Isle of Arran distillery

Arran Scotch Whisky

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Arran  (Pronounced: ARran)
Islands (Arran)
5542'16.91 N, 517'39.70 W
Springbank, Glen Scotia
1993 (First production in 1995)
Working
Unknown
1 wash & 1 spirit still
750,000 litres of pure alcohol per year (maximum)
Isle of Arran Distillers (since 1993)
Lochranza, Isle of Arran, Argyll, KA27 8HJ, Scotland
+441770 830264

Yes (or perhaps I should say: the distillery can be visited)
www.arranwhisky.com
Yes
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor 

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Arran logo 2013
Arran malt whisky distillery logo

The only potentially disturbing element in Arran's success story is the relatively large
- quantity of single malt and blended whisky that has already been bottled and sold at a
-- relatively young age. The Arran distillery has a substantial production capacity of circa
--- 750,000 litres per year, but they presently only produce a fraction of that; 125,000 litres.
---- Will there be enough casks left by the time the spirit reaches its prime in a few years
---- time to satisfy demand? What's more, were they able to secure enough decent casks
--- in the first place? Judging from the wide variety of different finishes that Arran distillery
-- has released, the results of maturation in their regular (bourbon?) casks often required
- further 'tweaking' before the Arran whisky was deemed suitable for mass consumption.
Well, I'm no traditionalist, and I don't mind unconventional measures if they get results...

Things started to look really sunny when Arran entered the Awards in 2004.
They submitted two 'single cask' bottlings that both earned a bronze medal.
I wouldn't be surprised if Arran came up with a really interesting whisky in just
three or four years time. By the way, their Lochranza blend isn't half bad either;
I can't say I really 'love' it (50 points), but I like it better than many mainstream blends
like J&B and William Lawson's, that much is certain. And pretty good value too here in Holland.

Aran whisky - Robert Burns edition

And this time I could actually notice notable improvement.
A score of 67 points still isn't an astronomical score by any
stretch of the imagination, but it's the section of my Hit List
where I'm starting to have some genuine fun. I won't be
running to the liquor store the next time Arran releases
another new bottling, but if they were smart enough to
save up enough of the first casks (and I suspect they
were) the future looks quite bright indeed for Arran.
Their regular offerings at circa 10 years old can
already compete with established brands.

Arran Scotch whisky

Along the way Arran released some 'special' bottlings like the 'Painters' series and the
'Robert Burns' shown below, but the lack of any further information on the actual age
of these bottles kept me from investing much money in them. The fact that they
demanded handsome ransoms for these 'special' bottlings that couldn't have been
that old (or good) has tempered my enthusiasm for this distillery for a while, but by
2003 the 'Non-Chillfiltered' bottling appeared.

Arran distillery

For almost a decade, Arran kept releasing fresh batches of this
bottling, and because it doesn't have an age statement you could
never know for certain if a bottle you bought in 2002 contained
malt whisky that was three or seven years old. When I tried my
first one in 1998 I was pleasantly surprised. My score of 61 points
was actually pretty good for a 3yo whisky. I'm happy to report that
the malt whisky from Arran has improved considerably since then.

A decade after being opened in 1995, a few different expressions
of the Arran whisky became available to the public around 2005.
For many years, the only widely available expression was the NAS
version (no age statement), released for the first time in 1998.

Arran whisky

Arran distillery in the new millennium

Arran malt whiskey distillery, Scotland

2003 - Arran released the Arran "Non Chill Filtered"; as far as I'm concerned the first really 'mature' Arran.
They also released their first double matured whisky - a Calvados Finish. This was the first in a long range of different finishes, including Marsala, Champagne, Port, Bordeaux, Chareau Margaux, Tokaji, Rum, Cognac, Cream sherry, Fino sherry, Amarone, Fontalloro, Lepanto PX Brandy, Moscatel de Setubal, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Mascianelli, Pineau de Charentes, Pineau de Charentes, Sassicaia, St. Emillion Chateau Fonplegade, etc. In recent years more and more (independent) bottlings are released that were matured in relatively mundane sherry casks.
 
