...where distraction is the main attraction.

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.