...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Barrell Craft Spirits, Part 1: Four private releases

Having spent nearly two decades of my life engaged in creative pursuits, I know what it feels like when an audience doesn't get an original work. Most of the brain screams in frustration, "They don't understand it, so why are they criticizing it?! It's a Them problem, not a Me problem!" The agony is only intensified by that tiny voice mumbling in the background, "They don't get it because I missed something. I fell short somewhere."

Successfully blending spirits requires a unique skillset. Fashioning one high-quality whisky from dissimilar whiskies, then hitting that mark again and again really is a craft, and perhaps, with its greatest successes, it approaches an art form. 

I don't get many contemporary whiskies, but that's usually not because of the blenders. Most new whiskies from established producers don't come across as creative endeavors, rather they seem like corporate decisions to expand a product line with contrivances that no one ever asked for, like a McPizza or MegaLeg.

That's why I'll give new companies more leeway than conglomerate-controlled brands. For instance, I want to get Barrell Craft Spirits. They've gone all-in on casketry and cask-fuckery (my subtle terms), or in-cask blending (Serge's more thoughtful phrase), to produce something different. Barrell blends whiskies (and rums) from different distilleries and using a wide variety of casks. These casks include pear brandy, apricot brandy, Jamaican rum, blackstrap molasses rum, Martinique Rhum, Sicilian amaro, California Cabernet, Port, Madeira, Oloroso, Armagnac, Tokaji, Mizunara oak, French oak, and toasted American oak. And there are probably more.

Thus Barrell aims to create something new through a level of cask blending that's rarely been tried, but "new" can mean anything from a unique flavor profile, to a cocktail in a bottle, to a garbage fire. It's a risky approach, likely filled with flops along the way. So I want to understand, to get, some of Barrell's creations. Some of these blends do actually work, right?

Thanks to a whiskey group's organizer, I was able to buy into 10 Barrell bottle splits. Yes, this requires a lot of drinking. That's okay, the kids are out of town. 🙄

Part 1: Four private releases

Here's a quartet of four Barrells – one single barrel and three blends – that were selected by individual California retailers. The first two were bottled for my former haunt, Hi-Time Wine & Spirits. The single barrel Barrell appears to be just bourbon without any finishes. The three blends were all cask-finished, and not one of them was called "bourbon", but rather "whiskey".

Okay, I'm well hydrated, here it goes:

Single Barrel Bourbon
#25L8, 8 years old, 54.78%abv
Whiskey Blend
#AQ27, Tokaji Finish, 62.29%abv
Whisky Blend
Roco Wine & Spirits
#CJ30, Oloroso Finish, 61.04%abv
Whisky Blend
Cypress Craft Liquor
#AQ06, Armagnac Finish, 64.33%abv
At first it noses like candy. Specifically, orange creamsicles and black cherry soda. The angles arrive later: fennel seeds, white peppercorns, and nocinoThe nose is all over the place. Port, cheap cream sherry, low-ester Jamaican rum, flowers, brine, and milk chocolate. It gets more vanilla-ed with time.Barrel char. There are other things on the nose, like roses, cherry lollipops, almond extract, maple, and peanuts, but it's mostly barrel char.I did not see this coming. It's cream soda, vanilla fudge, and Mt. Gay rum on the nose. Maybe some hints of lime zest, and eucalyptus in the far back, with time.
The palate comes in hotter than expected. Fennel seeds and black pepper arrive first. The sweets, second. Caramel, dried cherries, and brown sugar, with a hint of tart citrus.The fizzy palate offers black cherry soda and rye-like pepperiness on the first sip. Subsequent sips offer bitter oak, cherry lollipops, and sour cherry candy.Less barrel char in the palate, thankfully, but less of everything in general. Vanilla, caramel, and marzipan. And that's it.The palate is VERY SWEET: vanilla-spiked Mt. Gay rum, bottled sour mix, chile oil heat, and a bit of oak spice, never really coming together.
The finish recombines some of the palate. Tart citrus and brown sugar are the loudest. Vanilla and black pepper, the quietest.It finishes with an odd sweetness, like Aspartame-affected orange and cherry sodas.A simple finish too. Marzipan, caramel, and bitter oak.It finishes all funky tangy sugary, like a sweet rum and sour mix cocktail.
Yes! I recognize this as bourbon.
I thought I did until the finish. So...kinda?
The edgier notes combine well with the fruits and sweets, and the tannins have yet to invade. There's nothing here that differs from younger cheaper bourbons, but I'd still be happy to drink this again, anytime.The palate says, "bourbon". The nose says, "PAR. TAY." The finish says, "Bury me in a cocktail." That's a lot of voices I'm hearing in my head. Not sure if this blend needed more or less time in the Tokaji barrel.It seems like a plain straightforward bourbon, so I wonder why they didn't label it "bourbon". The oloroso cask had almost no influence, and I think this "whiskey" could have used a wee pick-me-up.I went back to the pic of the actual bottle to make sure I'm not drinking one of Barrell's rums. This is definitely something new, a 128-proof sugary cocktail in a bottle, but I can't imagine that being the intent.
Rating: 81Rating: 77Rating: 79Rating: 72


