An obvious entry in our ongoing independent series is Bartels and their various ranges including today’s offering in the Highland Laird. We actually haven’t covered too much in recent times. Looking back through the dusty MALT archives, Mark reviewed an 18-year-old Speyside in 2015 whilst also taking the opportunity to interview the team.
Remember 2015 in whisky terms? Many of you wouldn’t have been into whisky, or merely just considering exploring; jumping on this out of control freight train speeding towards? That remains to be seen. For Bartels they continue to release good stuff and generally affordable as we recently confirmed with the 17-year-old blended malt. Generally, value has seeped away from whisky and packaging has become more exclusive and lavish. The days of twee tartan and Scottish-ness have slowly evaporated as we’ve seen at Glenmorangie. A whisky that is now lost in North American in search of its soul. A word of advice; get back to Tain, find those 16 men (or women) and rediscover the essence of what made you once great.
All of this, links us nicely into this Arran, who themselves have gone through a rebranding of late. Friends know when the topic of this distillery arises, it’s guaranteed a sigh of disappointment from my direction. I’ve never been to Arran. We’ve tried 3 times and a combination of bad news, bad weather and the captain ramming the pier have put an end to such a voyage. It’s not even that much of a crossing! But there is chatter within our household of trying once again.
For Arran, things have gotten better. For a while they were stuck in shovelling out anything and becoming lost in a labyrinth of limited series around everything from dogs to illegal distillers. What it always comes down to is the whisky and since hitting 18, the trend has been upwards. One could argue it couldn’t get more mundane and I can see why, but Arran was I felt in search of its voice and style. Everyone gets a 2nd chance from me and Jura has gone way beyond that let me tell you; I remain optimistic that good times will wash upon the shores of Arran.
However, in saying that the contents truly matter, many of you out there in this shallow 1st impressions social media world, clearly love the visual nature of whisky. Particularly unopened bottles. Arran has never featured highly in any of my Instagram scrolling and the old look was looking a little tired and weather beaten, yet did the job. Eventually, a new model or upgrade is required. That old television that lacks connectivity, or your reliable wee car goes beyond financial justification after the latest repair bill. There comes a time to change and for Arran they decided that moment was 2019.
Times have certainly changed with Arran hiring the talents of London based Stranger and Stranger to create the new look with inspiration from Lochranza apparently. You might not know the name specifically, but you’ll certainly be aware of their work which includes Corporate Box, Fettercairn, Lindores Abbey and worringly the Dewar’s Double Aged for Ultimate Smoothness. Overall then, a patchy inconsistent CV, and I think they’ve dropped the ball again.
There’s no missing the fact that this is an Arran whisky and the cask type but the overall presentation is safe and somewhat grey. It doesn’t scream Scotland, Arran or even whisky and when the packaging loses the sense of what its heart should be that’s when you fail to target a specific market. Instead, what we have here is filler and languishing in-between the fans and those new to whisky. As an onlooker, knowing that some companies can pay in excess of £50k for a bottle design, how much was the cost of a rebrand? And this being the outcome? I’d be asking serious questions of the fulfilment team and value for money.
Putting aside that topic for now – as we’ll get to the releases eventually, I’m sure – we’re faced with this more traditional presentation from Bartels. A kind dram from the ultimate Ardbeg fan, yep Andy, with a recent visit to my chateau, thanks again. This was distilled in 1996 and has resided in a 1st fill sherry butt for 2 decades before reaching us with a strength of 51.3% and an outturn of 520 bottles.
Highland Laird Arran 20 year old – review
On the nose: dried fruits, ginger, damp wood and worn leather. Carrot cake brings some sweetness along with orange segments. Candle wax, vanilla, caramel, figs, brown sugar, cloves, fresh bark and spent tobacco. A fair degree of wood and water brings out pine sap, cardboard, chocolate, raspberry and custard creams.
In the mouth: coffee beans and a lot of sweetness. Red liquorice, a little smoke and red liquorice. Dry leather, roasted hazelnuts, cloves and it’s all cask. Water brings out more earthy notes, wood and tannins.
Simple fact is this Arran has gone too far in a 1st fill sherry cask. The balance has been lost and the sherry influence has become suffocating and woody. Some out there enjoy such a feature and if you do, then add a point. For me it is a negative and I almost marked this down to a 5, but the nose is fun. Overall, an interesting and bold indie Arran; maybe we should aim for those new entries later this month?