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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Single Malt Report: Arran 10 year old

Until very recently, I didn't know much about the Arran Distillery, other than the following:
1.) It's located on the Isle of Arran.
2.) It's a new distillery, opened in 1995.
3.) Their distributor's local rep is very cool.
4.) The Arran 14 year old is delicious and their 15yr single sherry cask isn't half bad, either.

And that was about it.  Here's some more useful information from Charles MacLean's Whiskypedia:
The Isle of Arran Distillery was the brain-child of Harold Currie, former Managing Director of Chivas Brothers and later of Campbell Distillers.  Some money was raised by a novel 'bond-holder' scheme which invited subscribers to invest by guaranteeing them a certain amount of whisky -- five cases of blended whisky in 1998, five cases of Arran Founder's Reserve in 2001, all for 450GBP. The distillery, which stands above the picturesque village and sea loch of Lochranza, opened in 1995.
I love that setup.  Ten cases of whisky for 450GBP?!  In addition to helping support a brand new small distillery, you're getting $6-$12 a bottle of brand new mystery booze.

With his background in Speyside malt production, Currie went with a whisky closer in nature to that fruity type than some of the other isles' styles.  And he opened his facility at the perfect time to catch a piece of this current whisky boom.  In addition to the 10 and 14 year olds, there's an NAS "Robbie Burns" single malt, a good number of single cask releases, some wine-finished bottlings, a peated Machrie Moor, and a limited (and pricey) new 16 year old.

A few stores in LA have minis of the Arran 10yr in stock, so finding a taste of it wasn't much trouble.  I really wish other whisky producers would go the mini route in the US.  As you'll see in this post, the sale of this mini will likely lead to the sale of at least one 750mL bottle.

Distillery: Isle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: 70% second-fill sherry casks, 30% a mix of ex-bourbon and first-fill sherry casks
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No.
Colored? No.

Color -- Light gold (what refill-sherry-cask-matured whisky actually looks like)

Nose -- Malty! Lightly spiced with a hint of dried stone fruits. Yeast, lots of grains, bready.  Vanilla, Werther's Originals, very light on the wine, and a little bit of a maritime note too.  After some time there's melon or tropical fruit juice along with a bit of anise.

Palate -- Bready here too. The ABV and lack of filtration gives it a good zing and a creamy texture.  Some citrus, vanilla, and American oak char.  Maybe even some bourbon, but almost no sherry.  Butter and hay.

Finish -- The vanilla picks up some force here.  Salt and cracked black peppercorns.  Some gin-like herbal notes show up after awhile along with a little bitterness.

Sugary fruit juice (cherries and peaches) develops in the nose.  Brown sugar, cinnamon, and grapefruit join the barley in the palate.  The finish gets much drier.

I appreciate Arran's approach with this whisky, similarly to how I enjoy Glen Garioch's 12 year old -- bottled at a higher strength with no filtration and fashioned so that the malt shines.  According to Dominic Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies, 70% of this malt is aged in second-fill sherry casks with the rest a mix of former bourbon barrels and first-fill sherries.  What impresses my nose and palate is that the wine takes a distant backseat to the oak and spirit -- that's the very reason I prefer refill-sherry-maturation to first fills.

Finally, it's priced in Laphroaig 10yr territory.  While the fact that young malts are being priced at $45 stinks, consider Arran runs a much smaller operation and keeps more whisky in its whisky than most others in this price range.  Or maybe you can just grab a mini when you find one and see if Arran 10yr suits your needs.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $35-$50
Rating - 87


  1. Arran 10 really surprised me when I purchased a mini. For a neighbor of Campbeltown, I expected a flavor profile closer to Springbank but it tasted more like a Speyside whisky. Maybe it's time to throw out the regions.

    1. Check with them again in 100 years, they might be more alike. Alfred Barnard's book has some pictures and descriptions of Springbank from about 1890, and they seemed to be almost exactly the same as what you'd encounter today 125 years later - including the output capacity and the layout of the buildings. When you drink Springbank you touch and taste history, but unfortunately they are unique this way. Well, on a much larger scale and in a much smaller sense this is true with all single malt Scotch, and this is part of what makes it so special. Also why people tend to love small distilleries much more than huge industrial ones.

    2. Yeah, I'm not sure how relevant the regions are anymore with so many distilleries experimenting with different styles. And the new distilleries aren't necessarily keeping with the regional characteristics. There are great low-to-no-peat whiskies being made on Islay and great peated stuff coming from the Highlands. Perhaps the regional designations will remain for local pride reasons, or for marketing purposes.

  2. Hey - I was one of those "bond-holders”, back in the days when I was a real whisky enthusiast myself. After an inexplicable loss of interest lasting several years, I recently rediscovered the taste for whisky and you can imagine my delight in finding an EMBARRASSING number of bond-holder bottles in the back of the cupboard in the spare bedroom.

    You’re right, the bond-holder scheme was to raise quick cash for the building of the new distillery on Arran. The main attraction was the promise of the Arran Founder’s Reserve http://www.masterofmalt.com/whiskies/arran-founders-reserve-whisky/?srh=1 -but we had to wait for this to be matured for the minimum period (5 years?) in order to qualify as a true single malt in 2001. There was, of course, no guarantee that the whisky would make the grade in what was a very demanding and competitive market.

    In the meantime, they made us the Lochranza Founder’s Reserve blend http://www.masterofmalt.com/whiskies/arran/lochranza-founders-reserve-whisky/ -which I have been using for cooking!

    What’s the best way to send you a sample? You know you want to taste this piece of history!

    1. Hi Simon! Sorry for the delay, I was out of town for a few days. Thank you for comment!

      Congrats on getting in on their distillery back then. Without bond holders like you, we wouldn't have all these great Arran whiskies now. They could have bottled something for you all after three years and it would have technically been a single malt, but it's likely the stuff would have been quite fully baked yet. Probably very spirity and new make-ish instead. Perhaps at five years the whisky hit a good point for that Founder's Reserve. Due the Lochranza blend's release date, I think some three year old malt may have gone into that one.

      Please email me at divingforpearlsblog at gmail dot com and maybe we can arrange something. Thank you!