With more NOPEs anticipated and a lack of brutal oak experienced, I declare this tasting a success. I've had a pair of armagnac-bothered High Wests that I wasn't sold on, so I wonder if that brandy doesn't quite work with American whiskey. Would cognac be too gentle? On the other hand, I want to try more sherry-cask-finished bourbons because it could be an intriguing mix, depending on the type of bourbon and sherry. As for Tokaji? Good luck to the blenders.

For Part 2......actually I don't know which whiskies will be part of Part 2, yet. That will be a game-time decision. In the meantime, if you've had any of these four whiskies, please share your thoughts!

Friday, July 28, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Arran 14 year old (2010) AND Arran 14 year old (2017)

As I've mentioned at least a dozen times, the 14-year-old was my favorite standard Arran single malt. It first appeared in 2010, then was retired in 2018. I'm not sure what motivated Arran management to kill off the 14, but they seem to have replaced it with a lot of NAS releases, a practice that was tapering off (rather than starting up) at most distilleries in 2018. In the five years since, I haven't bought any official Arrans.

I have in my possession here one of the first and one of the last batches of the 14 year old released in the USA, the former bought in Orange County, the latter in Chicago. The bottles have been sitting side-by-side collecting dust since their purchases. Since unpeated Arran tends to drink well in the summer, and I wanted to consume my remaining Arran samples, I thought July would be a great time to open both bottles. And indeed the time was right.

Back when Arran first updated their range in 2015, I attended a small gathering with the Arran rep and some whisky buddies. From the resulting post, here's the scoop on the shift from 14yo to 14yo:
As Arran's annual production has more than doubled since the distillery opened, there was a decision made to alter the cask management to manage the output.  The original 14 year old was from approximately 80% first fill bourbon casks, the rest from ex-sherries.  As per what I was told, James McTaggart (their master distiller) has elected to often use refill sherry casks for primary maturation and then later transfer that whisky into first-fill bourbon casks.  So that makes up a large part of the new 14 year old.  Also, I was told there are some older casks in the new 14 (and 10) to keep the whisky similar.  Again, that's hearsay, but official hearsay.
To summarize, the original 14yo was produced from 80% 1st fill bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks. Most of the 2015 updated version had its original maturation in refill sherry casks, then had a second round in 1st fill bourbon casks. I can confirm the whiskies are similar but different. Here are my notes, consolidated from a number of separate and combined tastings:

Arran 14 year old (46%abv, ncf/nc, L 06 08 10, 2010)

A glorious nose! Kiwi, lychee, and yuzu arrive first, with almonds, halvah, and brine appearing 5-10 minutes later. The fruits lean more towards flowers after 20+ minutes, and a bit of milk chocolate replaces the nuts. There's also a funky note in the background. Picture: Loch Lomond Weird + Dunder + Dunnage. I love it.

The palate reads maltier than the nose, and those almonds turn into almond extract (yes, I know that comes from bitter almonds). Limes, grapefruits, and cara cara oranges fill the middle. Sometimes I find mango juice in the background, sometimes it's toffee pudding. No complaints either way.

Tropical and citrus fruit juices, sweet and tart, make up most of the finish. Hints of toffee, bitter herbs, and malt linger in the back.

Time has not mellowed me out, so I was worried that this Arran 14 would never live up to my expectations. Yet it does, and more. With bolder tropical fruits, less vanilla, thicker texture, and a longer finish than I remember, the original Arran 14 is one of the best mid-teens standard OBs I've ever had. Slainte!

