds all along the trail but as soon as I stepped inside the circle there was an eerie calm. I could still hear the wind but it seemed somehow distant. I also passed several other tourists on the way but suddenly there was no-one around. All was silent. No voices. No birdsong. Not a bleat from the sheep that scattered the landscape. It was as though I was… somewhere else, with just the sound of the wind, drifting around the stones, but never breaching the circle. I like to think that feeling gives us some understanding of the reverence our Celtic ancestors had for this place.
Celtic mythology is strewn with tales of Fingal the warrior giant. According to Arran distillery, this legendary figure once used the stones of Machrie Moor to tether his hound and one of the circles is known as Fingal’s Cauldron. That’s why the last batch of Machrie Moor single malts were named Fingal’s Cut.
Machrie Moor is a peated single malt produced at Lochranza distillery in the north of the island. The brand has been around for about a decade. Since 2019, however, the only peated whisky produced on Arran has been at the new Lagg distillery in the south. Machrie Moor, it seems, will soon be a whisky confined to the history books. In other words, grab some now, before it disappears for ever.
The Fingal’s Cut Sherry Finish was finished in sherry casks before bottling at 54.4% alcohol by volume. It retails for around £60 a bottle.
Smell: Wonderfully rich nose. Raspberry and cherry with burnt caramel and charred oak. Wisps of soft bonfire smoke. Raisins, sultanas and maple syrup.
Taste: Sherry-led arrival. Lots of dried fruits and treacle notes. Wintery spices. Charcoal and bonfire smoke. Dry oak and sooty peat smoke finish. Water brought out more peppery spice and dialled up the intensity of the smoke.
Thoughts: It’s funny, I’ve often heard Arran described as a gentle single malt but that’s never really rang true for me. To me, gentle is something of a bad word and not really what I want from a Scotch whisky. True, the spirit leans towards the fruity, malty side but their higher bottling strength has always produced a depth of flavour that I’ve found very rewarding. In any case, the Lochranza distillers certainly weren’t messing around when they put this bottling together. I’m not sure you could call it balanced, it’s more like a rollercoaster. One minute it’s rich and sherried, the next acrid and smoky, then woody with peppery spice.
The asking price of £60 could appear a little steep for a no-age-statement whisky but for me the sheer flavour on offer lives up to it. Just don’t expect a typically fruity Arran with a subtle wisp of smoke. This stuff is intense and as such, won’t be for everyone. Fortunately, I adore whiskies like this. They slap you around the face and leave you in no doubt that you’re drinking a raw agricultural product that’s been produced on the west coast of Scotland. Indeed, it feels like it couldn’t have been made anywhere else.
Arran’s new Lagg distillery sounds very exciting but its whisky will have to be all the more special if it’s going to replace such good quality releases from the Machrie Moor range.
For more on Arran Whisky visit here.