For most of us spirits enthusiasts, funds are a limited resource.
My purchasing habits for whisky have changed throughout the years. During the first couple of years I’ve had in this hobby, my general goal was to encounter as many brands and production or flavor styles (though those come together) as possible. I wanted to learn about the category, so I felt that a broader focus would be best. This entailed immediately wanting to try out new whiskies that I learned about; afterward, it was always fun to drive across different cities to hunt for bottles.
There were a few times when I’d go to bars to buy drams of whiskies I wanted to try out for the first time, but I ended up gravitating more toward buying my own bottles. The environment or ambience of most bars – noisy for some, strong scents in others – isn’t necessarily conducive for my process of exploring new whiskies, so I prefer doing so on my own time and in my own home. I’d have full bottles at my disposal and get to build a growing collection, too.
Of course, this meant needing to often make blind purchases, and while this might initially seem foolish given my financial limits, I’ve realized that exploring through other alternatives like bars would not be as cost-efficient; it’s not uncommon for a 45ml serving of a whisky at a bar to cost a third or a fifth of the full-bottle SRP of the same whisky. I could go on and on about why buying bottles is my preferred method, but all in all, its benefits and drawbacks certainly helped me learn about what I drink and how I can be critical of it.
Over time, though, my goals as a whisky enthusiast have slightly shifted. I still explore new whisky brands and subcategories, and I still prefer buying full bottles. However, widening my scope is no longer my sole objective. Perhaps it’s because I no longer see whisky with the same sense of fervent over-eagerness that I had before, or because I’ve learned that most whiskies tend to be “just fine” anyway.
In any case, I’ve grown to be more discerning with which bottles I purchase, and there are now instances when I’d gain a level of trust for certain brands and become more willing to buy new expressions from those brands instead of exploring new brands altogether. One can say that my exploration, in some cases, has become a little more vertical instead of being only horizontal as was the case before.
Arran is one of those brands that I currently trust. Much has already been said here on Malt – like the pieces written by myself, C. Ryan, Adam, and Mark regarding this brand and its distillery on the Isle of Arran – so I won’t be spending much time contextualizing the brand right now.
When I saw this 18 year old being sold in online retail, the bottle design first got my attention. This release was from before Arran rebranded their packaging, and it was a new addition to the core range then. Prior to this bottling, there was an 18-year-old limited release of 9,000 bottles. The rebranded core range continues to feature an 18 year old expression. Given the change in marketing perspective, I’d say that there were also changes, even if small, in the blend, but some sources say otherwise. Presented at 46% ABV strength, this expression was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.
Arran Aged 18 Years – Review
Color: Cold with copper tones.
On the nose: A deceptively soft start that immediately becomes more imposing, yet it has a fruity juiciness that remains throughout the development. Store-bought Fuji apple skins, chico (or sapodilla), and watermelon juice at the top, progressing into nearly rotten red grapes, dried ginger, blueberry jam, oak, and a touch of thyme and salt. Over time, a pleasant waft of pale ale emerges.
In the mouth: There isn’t a soft ramp-up here, but neither is it overwhelming. The center stage is still occupied by fruits: red apples, pears, atis (or custard apple), and the sweet bitterness of biting on a mango pith. Surrounding and interacting with that core are curious and playful flavors: malt funk, sawdust, and boiled peanuts. There’s a present yet restrained sherry, too. In its entirety, the palate is also juicy, though to a lesser degree compared to the nose. Balancing that juiciness well is minerality. The finish is medium length, but serves as a definitive yet fresh conclusion to the palate’s development. It doesn’t leave one hanging, leading to a diminuendo comprising of key lime pie and soft meringue.
I believe that “elegant” isn’t an adjective that I often associate with single malts, perhaps because, for me, it involves a specific character, or because other adjectives tend to be more suitable… but this 18-year-old Arran is certainly that. While I find elegance to be far from a necessary nor a sufficient metric of excellence, I appreciate having a whisky that I can clearly describe as such. I want to emphasize its minerality; it’s not a flavor I always associate with elegance, but it provides a balance that keeps this whisky from being a run-of-the-mill, soft-natured Scotch that many Scotches are.
While the elegance of this whisky certainly raises its floor as a drink that I can enjoy in many different moments, at this point in my life and with the current preferences I have, the ceiling of this whisky is not as high as I hoped it would be. In other words, while there is a greater number of instances when I would like to drink this compared to a lot of other drams, it’s not especially mystifying or moving. It won’t knock me back in astonishment. But that’s perfectly fine.
A final note: you might be wondering what value there is in a review of a discontinued bottling. The likelihood of a consumer or enthusiast researching this specific bottle is not as high as if they would other Arran expressions that are currently available, so this review hardly guides any purchasing decisions in that sense. This is also why I won’t be commenting on this bottling’s value for money. Instead, I decided to write about this whisky to communicate the rarity of trust and the importance of consistency.
Most of the whiskies I’ve tried (yes, even some of the expressions that I adore) are under brands that I do not trust. Technically, among the Arran expressions I’ve tried, this is the oldest, in terms of its age and when the expression was released. While I haven’t tried all of their current releases, the consistency among those that I’ve had plays a significant role in my continued trust in Arran. Suppose that a day comes when I want to try a new whisky that I’m fairly confident wouldn’t lead to regrets, or when someone would ask me for a recommendation on a new whisky to try to further their own journey? Arran would be one of the clear answers.
The bottle photo is courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.