Price - $54.99 at one of my secret stores in 2016
Rating - 90 (probably a bonus point for sentimental reasons)

Arran  14 year old (46%abv, ncf/nc, L 18 07 17, 2017)

Yep, a different nose on this one. It begins with hefty nutty notes, like brazil nuts, walnuts, raw almonds, and sunflower butter. The cheerful fruitiness shows up, but it takes time. Here it's all limes and peaches. A little bit of yeast and pine show up in the far back.

The palate is fruitier than the nose. The nose's raw nuts appear, helping moderate all the sweet plums and oranges. Figs! Like the 2010 bottling, this one has some maltiness to it. It gains an herbal bitterness (almost wormwood) after 30 minutes. A little bit of toasted oak here and there too.

Another very good finish. Oranges, yellow cherries, and a touch of tart mango slowly fade into a gentle pepperiness.

The sherry casks had a greater influence on this version than on the old one, making it more contemporary in its style. It does feel warmer and spicier, but the fruits remain, and the wood never takes over. One can feel the balance in the 14, an equilibrium that slipped away in the first releases of the 16, 17, and 18 year olds.

Price - $79.99 at a not very secret store ca. 2018
Rating - 88

It's a shame that Arran eliminated the 14 year old expression five years ago. May they someday find it in their hearts (and warehouses) to roll it back out in the future, no matter which recipe they use, the 2010 or the 2017. Both result in excellent single malts. Sherry cask fans may prefer the latter, while other folks (like me!) prefer the former. Arran's blenders have never been afraid to experiment, but I hope they realize they have succeeded with age-stated classic bottlings, like the 14 year old.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Arran 24 year old 1996, cask 1996/904 for Nickolls & Perks

(Arran mini-cluster homepage)

This cluster's quintet of Arran single casks ends with the oldie of the group, a 24-year-old bottled for the Nickolls & Perks shop. The single first-fill Oloroso hoggie offers the sort of color that makes certain whisky fans lose their wallets. For the past decade, my fave whisky color has been five-beer-piss, though whiskies of that hue are entirely different fluids than this sort of coffee-colored stuff. But, my mind is freed, so here it goes...

Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Range: Premium Cask
Age: 24 years (5 Aug 1996 - 10 June 2021)
Maturation: first-fill Oloroso hogshead
Cask #: 1996/904
Outturn: 277 bottles
Exclusive to: Nickolls & Perks
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
(from a bottle split)


Huge nose here. Figs, molasses, almond butter, and apricot jam. Fresh raspberries and dried cherries. Then beef stock and a hint of dashi?

The thick palate arrives with a much less tannic edge than Monday's 20yo cask. Very dark chocolate, mint leaf, and eucalyptus fill the fore, with pipe tobacco and milky coffee in the middle, and tart limes and Serrano chiles in the background.

The tobacco gets smokier in the finish, mixing with milk chocolate, sweet citrus, Serranos, and a whiff of metal.


Of course, the figs won me over at the start, but the lack of harsh, bitter oak kept me around for more. It's the sort of cask-driven winesky (yes, if port casks can produce wineskies, so can sherry casks) with which I can get on board. This is also one of the only members of this mini cluster with a palate nearly as vibrant as the nose.

This cask does get the disclaimer — one that's becoming more and more prevalent — that its whisky could have been from any one of scores of distilleries around the world. There's nothing about this drink that says Arran, or even Scotland. Just good carpentry here, with no beams nor seams exposed.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Monday, July 24, 2023

Arran 20 year old 1998, cask 82, 20th Anniversary Trilogy for Japan

(Arran mini-cluster homepage)

After last week's trio of single casks for the US, this week brings a pair of single casks released for other countries. Both are sherry casks and have at least two decades on them. 

First up is a release that I had to look up. Apparently Arran released three casks in Japan celebrating some sort of twentieth anniversary. Since the distillery's production hit its 20th birthday in 2015, I'm guessing 2018 marked twenty years of legal Arran single malt, and possibly 20 years of Arran single malt in Japan. Today's cask was the first release, a sherry puncheon. The second bottling was a sherry hoggie, and the third was a bourbon barrel, each release having a smaller outturn than the previous.

