...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Three high strength official Isle of Arran single malts

I woke up at 4:45am this morning in order to nab my flight home and have now just completed bedtime for two little girls. My exhaustion is complete, and will spare you from longer introductions. If I rate one of these whiskies a 347 or Ol' Dirty Bastard you'll have to pardon me.

Here are three Arrans from a recent Taste Off:

Arran 8 year old 100º Proof, 57%abv, bottled in 2006
(from a purchased mini)

Though I'm an Arran enthusiast, I've never been able to keep up with their zillions of early releases. When I'd bid on this mini at an auction, I hadn't previously heard of the 100º Proof bottling. Apparently no one else did either. I wound up paying an embarrassingly tiny sum for it, something I can't say for any other auction win ever. From the notes below, my guess is this whisky was all from refill bourbon casks.

The nose starts with malt, apples, oranges, earth and umeboshi. Small notes of clay and oats drift underneath. With time it gets prettier, more floral. The palate is loaded with white fruits: apples, pears and green grapes. Then there's barley, citrus candy and a curious mustiness. The finish has as a good length considering the whisky's age. There's citrus candy, barley and a slight pepperiness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tbl of water per 30mL whisky
The nose of a good floral, fruity newmake. No heat, lots of lemon peel. The palate gets very tart, and picks up the neat nose's musty note. It gradually gets viciously sweet while a wonky bitterness comes crashing in from a different direction. A tooth-rottingly sweet finish with hints of cayenne pepper and tart lemons.

This feels very close to newmake, and I sort of wish Arran still bottled this because it's BS-free. They'd sell like 5 bottles of the thing, but I'd get one if the price was right. I do not recommend adding water to it, though, which is fine because the neat version does not burn the mouth. Here are the usual disclaimers: it's not complex, there's little depth, etc. But — the usual claimer — it's very educational and barley-forward.

Availability - Auctions / secondary market
Pricing - ???, though the minis can be had for single digits
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Arran 12 year old Cask Strength batch 3, 53.9%abv, bottled in 2013
(thank you to Florin for the sample!)

Several years after the short-lived 100º Proof experiment, Arran started its Cask Strength series. Batch 3 is made up of 5 first-fill sherry butts, 13 second-fill sherry hogsheads and 31 bourbon barrels resulting in an outturn of 15,000 bottles.

The nose seems very closed when neat. There are grains, yeast, flowers and (again) umeboshi. Quiet sherry cask-ish notes of roasted meat and nuts show up occasionally. It picks up more sugary notes with time. A mix of stone and citrus fruits highlight the more expressive palate. The malt note rings louder the toasted oak note. There's a good sweetness to it. There's a surprising amount of heat to it, which continues on into the finish. Otherwise it's sugar, barley, nuts and black pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeast, cocoa powder, almond cookies and a lighter floral note on the nose. The palate is very simple but approachable and drinkable. There's more oak and less spirit, yet notes of lemons, limes and red plums remain. The shorter finish is less sweet, and much more tart.

Another simple but decent Arran malt. I was surprised by the lack of sherry cask notes, as well as the considerable burn which registers much hotter than one anticipates from the ABV. The high quality Arran spirit ensures a good drink, even if better casks were saved for single cask releases. Still, I like the 10yo and 14yo better.

Availability - Auctions / secondary market (for this batch)
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85

Arran 12 year old Cask Strength batch 6, 52.4%abv, bottled in 2016
(from a purchased sample)

From what I've seen online, this was the last batch of the 12 year old Cask Strength series. If anyone knows more info or why they ended these batches, please share in the comment section. Batch 6, fashioned from first fill sherry butts, refill sherry hoggies and first fill bourbon barrels, had an outturn of 13,800 bottles and is still being sold by some European and American retailers.

Another closed nose. I'm getting grapefruit, brine, yeast and lemon. A hint of plum wine. With time, there are notes of apples, cocoa powder and watermelon candy. The palate has a hell of a citric bite, and is very very sweet. A little bit of grapefruit. A little bit of barley. A big bit of toasted oak. Oranges, grapefruit and toasted oak in rush of sweetness in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Flowers, earth and grass on the nose. Some more grapefruit. Not much oak. But the palate does have plenty of oak spice to go with the grapefruit and lemons. A little bit of grassiness here too. Lots of caramel sweetness. It's very drinkable, but feels hotter than the neat version. The finish has an easier sweetness than the neat version. More fruit essences, and just a whiff of oak spice.

I enjoyed the palate better than then nose, which a rare thing. And to cloud things further, I liked the palate better when diluted, and the nose better when neat. Perhaps it requires more experimentation with water? This seems to have even less sherry cask influence than batch 3, and it could have used a honey butt or two to give it more dimension(s). But for a 12 year old cask strength whisky, it's priced pretty well in the current market conditions. Still the 10 and the 14...

Availability - Many European whisky specialist retailers, fewer retailers in the US
Pricing - $70ish in the USA; €45-€65 in Europe (w/VAT)
Rating - 83

The discontinued — well, these are all discontinued — 100º Proof wins the day, though they're very close in quality, enough so that their ratings could switch around depending on the setting and/or further dilution. I'm glad I was able to try them all, but I'm in no rush to buy a full 700/750mL bottle of any of them.