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I’ve been to the Arran distillery half a dozen times now. The first visit was almost a decade ago. My wife and I had booked a long weekend on the island and since I had never tried the whisky before I decided to drop into the distillery for a tour. We thoroughly enjoyed that holiday and I rather fell in love with Arran and its whisky.
It’s entirely possible to love a whisky having never visited the place it was created but I personally find that such trips increase the connection I have with a dram. That connection isn’t quite tangible but it’s nevertheless meaningful. Having been there and breathed the air and felt the wind and rain on my face and, occasionally, even basked in the sunshine, it feels like I gain a new set of experiences with which to associate the whisky. Rather than simply being a pleasant drinking experience, it’s now a trigger of happy memories and a recall of long forgotten sensations.
If that sounds rather sentimental, good. It’s meant to be. We can explain a lot about whisky. How it’s made. How different parts of the process influence its flavour. We can count phenol parts per million and analyse cut points or compare fermentation times but none of that takes feeling into account. The personal connection we each have with the spirit remains individual and mysterious and, as a result, all the more intriguing to me.
We all have our favourites and there are different contributing factors responsible for our being drawn to a particular brand. Flavour and aroma are massively important, of course. Price comes into it. Branding and marketing, too. Yet our own personal life experiences shape our choices as much, if not more, than any of those. The more you get to know a whisky, the more connected to it you become and distillery visits are a big part of that.
I found myself back at the distillery in Lochranza in July this year. It was my first visit to such a place since 2019, thanks to the global pandemic. Now, I’m well aware that the loss of distillery tours is nothing in comparison with some of the awful things people have lived through over the last year or two but it nevertheless seemed significant to be standing outside Arran distillery again. To others it would be trivial but to me, it felt like “a moment” and that moment is now an experience to be added to my other memories of Arran. It will be recalled when I next sip on a dram and for a brief second I’ll remember how I felt that day. It will become part of the sensory experience of the whisky. It is that sensory experience, not just of smell and taste but of memory and feeling that makes whisky such a rewarding drink.
I picked this Distillery Exlcusive up at Lochranza in July of 2021. Aged for a total of 13 years, it was finished in a rum cask and bottled at 54.4%. It retailed at £70 a bottle.
Smell: The rum influence is really strong and it’s a wee bit funky. There’s banana, raisin, caramel, cinnamon and oaky spice. There’s also honey and some citrus notes. Orange cream and dark chocolate.
Taste: Soft honey and caramel arrival quickly builds to a big blast of spicy heat. Touch of oak and dark chocolate. Coffee. With a splash of water the honeyed arrival lasts longer and the spice becomes less intense. It also brings out a touch of citrus and some malty notes. Now the spice arrives at the finish with a bit of oak char.
Thoughts: It’s not an instantly lovable whisky. The funky rum and spicy spirit heat take a while to get used to but once the palate adjusts it’s a cracker. It’s got a lovely oily texture, even after water is added, which really helps to distribute the flavour and the intense spice makes for quite a bracing experience. One to warm the cockles after a long walk on a winter’s day.
It wasn’t cheap at £70 but that also isn’t too extreme in the inflated world of distillery exclusive bottlings. 13 is a decent age statement too and the rum finish is rather well done. Good dram from a distillery that means a lot to me.