Six years ago I tried a solid 21yo Arran single sherry cask celebrating a different 20th anniversary at the late Shot Bar South Park. Any excuse to bottle a single cask is okay with me.

Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Range: 20th Anniversary Trilogy
Age: 20 years (3 Feb 1998 - 7 Feb 2018)
Maturation: sherry puncheon
Cask #: 82
Outturn: 479 bottles
Exclusive to: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 52.3%
(from a bottle split)


The nose starts off with brown sugar, dried currants, shortbread biscuits, and toasted pecans. Candied orange peels and a hint of barley paint the corners. It takes on more orange oil with time. The palate starts off very fruity (plums and nectarines) and lightly oaky with dried herbs in the background. But peppery tannins start to take over quickly, with some concrete and tart lime notes in the background. It finishes with tart fruits, mild tannins, and a hint of iron.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or ¾ oz of water per 30mL whisky

Oh not great. Woody woodiness on the nose, with a side of wood. Also vanilla and barrel char. Some notes of ocean, mint, cherries, and flowers decorate the background. Flowers and burnt oak on the palate. It's almost smoky. Some oatmeal cookies. It gets really sweet. It finishes tart, with bitter oak and barrel char.


Just like last week's casks, this one does not take to water well. In fact, dilution ruins it. So keep this one neat. It doesn't need a shower. I bet this cask was gorgeous a couple years before it was dumped into bottles, but here it is at 20, feeling older than its age, and not in a glamorous way. (It's a bad sign when I can relate to a cask.) Sadly, I don't have samples of the other two anniversary bottlings, but it was fun to have one!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84 (neat, 10 points lower when diluted)

Friday, July 21, 2023

Arran 21 year old 1996, cask 596 for Spec's

This week's Arran theme has been Single Casks Bottled For Americans! Today's cask was bottled for Texas liquor retail giant, Spec's. Big news for this one: it's from an ex-bourbon barrel! No sherry touched this one! It also rolls in at 48%abv, which is a sign of either cask weirdness or cask awesomeness. Lemme see what the angels left for Texas.

Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: 21 years (24 June 1996 - 7 Feb 2018)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask #: 596
Outturn: 140 bottles
Exclusive to: Spec's
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
(from a bottle split)


Yet another zany nose! At first I get watermelon candy and brown ale, then grapefruit + anise + mint. Finally it eases into Rainier cherries and vanilla beans. The palate starts off very butterscotchy, then shifts to orange candy and caramel. After 30 minutes it descends into flowers and cardboard, remaining hotter than expected. It also finishes a bit hot, and sweet and acidic, with caramel and butterscotch in the distance.

It's youthfully hot, yet also slightly oaky. So, I'll try some water.

DILUTED to ~43%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Though the nose may be more boring, it's also more pulled together with its combo of malt, vanilla, Thai basil, and citronella. Going further down the cask path in the palate. Vanilla up front, bitter oak in the back. Cologne and lime candy. It finishes like a cheap daiquiri slushy, all vanilla, coconut, lime, and sugar.


Again, the palate collapses with a touch of water. Anyway, aside from some of the nose notes, the American oak dominates the whisky. I do enjoy the butterscotch angle, but then it flops into cardboard. Overall, it's a bit of an oddity, especially with the nose's fireworks. With the barrel losing more than 40% of its fluid, and more than 25% of its alcohol, the whisky could have been much worse, but also potentially better. I think the oakiness would appeal to the American palate, or at least the Texan one, so I have no doubt Spec's cleaned their shelves of this one easily.

Availability -
Sold out
Pricing - I think it was around $170ish in 2018
Rating - 81 (neat)

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Arran 16 year old 1997, cask 217 for the USA

In this cluster's intro I stated my preference for Arran single malt between 10 and 14 years of age, but their single casks can flourish beyond that window. Monday's cask, a 14 year old, will be the youngest of the five casks I'm reviewing for the cluster.

Today's 16 year old cask was part of the "Premium Cask Selection" series that seems to still be chugging along. Cask 217 was part of the 2014 Spring batch of "Premium" casks bottled for the US. Like the other four casks from this cluster, it has a reasonable ABV. In fact, I don't think I've had a single Arran cask that was above 57%, and most are under 55%, which may be why they arrive so comfortably into my system. Anyway, an almost-17-year-old....

Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Range: Premium Cask Selection
Age: 16 years (17 Feb 1997 - 5 Feb 2014)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 217
Outturn: 562 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
(from a bottle split)


A fun nose! Dark chocolate, red Twizzlers, and peaches up front. Almond extract and black walnuts in the middle. Jute and dried apple in the back. The palate starts sweet and tangy (oranges and guavas) with moderate notes of iron and fresh ginger underneath. After 40+ minutes it's all guava and honey. It finishes with oranges, iron, and toasted salted almonds. Extra tart grapefruits appear in later sips.

DILUTED to ~46%abv or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Another one that changes form with moderate dilution. The nose is all honey, marzipan, dried apples, and black raisins. Like Monday's cask, this one gets MUCH oakier on the palate when at 46%abv. Sweet, tannic, peppery, and very almond-y. Just marzipan and black pepper on the finish.


Water brings out too much aggressive oak again so, like its Taste Off partner, the 14yo 2002, this one works much better at full strength, where it's more complex and delicious. Even the metallic note works with the fruit. But nose wins (again) by a significant margin; had the palate matched it, this could have been a 90-pointer. Whiskybase is bereft of notes and ratings for this one. Has anyone else tried it?

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - I don't think it was much more than $100 in 2014.
Rating - 87 (neat)

Monday, July 17, 2023

Arran 14 year old 2002, private cask 2002/587

While many producers dabble in official single cask releases, Lochranza-based Arran is one of the few distilleries that has truly committed to it. Some of these were private cask purchases that brought the distillers some early revenue, while others have been for individual retailers and bars around the world, and yet more casks have been rolled out for festivals. After two decades, Arran's total single cask count numbers somewhere between 2000 and 3000, but it's difficult to be sure because some private casks, like today's, haven't made it into a public database like Whiskybase.

I've had the pleasure of try about a dozen of these official single casks, have never had a bad one, and enjoyed all of them on some level, so I've been looking forward these next five reviews! First up, a sherry hoggie that was purchased privately by an American gentleman. Sadly, it wasn't me. 😢

Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: 14 years (7 Aug 2002 - 23 Aug 2016)
Maturation: sherry hogshead
Cask #: 2002/587
Bottle: 149/267
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
(Thanks to Secret Agent Man for the sample!)


The nose begins with a mysterious musty old dunnage note which gradually wafts away, revealing passionfruit candy, apple peels, and almond extract. Subtler notes of oats, golden raisins, and saline linger in the back. The palate is super toasty, with layers of toasted oak and toasted nut notes. Serrano chiles, fresh ginger, and clementines give it a sweet zing. A quiet earthy note develops with time. It finishes sweeter with pineapple, oranges, and golden raisins, along with a touch of Serrano heat.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or < 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Hmmm, tomato leaf and dried basil appear in the nose now. Golden raisins, dried cherries, and saline fill the background. The palate is much oakier and sweeter, all toasty oak spice and sugary dried berries. It finishes sweet and oaky as well, almost bourbony.


Though I realize it's kinda pointless to publicly review a private cask, one can say the same about most whisky reviews! I LOVE the nose on this whisky, like the palate, and prefer it all when neat. American whiskey fans (including the fellow who owned the cask) may prefer it diluted because, as per my notes, it starts moving into sweet bourbon territory once water is added. The fun sherry hoggie presents anything but generic notes. A good pick!

Availability - Private cask
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86 (neat)

Friday, July 14, 2023

Arran 18 year old (current label)

(Arran mini-cluster homepage)

I tried Arran's original 18 year old when it first arrived on our shores, eight years ago, and it was too tannic for my palate. Not once in the years since did I consider trying the Arran 18 again until the Doctors Springbank gifted me a sample of the current edition in 2022. The whisky is still entirely or mostly assembled from sherry casks, and the color is quite dark. I've matched it up with a younger Arran sparring partner tonight (which I'll get to later in the cluster).

pic from
the official site
Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: at least 18 years
Maturation: sherry casks (per the official site)
Bottled: ca. 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(thanks to Doctors Springbank for the sample!)


Dark chocolate, raw almonds, and raw walnuts form most of the nose, with smaller notes of lime juice, applesauce, and mint candy decorating the background. It gains brighter orange notes after 30+ minutes in the glass. A few drops of water work wonders again, bringing out dates, nectarines, and dried blueberries. The almonds get toastier, and some mustier cask notes appear.

