When will someone bite the bullet and purchase that new release as part of a rebrand? It seems many of you rely on word of mouth, or MALT, to ascertain whether a whisky is worthwhile. Recently, we’ve all become a little too frivolous with our disposable cash (or in some cases, rising credit card balances), to purchase a new release.
Many of these purchases are fuelled by a collector or investor rhetoric. However, for others there is the drinking element and as many consumers i.e. those that consume the product, will vouch we have too many bottles at home standing idle and open. We don’t enjoy what we have and are easily distracted and manipulated into another purchase. Many of us could do with spending a little less and considering whether you really need this new bottle?
We’ve already touched up the Arran rebranding so I don’t need to go into that again, but I do want to acknowledge what a poor year it has been for whisky launches. Not in terms of numbers or pricing, but rather the actual contents, which as consumers is what matters at the end of the day. It would be easy to approach this review with a sense of lethargic foreboding. 2019 won’t go down as the year of when the whisky industry gave something back to the consumer with a lovely new line of whiskies to truly lap up.
I still retain some hope and the last contender for this year is Arran. This isn’t one of my favourite distilleries and I’m happy to state as such. Transparency is at the heart of what we do here after all. In saying that, Arran has been improving with time. I suppose in some respects its early years were like Bruichladdich with a hailstorm of releases and limited expressions to sustain revenue. Now things have settled, the distillery can look ahead and bring us something new with an increased sense of confidence. The cynics may highlight that anything sells nowadays so why not take advantage of such a buoyant market? Let’s remain optimistic that the former applies in this case.
When Arran announced the new look in September 2019, it also featured 2 new expressions that are becoming permanent members to the core range. Given that the 10-year-old and Quarter Cask the Bothy expressions are continuations of what went before, I’ve ignored these for this article. Instead, focusing upon the Barrel Reserve and Sherry Cask the Bodega, which are the new recruits.
The Barrel Reserve is made up from 100% bourbon casks and is bottled at 43%. It is naturally coloured but there is what Arran have described as ‘lightly filtered’ approach been adopted for chill-filtration. This is pitched at the entry level aspect of the Arran range and will set you back £32.25 via the Whisky Exchange or £32.95 via Master of Malt. It is on average, 7-8 years old.
Moving onto the Bodega, we have the usual chat around the ‘finest sherry casks available to the industry’ but no actual details on the type of sherry utilised. However, refreshingly, we do know that on average this whisky is 7 years old, and that 1st fill sherry hogsheads were used. It is naturally coloured and remains non-chill filtered and bottled at 55.8%. Expect to pay £53.95 via Master of Malt, or exactly the same via the Whisky Exchange.
Arran The Barrel Reserve – review
On the nose: very fresh and light with poached pears in vanilla alongside icing sugar, apple puree and marshmallows. Memories of lemon sponge cask are revived. A simple nose in reality but not taxing or unbalanced. A gentle dusting of cinnamon, white chocolate and freshly baked shortbread. Water reveals a more spirit nature, a dull vanilla essence and raw cauliflower.
In the mouth: a little sweet initially, but this soon passes into fruits before vanishing very, very quickly. Vanilla custard, some pears and lime follow. Limited and vapid, but not offensive. Adding water offers no real tangible benefit; more alcohol on the finish, a little oilness but nowt dramatic.
Arran Sherry Cask the Bodega – review
On the nose: a rich toffee, cloves and the alcohol is noticeable but not forceful. Stewed figs, black pepper and a bitter dark chocolate. Walnuts and rhubarb alongside a creamy style. Let it sit in the glass for a while to open up more. Wild strawberries, dried orange and adding water I felt wasn’t beneficial, showcasing syrup and stewed apples, but much of the definition was lost. Patience again, allows the spices to revive but little else.
In the mouth: a good texture, surprisingly so, almost chewy. More chocolate, black pepper, cardamon and treacle. Some Lapsang souchong and tobacco persist. Again, I have to say, water didn’t do much whatsoever.
Better than expected in reality, so I’m pleased to acknowledge this and both are positive scores if you want to read our scoring guide.
The Barrel Reserve suffers from the lower strength of 43% and given the age of the contents; I expected more substance. It is priced at the lower end of the official single malt market range, which helps, but is fairly pedestrian for an entry level stepping stone whisky. Upping to 46% may have been more beneficial and less of the lightly filtered as well please. However, it is what it is at the end of the day. For a couple of quid more you can have the Deanston Virgin Oak and to me that option seems better value.
The real winner here is the Bodega. You could be misgiven for thinking this is a sherry bomb based on colour and strength. However, there are subtle elements to it and the spirit working in tandem with the cask itself. The outcome is a pleasant dram that you will enjoy during the coming cold winter evenings. Price wise, I do think it is fair given what some are charging nowadays for a sherry finish release; never mind full 100% maturation.
At least then, we end 2019 on a positive note when it comes to official whisky launches. These Arran’s do enough to satisfy and show what can be done.
There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Images kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.