SWAG: Arran Single Cask Tasting

Tonight’s online SWAG tasting sees plenty of new faces such as Seb Woolf – owner of Woolf Drinks, Artful Dodger Whisky, and soon-to-open Cut your Wolf Loose Whisky Bar in Brighton. We can’t wait!

Following on from the Ambassador-led Arran tasting a few weeks ago [WLP], we’ve a fabulous follow-up vertical consisting of five official single cask Arran’s aged 6, 10, 15, 23 & 25 years respectively, from the distillery’s early years of production. Arran’s Global Brand Ambassador, Mariella Romano, will be joining us once again – this time in a more off-duty role.

Mariella confirms that Arran’s style has changed profoundly since the early days. Back in the middle-late 1990s, there was a focus towards making a light fruity Macallan-esque Speyside-styled whisky using smaller stills, parallel lyne arms etc,. Significant regime changes since then include a new cask regime in 2010 and a new pair of stills in 2017. Further reading [WLP: Spotlight on & On location].

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We begin with the Founder’s Reserve, bottled exclusively for the shareholders/investors of the distillery. This was one of Arran’s earliest and oldest releases at the time.

1] Arran Founder’s Reserve 1995/2001 6yo Ob. [10000 bts] 43% WB83.22[29] MIW

A rare example of a bottle of booze where the words ‘Founder’s’ and [especially] ‘Reserve’ actually mean something.

  • N: Opening up significantly after an hour or so, I find this an old skool styled single malt with a stewed biscuity fruitiness, toasted pastries, and a grassy huskiness – stewed being the operative word here.
  • T: “Flora n Fauna style.”, says Mariella, we’ve a prickly raw spirit that softens after an hour or so and is far more favourable when tried alongside the 10yo [up next]. Of note, saline light coppery sour apples and a floral-fruity maltiness shape the overall profile.
  • F: Fruitier and chewier later on – softer apples and the like – as well as a creamy maltiness with a dry lift-off finish, slight heat, waxy,… > copper,.. dusty barley sugar.
  • C: Decent, with time and in context. Overall profile: salty, grassy, oily toasted barley,.. and with a sour-sweet fruitiness. Let’s see if we can’t find a common thread throughout this flight that helps us understand Arran’s early DNA.

Score 83 points

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2] Arran 1999/2010 10yo Ob. bourbon barrel #94 [209 bts] 57.3% WB87[1] WI88

Our second single cask offering is a [mystery] dram, kindly provided by Mariella.

  • N: A toasted bourbon barley oiliness, pastry [“croissant”, BC], a lovely pepperiness, ginger too. Add water for a fruity juiciness,.. lemon meringue,… Japanese-y.? An hour later, more lemon – lemon sherbet – a touch of orris,.. gin-like,.. occasionally hammy.
  • T: Boy, that’s formidable strong peppery yet unctuous oily spirit, slightly salivating and coppery,… Japanese-y/Ben Nevis-y? Nah, drop that.
  • F: Like it’s just run off the still in some ways, but following up with some character detail brought by a 10 year maturation. After some cheek-puffing heat, it becomes rather more lemony later, adding to further suggestions of gin [but not].
  • C: Forceful yet likeable, like the Founder’s Reserve, this is much improved with water and time. The two make good sparring partners.

Scores 86 points

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Coming back to these drams after the first sweep, the evolution of the whiskies in their glasses is marked, and yet, a character profile is firmly emerging:

  • sweet sour citrus > sherbet-y, fruity, salty, grassy, toasted oily pastries, [only gentle vanilla].

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3] Arran 2001/2017 15yo Ob. Bourbon barrel cask #747 [btl #47/158] 52.7% WB90.50[2]

  • N: Gearing up another five years, this one is husky/dry grassy and buttery on toasted oily croissants [again], and with more of that teetering sweet-sourness, light smokiness, malty cream soda, white breadiness,…
  • T: Raw [in a good way] and considerably salty, we’ve more toasted oiliness, maltiness, grassiness, mild sweetness into sherbet citrus, and creaminess – now all part of tonight’s established profile theme. On the turn, narrow yet permeating, more lactic with water. Though slightly thin of body, we’ve still quite some heat.
  • F: A very light sweet n sour, dusty barley sugar finish, the cask supportive yet respectful.
  • C: Another spirit-faithful single cask offering, this one with subtle Kilkerran vibes. Though “,… not archetypal Arran” [Mariella], this becomes more ‘regular’/generally more whisky-like – later on.