A uniquely bold grape juice note shows up first in the palate, followed by carob, salt, and raw nuts (brazil and almonds). Just a little bit of sweetness floats beneath. That dash of water makes it saltier and more chocolatey while also better integrating all the notes.

The grape juice turns to red zinfandel in the finish, while carob, walnuts, and anise move to the foreground. Adding water brings out dried herbs, dried currants, lemon, and salt.


This is much better than the original 18, if my old notes are reliable. And it's yet another Arran that improves with a tiny bit of dilution. Perhaps Arran's sherry cask management has improved over the years, or this was just a good batch. I hope it's the former! The whisky's prices are considerably different between the US and Europe. I'd consider getting a bottle at the European price, but not at the American rate.

Availability - Europe and USA
Pricing - Europe: $90-$125 (pre-VAT); USA: $160-$240
Rating - 86 (with water)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Arran 10 year old versus Arran 10 year old

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it's been a long time since I focused on Arran single malt. But when I did, I found the whisky peaking in its official 10 and 14 year old expressions. The spirit sang clearest in the 10, while the oak merged perfectly at 14. At 16 and 18 years old, the standard releases already started to tilt too oaky. Single casks could shine when older, but that, of course, depended on the cask. Meanwhile, I saved money enjoying the best stuff, the 10 and 14. And then Arran discontinued the 14 year old in 2019.

So, here I am left with the Ten. I have one sample from my own bottle that I reviewed almost eight years ago. Back then it had "the new label". Now I have sample from the new new label bottling that arrived on USA shores in 2020. The two whiskies have the same 46%/NC/NCF presentation, but do they have the same cask make-up? I don't know. The older bottlings were a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, with many refills in the mix. The official website offers not even a smidgen of cask detail. Unofficial listings show both only "Bourbon", while others list "Bourbon casks, and a small amount of refill sherry casks". So I'm not sure how this will play out.

Arran 10 year old, bottled in 2014, 46%abv
(from my bottle)

pic source
Barley and oats show up first in the nose, followed by grapefruit, citronella candles, and yuzu peels, with moss and fresh rosemary in the background. A few drops of water intensify the fruits and grains, while adding a touch of guava.

Sweet, tart, and bitter citrus all arrive early in the palate, with the sweetness eventually winning out. It's very malty and slightly grassy, with some raw walnuts in the back. A few drops of water bring out the barley, raw nuts, and bitter citrus.

Tangy and bitter citrus mix with the malt in the finish, with a lot of raw barley in the aftertaste. It's all malt and grapefruit after a few drops of water.

This remains a very nice drink, even after exactly eight years in a sample bottle! As per my notes, the barley stays on top throughout, which is good because the spirit is excellent. It might even improve at about 43%abv, but shhhhhhhh. Don't tell Arran.

Arran 10 year old, bottled in 2020, 46%abv
actual bottle
(thanks to Doctors Springbank for the sample!)

A completely different nose here. It starts with a tangerine, raspberry, and cilantro salad, with roses, grasses, and cherry bubblegum appearing later. It becomes very herbal after a few drops of water, specifically dried savory herbs and paprika. But there's also a hint of nectarine in the midground.

The palate reads more sour than tangy. Wormwood bitterness meets cracked black peppercorns, and a hint of malt. It becomes less of a fight after a few drops of water, but it's still plenty bitter. The barley is rawer and some pencil shavings show up, but there's definitely a peachy note in the back.

It finishes with with grains, iron, and a grassy bitterness. A few drops of water turn it into a pile of bitter citrus peels and peppercorns.

This one is fiercer and sharper, in need of some level of complexity on the palate, though I'm impressed that the distillery went with such a ruffian for its 10 year old. The nose has that complexity and is endlessly sniffable, which brings up the rating.


I'm very surprised by the difference between these two batches. It doesn't seem like the same distillery. The 2020 feels more "Craft Whisky" and younger, but at least it's not full of new oak. Both whiskies open up with slight dilution, and both noses dazzle, but the 2014 bottling reads more honed and complete. I'd buy a bottle of the 2014 batch any day. Though I'd drink the 2020 bottling again, I have no interest in purchasing it.

Arran 10 year old, bottled 2014 - 85 (with water)
Arran 10 year old, bottled 2020 - 81 (with water)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The mini cluster of Arran single malts begins!

