Isle of Arran Orkney Bere

The Isle of Arran distillery is making its debut here at the Whisky Rover. Since its arrival in the 1990’s the distillery has enjoyed an increasingly apparent profile. While it remains one I have yet to visit (maybe next year), it has released a series of characteristic and instantly recognisable whiskies. The latest of these being the Devil’s Punch Bowl that did come in for some sulphur criticism from Jim Murray’s latest edition of the Whisky Bible.  

Despite this criticism Arran releases are proving increasingly popular and only now I am becoming acquainted with their whisky. Why the sudden change? Well, a trip to Orkney and the Barony Mill highlighted the ancient bere variety of barley that was used locally and also by whisky distilleries up until the early 1900’s. While Orcadians continue to use this robust crop, the whisky industry has moved on, seeking out new barley options that offer more yield. That is until recently with the Bruichladdich and Arran distilleries expressing an interest to go back to the roots of whisky. Now this limited release of 5800 bottles gives us an opportunity to see if the bere barley offers a superior dram to its modern barley competitors.

With the help of Agronomy Institute of Orkney College and the maltings in Inverness, Arran laid down these casks in 2004 for 8 years. I’m unsure if this is the only release planned or if Arran still further bere casks ageing patiently for future releases – but for now let us see what this bere 8 year old offers.
Distillery: Isle of Arran
Distilled: 2004
Bottled: 2012
Strength: 46%
Cask Type: American bourbon
Cask Numbers: Edition of 5800
Additional: No chill-filtration or artificial colouring
Price: approx £45 (still available online)

Colour: A mellow golden straw

Nose: A summer meadow with apples, lemon, honey, peach, strawberries. 

Mouth:Nice balance between the 46% strength; flavours of cut grass and syrup. For an 8 year there are already some noticeable characteristics already here – it does taste older by a couple of years. And a lingering honeycomb, cereal finish 

Raith’s verdict: I enjoyed this release. Part of me wishes that I could have sat down with an 8 year Arran derived from a modern crop of barley. That would make for an interesting comparison. As it stands we have little to compare this Arran bere to. An interesting experiment and I’d hope one that other distilleries continue. There is a robustness and depth of flavour truly waiting to be unlocked here. Maybe Arran jumped the gun slightly unless this is just an initial release with more to follow at a later date. Bere does offer possibilities that still await to be unlocked fully.

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