Saturday, 10 May 2014

Arran– a deep dive

Tomatin, Bruichladdich and Arran.  SMWS and Whisky Broker.  Enduring favourites of mine, and so time to give Arran a bit more love.  As previously mentioned in my review of the new OB 17 (here) and 16 (here), younger Arrans have had some growing pains and heat and bitterness is a problem.  But this is starting to pay dividends as we get a bit older.  Arran was only founded in 1995 so we have to wait in realtime for the 18, 21 and 30 year old to be released.


Arran Sauternes Cask Finish, 50% A-

A NAS Arran ACEd in Sauternes casks. 

arran-sauternes-biggestNose - Soured sweetness, wet wood and fried black peppercorns.  A restrained fruitiness including ripe pear and mango, and a not quite constrained cereal note. Quite wet on the nose with some citrus and orange. It’s quite lovely if you can spend the time to go digging.

Body - Really spicy, hot sweetness, lots of wood influence, tropical backnotes of banana and mango. Some good chocolate toffee backing.

Finish - Bitterness shows through relatively early, medium length with a little rawness and uneventful otherwise.

What's not good about it: Watery nose, lacks conviction throughout.

What’s good about it: Totally enjoyable but comes up short against recent bottlings.

Arran 17 year old, Old Particular, 1996 (cask 9983), 48.4% A+

Another 17 year old Arran - it’s a boundary condition.  And lots in common with other Old Particular’s I’ve had - light, elegant, beguiling... challenging.

arrop.1996Nose - Light but brightly oiled, pine and rosemary on the nose with that characteristic toffee malt behind it, lazy chocolate overtones and sulphurous structure.  Bold, balanced, tasty and waxy.  A big, expensive nose with a suggestion of hops.

Body - Spicy malt, more blonde wood, toffee, lots of side-fizzing tannins.

Finish - Relaxes into deep, oily toffee.  Very long, but the oiliness descends into overwooded tannins and numbing Sichuan peppercorns and too much spice.

What's not good about it: The tannins and bitterness are unbalanced late in the delivery.  The end of the finish is far too sharp.

What’s good about it: Wonderful nose, great beginnings.  This isn’t the first time I’m reminded why distillers release more single malts than single casks.

Arran Batch 1 - That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 49.1% A

arran-batch-1-that-boutique-y-whisky-company-main_image-250Nose - Waxy expense and sour cider apples, very musky.  Lots of permanent marker goodness.  Intense, dusty oak and raisin, and an almost vinegary brightness.  Even more of the fruit and nut than the OB 16.  Still; very intense, very classy and quite exciting.

Body - Immediately, dusty and smoky, quite drying. Loads of very sweet chocolate malt, intensely Arran and quite chewy.

Finish - Drying, almost peated but backed by ever increasing chocolate and malt.  Breaks down into bitter wood near the end but with a final whisper of chocolate toffee popcorn.

What's not good about it: While this is obviously “very good”, I’m not sure that it’s massively fun to drink - something about it is lacking soul.

What’s good about it: Great intensity, high quality, ticks all the boxes on paper.  I always love the musky drying sulphur with the toffee malt, and I always love toffee popcorn, but somehow it doesn’t hang together.

SMWS 121.64, Arran, 14 years old, Maggie Thatcher at the Funfair, 54.5% A⊕+

7 September 1998, 203 bottles.  Struggled to find a photo of this!

smws-121-64-maggie-tatcher-at-the-funfairNose - Intense pear drops.  Massive, sinus clearing SMWS intensity after the previous lot.  Boiled sweets, musky toffee, candyfloss and hot dogs (presumably that’s seriously autosuggestive, and I’m starting to believe that the musk is coming out of me).  Lino polish.  Very, very good.

Body - More hot dog, dark caramel and malt, intense and balanced with a peppery overtone.  Incredibly delicious, very well balanced and integrated.

Finish - The toffee deepens, backed by retronasal swimming pool.  Long finish moving between wood bitterness, fizzing Sichuan and rich toasted cereal.  The line between good and great....

What's not good about it:  The lemon bitterness - isn’t always balanced.  An occupational hazard when tasting Arran.

What’s good about it: Challenging, intense, balanced, rich, floral, citrus, exciting and waxed.  Big ticks.

Thanks to Tom for the sample!

SMWS 121.68, Arran, 14 years old, Harvesting fruit on an Indian summer’s day, 55% A

December 2 1999, 278 bottles.

52B4DAF66AF8A3397E41EEF1D8A6F899Nose - Sweet red fruit, cherry, balanced cereal, a little chocolate and some sweet toffee.  A really clean, fruity Arran, young and eager and wearing too much deodorant spray, and a touch one dimensional.

Body - Big chocolate hit but a little raw.  Curly wurly and red chilli.

Finish - Long, toffeed, very well balanced and a bit spicy.  Quite a lot of heat in the finish but works well.  A solid SMWS Arran.

What's not good about it:  An adolescent

What’s good about it: but a fun, eager one.

SMWS 121.70, Arran, 13 years old, Sweet and juicy, tart and fruity, 54.7% A

January 1 2000 (one of the millennium casks?), 307 bottles

arran2Nose - Bright, clean toffee apple, ripe red fruit.  Really mature, sultry malt. A woodworkers shirt (sawdust and deodorant?).  Robust and beautiful.

Body - Immediate toffee chocolate followed by spice again, quite beautiful barley and backnotes of perfume.

Finish - Quite short, hot, and some bitterness. 

What's not good about it: The usual Arran heat and bitterness that plagues the OBs is evident here.