I miss Arran's single malts. The distillery's standard offerings used to be part of my whisky cabinet's regular rotation, but then I moved from California (where Arrans were easy to find) to Ohio (where Arrans don't exist). Then Arran's range was rebooted and my favorite bottling was discontinued. Now I'm down to my final two official bottles, and my last eight samples. It's time to open them all up!

In 1994, a group of investors, including Harold Currie (former Chivas Master Distiller), broke ground on the Isle of Arran's first legal distillery in more than 150 years. Standing on the northern edge of the island, in Lochranza, the facility began distilling unpeated malt spirit the following year, with peated variants following several years later.

When I started reviewing Arrans, the distillery's capacity was 750,000 annual liters. They've since expanded to 1,200,000 liters per annum, the vast majority of which ends up in bottles of single malt. Unpeated spirit production goes for 46 weeks per year, with the peated runs saved for the other six weeks. The new make spirit is not diluted from its 68.5%abv strength when casked and hauled out to the warehouses.

Officially, the distillery's name has been changed to Lochranza because the owners have opened another Arran distillery, named Lagg, on the southern coast, but old habits die hard, so I'll continue to call the original distillery by the "Arran" name throughout this cluster.

Tomorrow, a comparison of two batches of the 10 year old......


1. Arran 10 year old (bottled 2014) - "...the barley stays on top throughout, which is good because the spirit is excellent."
2. Arran 10 year old (bottled 2020) - "...fiercer and sharper, in need of some level of complexity on the palate..."
3. Arran 18 year old (ca. 2020) - "Perhaps Arran's sherry cask management has improved over the years..."
4. Arran 14 year old 2002, private cask 2002/587 - "...LOVE the nose......like the palate......prefer it neat."
5. Arran 16 year old 1997, cask 217 for the USA - "...works much better at full strength, where it's more complex and delicious."
6. Arran 21 year old 1996, cask 596 for Spec's - "I think the oakiness would appeal to the American palate, or at least the Texan one..."
7. Arran 20 year old 1998, cask 82, 20th Anniversary Trilogy for Japan - "...here it is at 20, feeling older than its age, and not in a glamorous way."
8. Arran 24 year old 1996, cask 1996/904 for Nickolls & Perks - "It's the sort of cask-driven winesky......with which I can get on board."
9. Arran 14 year old (bottled 2010) - "...I was worried that this Arran 14 would never live up to my expectations. Yet it does, and more."
10. Arran 14 year old (bottled 2017) - "...warmer and spicier, but the fruits remain, and the wood never takes over."

Friday, July 7, 2023

Spirit of Freedom 30 year old blended whisky

Commemorating the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (wherein Robert the Bruce kicked the English directly in the spotted dick), Spirit of Freedom 30 year old was one of Frank McHardy-sensei's final creations for Springbank Distillers. And I, for one, am terribly disappointed that he DIDN'T USE 700 YEAR OLD WHISKY. Whaaaaaaaat a cop out.

Spirit of Freedom arrived at UK retailers at a sensational price in 2014, and was probably the last 30 year old scotch in history to have an SRP of £75. Yes, I should have gotten a bottle while I could have, when seemingly every retailer on the planet shipped to the US, but I did not. And it took almost a decade to source a sample. Let's see how it holds up next to Wednesday's 5 year old.

(pic source)

Brand: Spirit of Freedom
Bottler: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Type: blended whisky
Age: minimum 30 years
Contents: 75% malt / 25% grain
Maturation: bourbon and sherry casks
Bottled: 2014
Outturn: 2014 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins with a note of dough+apple+brine that's a direct line to the 5yo blended malt, then it improves from there. Dunnage, black walnuts, and date rolls. Burlap, oats, and honey.

Ooooooh, passionfruit and white nectarines start the palate, followed by dates, dunnage, and guava. It has a mild sweetness and good bitterness, but a watery mouthfeel.

It finishes with a flawless balance of tart and sweet. Grapefruits and dates. Some nice bitterness as well.


Sorry to disappoint everyone, but this is not 30 year old Springbank, instead its malt is from five distilleries "around Scotland". If there was Springbank present, it would have to be at least 35 years old due to the distillery's mothballed status between 1979 and 1987. And if you think there's 35+ year old Springbank in a $100 bottling, then you are PERFECT for the current whisky marketplace.