2007 - A new racked warehouse with a capacity of circa 3,000 casks is added to the Arran distillery.
Around the same time Arran became more self-sufficient by installing their own malt mill.
 
2008 - The logo of the Arran distillery was restyled - the image above shows the most recent version.
 
2011 - A 12yo cask strength official bottling of Arran is released, along with 'Westie' & 'Sleeping Warrior'.
 
2013 - Oh, wait... Arran changed their logo yet again - please scroll upwards to see both logo's...
And in April 2013 Arran released their oldest bottling yet; a 16 years old expression priced at 59.99. It is a 'limited edition' of 9,000 bottles; the first in an annual trilogy counting down to the Arran 18yo, scheduled for spring 2015.
 

Oh, wait... In early 2013 the people of Arran were kind enough to send me some updated information
about the distillery. The information included the fact that Arran has had its own malt mill since 2007
at the fact that the logo of Arran had been changed again. The 'white' logo at the left (with either
the contours of the isle of Arran or the silhouette of a piece of barley) was introduced in 2008, but
this old logo has now been replaced with the new logo at the right. Now the logo features two birds
(presumably the Golden Eagles mentioned in the trivia section) and the fact that Arran distillery was
established in 1995. I remember reading the news about the launch. Ah, they grow up so quickly... ;-)

Trivia about Arran whisky distillery

1) During the construction of the distillery, a pair of Golden Eagles built their nest on a cliff near the distillery.
Since Golden Eagles are a protected species, construction of the distillery was temporarily halted.

2) Arran distillery didn't have its own malt mill until 2007, which meant they had to purchase ready made grist from the mainland. In 2007 a malt mill was installed, so these days Arran distillery purchases their malted barley from the east coast, but everything else (except the bottling) is now done on the island.

3) Until the 1830's there were three whisky distilleries on the relatively small Isle of Arran, all of them were located on the southern part of the island. However, the Arran whisky that is made today comes from the north.

4) In 2010 Arran distillery sold 13,500 cases of malt whisky and made a profit of a little over 100,000 GBP.

5) Although Aran is theoretically able to produce 750,000 litres of alcohol per year, they produce far less.
Around 2011, around 20,000 litres of their production was a peated malt whisky with +/- 20 PPM.
 

Arran single malt whisky

Arran NAS 'Port Cask Finish' (50%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Wow... Very sulphury. Heavily finished. I like the expressiveness, but it almost smells like a liqueur.
It settles down after a few minutes. Some spices join the party, but the elements are not really integrated.
Taste: Fruity on the surface, but it has a dusty undercurrent. Centre and finish are quite fruity as well.
Score: 78 points - but I can imagine how the opinions about this Arran whisky will be very divided.

Arran 1998/2010 (56.5%, OB, Sherry Cask #603, 225 Bts)
Nose: Heavily sherried with a powerful punch in the top of the nose. Sweet and fruity; plums and cherries.
Hints of leather as well. Cinnamon and some other spices in the background. Growing complexity over time.
Taste: Fairly rough on the palate. Pleasant but not very expressive; this keeps the score at 85 points.
Score: 85 points - this is a highly enjoyable Arran whisky - the best one so far?

Arran 14yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Light and fruity on the surface with some 'coastal' organics in the background. It grows quite complex.
Opens up fairly quickly. Sweet & sour. Relatively outspoken amongst the ever more 'uniform' competition.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet. Malty. Slightly uneven, but certainly pleasant enough. Relatively simplistic finish.
Score: 81 points - this somehow reminded me of the Bushmills 16yo from Ireland, but it's more complex.

Arran 10yo (46%, OB, +/- 2009)
Nose: Light. Starts with early fruits, followed by farmy and grainy tones in the sour end of the spectrum.
The slightly odd fruits are pleasant enough, although it feels slightly 'microwaved' or 'pressure cooked'.
Malty. Sweetens out a bit over time, with notes of honeysuckle and a hint of oil. Quite complex for a 10yo...
Taste: Starts off smooth but a tad uneven, but finds a balance after a few seconds. Hint of something herbal?
The centre and the finish are quite harsh, though… During round 1 it reaches the 80's, but barely...
Score: 80 points - I'd say a good portion of ex-sherry or ex-wine casks were used for this vatting.

