...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, December 23, 2013

My introductory Arran Cask Finish shpiel

(I'm a-travelin' right now, so my posts may be a little disjointed for the next two weeks...)

I'm not the biggest fan of finished whiskies.  And I'm not referring to emptied bottles when I say "finished", though those can make me sad too.  I'm referring to whisky that has had a brief additional maturation period in a cask type (usually wine-based) different than that of the original barrel the spirit had been poured in after its distillation.  (For instance, the whisky sits in an ex-bourbon barrel for its first twelve years, then an ex-sherry cask for another six months.)  On the bottle label you'll see references to "finish" or "finished in" or "double maturation" or "triple maturation" or (ugh) "ACEing".

This "finishing" or "multiple maturation" procedure has become widespread in the whisky industry.  In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if we've reached the point wherein more than 50% of officially bottled single malt products have had undergone this technique.  As I stated above, and also in every post I've written about whisky finishes, I tend to not like the results of the finishing process.  It often feels like the producer is trying to slather makeup over a scar, paint over a stain, or put lipstick on a whisky pig.  In the resulting product, the wood, wine, and whisky often seem to sit separate from each other, never fully integrating.

For me the biggest offender is in fact that largest purveyor of finished single malt Scotch, Glenmorangie.  In their case, they're not trying to hide anything with their sherry, port, and sauternes finishes.  Instead, via finishing, they have created multiple pricier products.  That's fine for them since these whiskies sell very well.  I just don't see any of them improving on their starter malt, the non-wine-finished spartan 10 year old "Original".  In the "Original", the malt shines and plays nicely with the American oak.  I do not feel the same about their finished single malts and they had kind of ruined me for the rest of the finished whiskies on the market.

Enter Arran single malt.  The Arran distillery is a baby in the Scotch industry, having run its first distillation in 1995.  Early in their business life they wanted to create a variety of whisky products, so they used different kinds of casks and, yes, they also utilized finishes.  They tried a little bit of everything and seemed to have not held anything back from the market -- casks of Amarone, Argonnne, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Brandy, Calvados, Champange Grand Cru, Chateau Margaux, Cognac, Cream Sherry, Fontalloro, Madeira, Marsala, Montepulciano, Moscatel, Pinot Noir, Pomerol, Port, Rum, Sauternes, St. Emilion, and Trebbiano d'Abbruzo.  So it's not like they're not trying.

Though one can still find a couple of their single wine cask malts floating around here and there, now that Arran's whisky is a bit older and more successful (critically and financially) they've trimmed back on the experimental releases and focused on more reliable or better selling products.  Of the finishes, they're down to Port, Sherry (actually it's Amarone, a red wine), and Sauternes......much like a certain older Highland distillery.

I've liked Arran's 10 and 14 year old regular releases a lot.  So, I looked forward to trying some of their other whiskies, even their wine finishes. Though the single malt within Arran's cask finishes tends to be young, around eight years old (if that's still considered young in today's market), I was pretty confident in the quality of their stuff.

Though I gripe about sherry finishes, I can usually drink them without too much of a fight.  (Again, that third cask finish is actually a red wine finish not a sherry.  Thanks to Jordan for the heads up.)  But I tend to struggle more with port and sauternes finishes.  And wouldn't you know......two of my whisky buddies shared samples of the Arran Port Cask Finish and Arran Sauternes Cask Finish.

Tomorrow, the results of the Taste Off...