More to the point, this is delicious whisky. It's too fragile and thinly textured to be A-grade, for which the grain whisky and some underproof malt (35yo Springbank?!?!?) may be to blame. But it's still a casual delight. So fire up that time machine, folks, and pick up some bottles in 2014.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - £75 or €110 upon release
Rating - 88

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Campbeltown Blended Malt 5 year old 2014 Thompson Brothers

When I review a blended malt, it's usually an old whisky. Today I'll review a wee one, all of 5 years old, from the Brothers Thompson. The label has a busy looking Japanese noodle dish (complete with Narutomaki!) and the magic word, "Campbeltown". I've never had ramen on Kintyre (or at Dornoch), but maybe someday...

This whisky toddler was fashioned from two refill hoggies, bearing single malt whiskies from at least one of the three Campbeltown distilleries, and was reduced to 50%abv, possibly for our safety.

(pic source)
Bottler: Thompson Brothers
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: in Campbeltown
Age: 5 years (2014 - 2019)
Maturation: 2 refill hogsheads
Outturn: 816 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(thank you Doctors Springbank!)


Apple and pear juices comprise the nose's clean and bright base, with yeast, moss, and brine layered on top. Notes of anise, wood smoke, and sweaty socks develop with time.

The palate starts with lots of earth and malt, with gentler smoke and sweetness in the back. Salty and peppery Mexican chocolate and bitter orange peels complete the scene.

There's more earth and salt than smoke in the finish, with passing notes of chocolate malt, yuzu, and lemon offering softer character.


Nine times out of 10 I'll complain about whiskies bottled at 3-7 years old, but this blended malt is among the 10% exception. No one will tell you it's not "young", but its earth and fruits arrive and mingle well. The whisky is very drinkable when neat, and sold for a reasonable (in this market) sum upon its release. I do think this could have been fantastic at 2-3 times its age, but it also would have been 4-6 times the price. If you've made a highball out of this whisky, please let me know!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - €40-50?
Rating - 84

Monday, July 3, 2023

Bourbon and Rye Day Monday: Larceny Barrel Proof bourbon, batch B520

In an attempt to appear to be A Good American™, I am moving BARD Friday to BARD Monday in time for BizarroLand's birthday.

Wheated bourbon is not my thing. I've tried and tried and tried it, and all I know is that it works decently in cocktails due to all its sweetness, and that's it's main happy point for my palate. BUT, I've tried two batches of Larceny Barrel Proof, and found them to be very drinkable on their own, so I went in on a bottle split of batch B520 of Heaven Hill's Larceny Barrel Proof. Would it also be drinkable???

Brand: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny
Distillery: New Bernheim, Louisville, KY
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: ???
Mashbill: 68% Corn, 20% Wheat, 12% Malted Barley (maybe)
Batch: B520
Bottled: May 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 61.1%
(from a bottle split)

I sipped it three ways:

On the rocks - It's simple, not too sweet, honeyed and floral. 👍

Diluted to 50%abv - The nose is......something else. At first one may find Manuka honey, cinnamon, flowers, and overripe bananas. But then it morphs into a very specific smell that sent me down 1990s memory lane: Potpourri bathroom spray unsuccessfully covering up a particularly dank dump. The palate is better. Cinnamon syrup and red hots candies meet flower blossoms and toasty oak spices, resulting a moderate sweet and floral mix. It finishes with bitterer oak, cinnamon, and pancake batter.

Full strength - Overripe cantaloupe leads the nose early on, with barrel char and honey in the background. Almond extract, banana pudding, and vanilla hit join after 20+ minutes. The hotter palate offers apples and pineapples in addition to all those red hots candies. Vanilla and tart cherries arrive later. The hot finish offers sour apple candy, black pepper, and tart cherries.


It's drinkable indeed, but the nose's farty funk is not my preferred scent. There isn't a ton of vanilla, nor does barrel char dominate, which makes me think the whiskey's young, a good thing in this instance. I'm also impressed by the mellowness of its sweetness. Had I a bottle, I'd mostly use it for cocktails, with the occasional summertime on-the-rocks pour. That's probably not what it was intended for, but I'm not its intended audience.

Availability - More current batches can be found, if you can catch 'em
Pricing - All over the place, because bourbon
Rating - 80