Arran 12yo 1996 'The Peacock Ltd Edition' (46%, OB, 6000 Bts.)
Nose: Very little character in the nose - and breathing doesn't help. Hint of something herbal. Odd...
Taste: Nondescript start, followed by some toffee notes. Dry finish. Fairly harsh. Below average.
Score: 72 points - it's peculiar that this scores fairly low; recent batches of the 10yo are still recommendable.
Perhaps they used only bourbon or rum casks for the maturation of this one?

Arran 12yo 1996/2009 (55.7%, A. D. Rattray Cask Collection, Cask #96/723, 656 Bts.)
Nose: Starts off with veggy notes, before gaining complexity; cardboard, heather honey and blueberries.
Diesel? Some organics as well. Sweetens out over time, after adding a few dashes of water. Needs oxygen.
Taste: Smooth, with slightly weird fruits. Cool, becomes a little bit cloying. Whiff of oil in the finish.
Based on the nose I was inclined to go for 82 points but the harsh centre and finish keep it at 81 points.
Score: 81 points - but I should add that it needs some time and water to get there.

Arran 1998/2008 (52.3%, OB, Sherry, C#305, 285 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet and mellow. Fresh dough. Fruity notes too. Intriguing spices. After a few minutes organics emerge.
Taste: Solid but a little nondescript. Well, it opens up- over time, becoming bigger, rounder and more complex.
Score: 86 points - It's very nice to see the whisky from this young distillery maturing nicely.
I should point out that not all malt maniacs were quite as impressed as I was with this Arran whisky.

Arran 1998/2008 (57.5%, OB for LMdW Paris, Bourbon, C#675, 213 Bts.)
Nose: Polished. Balanced. Not terribly expressive, but right up my alley. Some spices emerge after a minute.
Taste: Matches the nose perfectly. Beautiful balance of fruit and wood.
Score: 83 points - Arran has really matured nicely in a decade.

Arran 1996/2008 (56.84%, OB for 'The Nectar', Sherry Cask #1860)
Nose: Subtle old fruits. Dried apples. Complex sweetness. Some polished wood too. An old tobacco store.
Classic sherried profile with a hint of bubblegum. Lovely development over time; doesn't need water.
Taste: Strong and sweet with loads of 'mature' sherry notes. Very solid finish with a touch of liquorice.
Score: 86 points - perhaps a tad harsh on the palate, but a better malt than I'd expected from Arran.

Arran 12yo 1996/2008 (54.7%, Master of Malt, Refill Sherry Hogshead, 301 Bts.)
Nose: Raw beans? Heavy rotting fruits - which is a good thing. Some spices in the background. my kind of style.
On the other hand, it doesn't offer a lot besides the very pleasant complex fruits. No, wait... Dust?
After ten minutes of breathing I did find a whiff of smoke as well. All in all, a very pleasant profile.
Taste: The palate matches the nose perfectly. This shows the fermenting fruits as well.
Not nearly as sweet as one might expect. The mouth feel is quite harsh as well - too bad.
Score: 81 points - proof that the Arran distillery has left the first difficult years behind.

Arran NAS 'Grand Cru Champagne Cask Finish' (58.8%, OB, 308 bottles, Bottled 2005)
Nose: Sweet and grainy, quickly growing fruitier. Faint hint of smoke? Developing organics. Sake?
Ah, this definitely opens up with time. Well, not for long. It drifts in and out of focus. Camphor?
More spices and organics in the nose during round 2. Stock cubes. Quite unique. Smells 'foody'.
Taste: Oy, a hint of pine in the start. Sweet and herbal. Dry and quite harsh towards the finish.
Feels a bit winey at the end with tannins pulling my gums in. Yeah, in the end this is utterly drinkable.
Score: 83 points - not really my 'type', but expressive and a solid overproof whisky (especially on the palate).