What’s good about it: Lovely balance in a young, bold and exciting nose - extremely moreish.  Good chocolate spice.

SMWS 121.67, Arran, 13 years old, Energising and enigmatic, 58.1% A⊕

December 2 1999 (just a touch older than the previous Arran then), 291 bottles.

arran1Nose - The most exciting of the three 13 year old SMWSes, darkly waxed and musky, quite sexy with peated, sherry backnotes from somewhere.  Boiled sweets (barley sugar?), roast beef with horseradish and primary school notes with floor wax, dust and some PVA glue.  Just a stunning, dark, musky nose with bags of midrange, intensity and shouts quality.

Body - More spice, more boiled sweets and toffee, more dust.  The oak is bold and old here, and there’s ashen peat behind it all.

Finish - Medium, spicy, the bitterness is still there but folded into the sweetness and peat edge, and it’s richly balanced.

What's not good about it: Heat and bitterness, a little.  

What’s good about it: The ashes offset the toffee chocolate wonderfully in this young, feisty dram.  An apt name for an interesting and challenging, but well made and balanced whisky.

Whisky Broker, Arran, 17 year old, 54% A⊕

October 4 1996 to March 6 2014, 272 bottles, hogshead 1482.  Still 196 bottles in stock at the time of writing.

arran3Nose - Apple juice, ripe raisins and dark wax.  Bright, smooth, balanced cereal.  Again, great intensity and (how do they do this?) very whisky broker on the nose.  Lots of milk chocolate and that musky, men's deodorant again (honestly that’s not me, I don’t require it).  Floral and heavily perfumed.

Body - Immediate cereal but with bright sweet notes, like Froot Loops, and a massive malty overtone like too much ale.  Deep orange and Seville orange sauce.  Classic Arran and classic whisky broker.

Finish - Tropical, fizzing notes and chocolate.  Unfortunately becomes cloying at the end but I could still drink this all night.

What's not good about it:  The cloying sweetness in the finish takes the edge off...

What’s good about it: ...this stunning, intense, otherwise balanced whisky.  As ever, a total bargain and very enjoyable.  Just weighing up buying a second bottle...

Master of Malt Arran, 17 year old single cask, 53.6% A⊕

arran-17-year-old-1996-single-cask-master-of-malt-whiskyNose - Polite, elegant, waxed, faintly medicinal, a little tippex thinners.  Orange zest is in the background but I would seriously struggle to pick this as Arran blind.  Mind you, with patience there’s chocolate orange and toffee hiding in there.  There’s a herbal, replanting a rosemary bush thing going on, and a salty note too.

Body - Fabulously sweet and zesty, in an almost thai way.  Intense, balanced and fizzing. It tastes incredibly fresh, of popping candy, apple, grapefruit and melon, but has poise and balance.  Cracking.

Finish - Long, long Asian balance and zest.  A little cumin and pepper, ginger and bitter wood (but balanced against fizzing sweetness).  An intense sorbet of Asian spices, herbs and citrus served from a bamboo bowl.  

What's not good about it:  More challenging than expected, not enormously Arran like.

What’s good about it: But fabulous stuff, loads of fun on the nose and delivery.  Recommended.

Lots of new 17s, matrix time.  Remember the OB is a blend of 17 year old Arran casks (the master distiller vatting together a number of casks to get a desired result), whereas the Whisky Broker (WhB), Master of Malt (MoM) and Douglas Laing Old Particular (OP) Arrans are single cask (roll the dice, pick the best cask).


Arran 17 Whb Arran 17 MoM Arran 17 OP Arran 17

Arran 17

arran-17-year-old Nose - OB significantly waxier, classier.  WhB has better midrange, more chocolate biscuits. Nose - OB is classier and more intense.  Again, MoM has more midrange. Nose - OP is thinner, sourer but more elegant, OB is richer and more luxurious.
Whb Arran 17 Palate - WhB has more balanced sweetness and intensity but OB is fresher, more orchard fruit and obvious orange oil. arran3 Nose - MoM is more perfumed and dark chocolate, WhB more cereal and milk chocolate. Nose - WhB is milk chocolate and the OP is more orchard fruit, floral and complex
MoM Arran 17 Palate - Orange oil like sambuca now on the MoM, and quite extreme, the OB is more restrained and balanced. Palate - WhB bright orange and acrylic paint, MoM more gentle with a little waxier, tropical nature arran-17-year-old-1996-single-cask-master-of-malt-whisky Palate - But MoM takes it on the delivery - much more rich, malty and interesting.  Although OP has a longer finish.
OP Arran 17 Palate - OB is more rounded and balanced but the finish is more consistent and fuller on the OP. Palate - More soft sweetness for the WhB but ultimately richer and more luxurious.  The OP is sharper and more challenging, just  a different whisky Nose - MoM is outclassed, the OP nose is significantly more complex, sweet, floral and structured. arrop.1996

Which 17 should you get?

Overall, the OB is the best.  OP is the most expensive, but it’s the most challenging and obtuse and the most sold out too.  If you’re cost constrained, either the Whisky Broker of Master of Malt casks are very, very good.  The MoM cask has the most interesting nose, whereas the Whisky Broker cask is seriously gluggable, with loads of interest in the nose and totally malt chocolate returnable-to throughout, I could drink that as house malt forever.  The Douglas Laing didn’t face up too well in the matrix, but things are different in the matrix than in the real world, and an experienced whisky drinker sitting down to a dram of this wouldn’t be disappointed.  It’s very Old Particular.  If you’re that person, I recommend the OP.  But then that person has also probably bought the OB.  Whichever, you should still buy that Whisky Broker one.  Oh just buy them all.

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