Scores 86 points

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What’s also emerging, aside from the distillery’s early profile/DNA, is Arran’s overall roundness. Perhaps this indicates Arran’s ability – early on – to work with varied casks [sherry for example], as well as having an aptitude to work at a grand old age. Let’s find out as we get stuck into one of Arran’s earliest and oldest.

4] Arran 1995/2019 23yo Ob. Bourbon barrel #199 [172 bts] 50.7% WB89.80[13]

  • N: Oh, this is grand,.. polished, rich, refined whisky whilst still retaining the oily slick, salty grassy character of the previous three drams. Apple fruits [again] into toffee apples, old wax,…. At this age we are getting into far deeper layers such as peppered maple ham, buttery lemon cheesecake,… more toffee-like later, nori,.. . Like the previous 15yo, this settles into something more standard/regular later on [as if it faded/dropped-off in the glass].
  • T: Nutty vanilla~cream soda before waves of boozy fruity citrus fizziness into salivating chocolate and toffee,.. all of which contribute to a flavour-related mouthfeel.
  • F: Coppery lemony salty, grassy,… waxy,… moving later towards toffee fudge, lemon meringue > cheesecake,… you get the picture. Elsewhere, there’s something of a [Speyside Distillery] < cinnamon-y heat, which has appeared at various moments throughout the flight, but these are CS single cask whiskies after all, and from Arran’s early years. The cut points must have changed significantly since 1995.
  • C: A great example of Arran’s earliest distillate working so very well at a significant age. Easily the best dram of the night, so far.

Scores 87 points

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It’s a pleasure to be trying a flight consisting of cask-unobtrusive ex-bourbon offerings. What it highlights, however, is how well a mix of bourbon & sherry [grape] works with Arran’s distillate – a policy well demonstrated at SWAG’s previous Arran tasting [WLP] – a policy the distillery is now firmly committed to for it’s varied, aged, core range. Meanwhile, the sad news of Nikki Grahame’s death hits social media.

Our last whisky then, one of the oldest releases from the distillery so far. Apparently, it’s a cask that shouldn’t have got out, but did.

5] Arran 1995/2020 25yo Ob. Hogshead cask #95/251 [319 bts] 52.4% WB88[1]

  • N: Oh wow, old dunnage-y sweet perfumed waxy magic, deep-[grain-whisky]-rich vanilla & rum, a hint of ‘old man’, Chesterfield’s, furniture & boot polish > Swarfega, lemon toffee,,… coconut,…  wow wow, meaty,… jammy, dreamy,… I’ll stop now before the I start spewing subjective superlatives.
  • T: What a cracker. At a grand age of 25 years, the spirit remains formidable [as if seemingly untouched], the maturing years bringing consolidation to the cause. We’ve middle-palate sensations over citrus toffee pepperiness with a light oozing sweet-citrus on the turn,…
  • F: ,… followed by yet more light oozing toffee citrus into a peppery sugar barley conclusion, becoming more sugary as the minutes to hours roll on. With a citrusy orris root gin vibe here too [or has this been promoted by the previous 1-2 drams], the spirit remains true with an aniseed/liquorice sherbet-y strawberry raspberry bubblegum conclusion.
  • C: With this well-aged spirit from a very empathetic cask, we finish on a high. Whiskybase [at time of writing] declares this to have been aged in an ex-bourbon hogshead, but on what grounds? “We don’t know what casks were used”, says Mariella “,… at that time”. “It could have be sherry”.

Scores 91 points

It’s a privilege to be watching Arran’s evolution in real time whilst being able to enjoy their whisky, ranging from the standard core range 10 to a 21yo [and growing], as well as these single cask releases. With Arran being the first of a new-wave of [independent] Scottish distilleries – after the 1980s whisky loch/crash – to emerge at the turn of and into the 21st century, it’s likely the year ‘1995’ will become firmly etched as an emblematic date on the historical whisky timeline in the decades to come.

Votes for our #1, 2 & 3 favourites are in:

Well done everyone. With thanks to Wayne, SWAG, Mariella, and everyone involved in the making of this fabulous tasting/presentation.

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END

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