Arran isn’t one of my favourite distilleries by a long margin however I hold out hope. I’ve been thwarted several times in trying to reach the distillery from a variety of bad luck to the ferry hitting the jetty I kid you not. My palate also remembers some of the questionable usage of all sorts of casks to release their whiskies in the early days. It seemed at times anything that passed as a cask was utilised.
To a certain extent I can appreciate why this method was used and we’ve seen it previously with Bruichladdich. It does tarnish the distillery somewhat in the eyes of some onlookers. I even offered to help them pick their next White Stag bottling not by kissing ass with a really poetic reason, but simply they needed help based on previous form. Needless to say I didn’t bag an invite. Yet now we’re reaching the second decade of Arran’s existence and the whisky is finally coming of age. I was impressed with the official 18 year old that I tasted as part of a mini-vertical Tweet Tasting. It possessed just enough character and was well priced for its age.
This particular bottling comes from Phil and Simon Thomson who run the glorious Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar and also the most exciting of all distilleries on the horizon; the Dornoch Distillery. These brothers know a thing or two about whisky, so when they put their name on a bottling I tend to take notice. Hence my purchase of the 1972 43 year old Invergordon that marked a new endeavour. Since then they’ve bottled a variety of whiskies and a couple of rums. A recent trip north for the Dornoch Whisky Festival prompted the acquisition of several samples in a trade. I’ll try to keep up with their releases but its clear they have good sources to harvest these bottlings and given their limited nature and Japanese exports, blink and you’ll miss them via their website. I should highlight its collection only from the bar but they’ll hold onto your purchase for you. It’s well worth the trip north to experience the region and all its distilleries plus that bar.
I’m a bit of a bottle slag in all honesty as I love a glorious label. The contents also matter but these bottlings are lavished by the distinctive artwork of Katie Shiach that unites the series. I actually met Katie and her family whilst collecting my bottles during the Dornoch Festival and she’s a great character. I’ve made a mental note about something I’m planning in 2017 for Whisky Rover and commissioning Katie to come up with the visuals.
Returning to Arran is something I’d like to try again despite my failures. As for the distillery its a success story attracting visitors to the island and providing it with an identity on the whisky map of Scotland. Things have gone so well that they’ve announced plans to build another distillery on the southern end of Arran. Hopefully this won’t prompt an onslaught of odd cask whiskies…
It’ll have a visitor centre as well and spread the whisky love across Arran no doubt. Maybe I’ll hold off until then as all going well it could be in production within two years. It’s difficult keeping track of all these new distilleries and I still have the fear that the boom will soon end and then my closed distillery collection will require new additions. This is all in the future and right now in the present, this 20 year old Arran sits before me. Bottled at 51.9% vol and with no colouring or chill filtration, it was distilled in August 1996 just a year after production commenced. Originally an outturn of just 55 bottles at £110 sold out very quickly, as Arran does have a following and I know of at least one Arran collector. I jokingly told him to try collecting another distillery as Arran will never be collectable however the modern age fashionistas love their limited expressions; what do I know eh?
Dornoch Arran 1996 20 year old review
Colour: golden syrup
On the nose: restrained at first with wood shavings infused with vanilla, toasted brown bread and some bakers yeast. There’s tobacco which I wasn’t anticipating and apricots with a dollop of marmalade and cinnamon bark.
In the mouth: my goodness that’s a surprise its very creamy and flows wonderfully into the finish. Returning for another sip is oranges, juicy fruits and figs, vanilla undoubtedly and plenty of spices with caradmon and cloves.
Overall: best Arran I’ve tasted to date? It certainly is. The longer in the glass, the more cohesive the nose became and the palate was joyous. Such a shame there’s only 55 bottles of this delightful whisky as I would have recommended purchasing without hesitation.