For some unfathomable reason, I’ve been sitting on these tasting notes for a few months. There’s absolutely no reason for it – other than what my subconscious tells me. It tells me that I struggle to get excited about Arran – but I can’t think why. Lovely setting, lovely distillery. Many admirers. And yet, perhaps because I’m by default grumpy – no, a demanding punter – it takes a lot to get me passionate about a brand. I don’t fall for awards. I can see through marketing bollocks (in this industry, though I gleefully embrace it in others). I look directly at production methods. Yet from what I can tell, Arran doesn’t do anything wrong for me.
Some distilleries just fail to get the blood pumping. Perhaps it’s a personal thing to each of us – distilleries that sit just off the radar. They might become special if we go on holiday to a particular location, meet the people, and forever replace our tasting notes with our memories of that visit. Certainly seemed to be the way with Diageo’s Classic Malts, which were pretty much set up on tourist spots. And maybe it’s in that way that Arran has built up a bit of a following within the whisky community.
I have had one or two nice whiskies from Arran, but the memory is a bit hazy on such things – and I think they were indie bottlings. They didn’t stand out, perhaps. But today I have a trio of finished whiskies from the distillery itself.
Finishing, that very much in-vogue thing at the moment, can be very good. But it is first and foremost remedial – it is because the initial maturation wasn’t good enough. That’s perhaps because the first cask had been used several times. Indeed, Bruichladdich’s early days pioneered the use of finishing, due to the fact that the stocks the new owners inherited were destined for blending, and needed a lot of remedial work – in wine casks, which were rather exotic for the modern age (even though in the past wine casks have been used to mature whisky). Done well, it can be an excellent process, a wonderful enhancement to existing flavours. Done badly, like with Bladnoch, it’s as good as Scottish high street cuisine. So I am rather indifferent to finishing these days.
But my general beef with finishing today though, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is that when you elevate the previous contents of the cask that your whisky was matured in, what does that say about the quality of your spirit? When you emblazon Chateau Blah Blah on the front of the bottle, it says (indirectly, perhaps) that your brand and your spirit isn’t strong enough on its own. Emphasising these other names says you have to borrow prestige from elsewhere. Which is just one man’s opinion, of course. But you don’t find any Champagne brand, be it a grower brand like Agrapart & Fils all the way through to Krug, borrowing prestige names from another industry do you? Because they’re pretty certain that they do things very well indeed. Which they do.
So with all that said about approaching Arran Distillery and finishes with perhaps some indifference, I have three finished whiskies from Arran Distillery. Each of them costs between £40 and £50, and come bottled at 50% ABV (which, in my mind, is very good value indeed).
The Arran Malt Sauternes Finish – Review
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: syrup. Demerara sugar. Jasmine. (Very sweet.) Baked apples. Praline. Walnuts. Peaches. Buttermilk. Creme brulee. Lime cheesecake. All of the sweet things. Dried mango and apricot. Vanilla. Marzipan.
In the mouth: remarkably sweet. The syrup is rather dominant at first, but there is balance from a maltiness within the spirit, and some tannins and cinnamon warmth from the wood to keep it in check. Give it a long time and the fruit, rather than the sweetness, shines: dried apricots, sultanas, baked apples once again. A lovely cereal quality among it all, which becomes slightly hoppy and husky. But it’s all about that syrup. I suppose if you’re a sherry-bomb fan but fancy something slightly different – then you may like this.
The Arran Malt Amarone Finish – Review
Colour: pink! Almost like a rose wine.
On the nose: now that’s lovely. Fresh strawberries, then goes into black fruits: blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries perhaps. Jam tarts again. Cranberries. A lightly toasted note, and then cereal note beyond. Slightly grassy once all the fun fades, but the fruit flavours are delicious. Towards the end, almost watermelon, mango flavours begin to show.
In the mouth: fine texture, the best of the three. A startlingly fruity dram – again those hedgerow fruits really dominating. It’s lovely and rounded, with an elderberry, balsamic tartness being the balance to the sweeter, plum jam elements. Nutmeg warmth. A simple affair, but really nice.
The Arran Malt Port Finish – Review
Colour: russet, with a pink hue.
On the nose: yes that port quality is there. A jammy, fresh, almost yeasty-bready note. Sweet almond nuttiness. Raspberries. Clotted cream. (I’m in mind of a scone.) Lavender and jasmine. Orchard fruits. Golden syrup and Custard Creme biscuits.
In the mouth: lovely velvety texture. Apricot jam, slight pastry note. Jam tarts. Vanilla, toffee note. Floral honey. Barley sugar. Sours slightly into grapefruit juice towards the finish, which is still acidic rather than woody or peppery. It isn’t especially complex, but the spirit is good and the flavours are very pleasing indeed.
Well, they’re all right. (And it’s here that I remind people that 5/10 on Malt is not a bad score.) It’s quite good to taste the three side by side actually to see the slightly different journeys that the spirit goes on. I do actually think that, for £45 from the distillery website itself, these make for really good value drams in this age. (Although I would like some more information as to the age of the spirit to back up that statement.)
Which is to say, I think if you’re looking for a rogue experiment into finishing, these are worth a go. If you’re part of a whisky society, why not get a couple of bottles for your group and try them side by side.