Arran NAS Marsala Finish (56.9%, OB, Bottled 22/10/2004).
Nose: Quite gentle, but spicy too. This shows something clearly 'winey'.
Faint dried apples. It opens up a bit with time. Probably the 'richest' Arran.
Taste: Sweet, spicy and a little winey. It really fits the nose like a glove.
A little sweeter with water. This really does quite well on the palate.
Score: 81 points - yes, it definitely seems Arran is reaching maturity.
Much more interesting than any 'deluxe' Robert Burns edition...

Arran 1996/2004 Single Cask (58.7%, OB, 311 bottles)
Blasted! I accidentilly poured it into a glass filled with quite a lot of water!
Nose: Oily, more organics after a few seconds. Then spices, becoming more 'oriental'.
Not a lot of excitement at first, although it seems to open up slowly. Wet clay?
Taste: Flat and weak. Light and fruity. But is that the water or the malt?
Preliminary impression: Lower 70's. Could it be I added too much water?
Second sampling: Hey, is that a hint of peat in the nose? Hmmm, now it's gone.
But now it shows lots of organics, that's for sure. Spicy and very fruity on the tongue.
Score: 78 points - it has plenty of flaws, but I liked it much better during my 2nd try.
Hey, hey - this is one of the very best Arrans I've tried so far!

Arran NAS 'Non-chillfiltered' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Nutty. Sweet and malty at first - light and very pleasant. Oatmeal? Quite accessible.
Wait a minute - now it's growing oilier and grainier. The complexity vanishes after a while.
I like it better than the normal NAS version but after a few minutes I still found it a tad boring.
Taste: Starts off rather weak, uneven and bitter. Sweeter centre - not altogether unpleasant.
Unfortunately, the finish is dry and very bitter. Bad wood? It loses quite a few points there.
Score: 67 points - I had my first dram at 71 points but my second opinion was less positive.
The whisky shows potential (more than I thought) but in the end it's just too neutral for me.
But the slightly higher proof works, I imagine this could work even better at 50% or even C/S.
Or how about increasing the PPM - that seems to work for the Ledaigs distilled at Tobermory.

Arran NAS (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2001, Sherry casks, Code L9:298:S10 99/15031 14:08, 70cl)
Nose: Oily & spirity. Sweeter & maltier over time.Very (and I mean very) faint hints of peat & smoke.
Taste: Malty and a little bitter. Short finish. This Arran whisky should do better in the summer.
Score: 63 points - not a lot of character, but easily drinkable compared to a blend.

Arran NAS (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1998, Sherry Casks, L9:243:S10 99:13185 11:00, 70cl)
Nose: Oily and creamy - like Isle of Jura. Grain? Banana's and some peppery elements as well.
A little sweet. A pinch of salt. A little smoke and some nuttyness later on. Quite interesting.
Not bad at +/- 3 yo. It picks up slightly after a while, but never reaches recommendable levels.
Taste: Watery. Smooth with a malty burn, then a toffee sweetness. Dry and bitter finish. Tea?
Score: 61 points - it seems we'll have to wait a few more years...

Arran 1yo 1996 Spirit (61.5%, OB, Bottled +/- 1997, 5cl) - sample from Andries Visser
Nose: Sweet & grainy. Quite pleasant in the front of the nose, but not really in the back.
I was almost enjoying myself for a few seconds, but then it quickly grows dull and fairly harsh.
Taste: Hmmm.... Not too bad at all in the start. Bug, sweet and fruity. Quite harsh in the centre.
This doesn't feel very refined, but for a 1yo spirit it's quite impressive. Reminds me of the Lot 40.
I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with the start; unfortunately, it falls apart quite quickly.
Score: 45 points - although I actually contemplated a score above 50 points for a few seconds.
 

And there's more to tell about Arran...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Arran Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Arran page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Arran expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
 

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