I hate it when you read glowing reviews and the damn whisky is sold out, so I always try to get them out while they’re still in stock. Well, these are – and they’re very good, go for it (Arrans here, Clyenlish here). The three Arrans aren’t all related – the first is a plain refill hogshead (cask 1023), the sherry finishes are the same whisky (cask 884) finished for “several months” in an Oloroso or PX cask. They’re all excellent. The Clynelish is harder for me, as I’m an ex-bourbon lover and with the zeal of the converted, don’t like the charred cask heads the cask is finished with*. Your mileage will probably vary though, it’s well done.
(Three WhB Arrans, pictured with the last WhB Arran, sherried 18 year old)
Whisky Broker, Arran 18 years old, Cask 1023, 53.2% A⊕
Nose - Sweet, white flowers, lightly cereal sour, shaved hardwood and lovely fresh fruit - red apple and grape. It also has that dusky, waxy, deep, expensive wood thing going on, with light leather and tobacco. With water, even juicier and fruitier, honeyed even. Some menthol later. A lovely, complicated and delicious nose. Expectations have been set.
Body - Musky and spicy, very sweet. Chocolate hob nobs, honeyed and full of malt and oats. Water balances out that almost cloying sweetness when neat, and brings out the wood a little more.
Finish - Long, oily, balanced and luscious.
What's not good about it - Well, not much really. Without water the delivery is initially oversweet, but the nose makes up for it.
What's good about it - Complex, fruity, great wood. What a cask!
Whisky Broker, Arran 18 years old, Cask 884, Oloroso finish, 49.3% A⊕
Nose - Immediately beautiful but then suddenly much less complex than cask 1023 with the fruit dominated by sour cherry. But with time, deeper complexity starts to come through - the cherry ripens and is cut, there are deeper notes of leather armchair, library and herbal notes of woody cut flower stalks. Glacé cherry now, deeply sweet, with matching wood and toffee. Lovely.
Body - Wow… bright and shiny and sweet, but then a big whack of dry, nutty Oloroso. I can almost taste the ham I'd be eating with that… Water brings out a better integrated ham experience including the salted almonds.
Finish - Long, dry, like drinking a fine Oloroso. I've never had a whisky do that without being over-winey. Expertly judged. If this was an inferior Arran cask that needed sorting out then it's been done very well.
What's not good about it - The Oloroso comes across as Iberico ham dry tannins. This isn't the crimson sherry bomb you might be expecting.
What's good about it - But it's a fascinating treatment, and works so well. Spicy, dry and salty on the delivery, sweet, complex and full of cherry sweetness on the nose.
Compared to Cask 1023 - less of that beautiful, shiny, chocolate sweetness that we all love in Arrans, but a great swap out for balanced, interesting and non-obvious nutty Oloroso. The 1023 is obviously an old Arran, the 884 Oloroso could be something else - so less of the distillery in it but it's very well done.
Whisky Broker, Arran 18 years old, Cask 884, PX finish, 54.1% A⊕+
Nose - Sweet shop dusty, hay and sawdust. More cherries - black and ripe, and some more glacé. Wham bars and men's deodorant, musky and elegant oak. Fabulous, really warm and complex. This doesn't have any of the deep colour of a Glendronach but it really matches it on the nose. Another fabulous cask. With water, shinier toffee on the nose and beautiful waxy sweetness.
Body - Sweet, much less of that Oloroso dryness, but interestingly sulphured with complex wood and warm toffee apple and a balancing, biting wood bitterness. Water softens that out a bit and dries the palate up slightly.
Finish - Medium, a little spice, more excellent tannins and sulphur. Balanced and complex, extremely delicious.
What's not good about it - really nothing. This is fabulous stuff. Light years from some of the sugar bomb, cloying PX finishes around. Is this skill or luck, where did this PX cask come from? I guess if anything, again, not very Arran (I've never had another PX finish Arran I don't think) but I'll try anything once. Buy now….
What's good about it - Warm, sweet, waxy, bold, complex, elegant and lightly sulphured. Extraordinarily drinkable.
Compared to Cask 1023 - the 1023 is sourer and suddenly seriously cakey and vanilla'd - nosing them side by side emphasises the sulphur in the PX. The 1023 is spicier and fruitier on the palate, with tons of vanilla again. The PX is suddenly gentle and Vimto-y (not a word). Obvious sulphur again. Side by siding the two the sulphur carries over into the 1023 and I'm suddenly drinking an epic Springbank <penny drops>.
Compared to the Oloroso - that dry note on the Oloroso holds the nose back immediately but the same cherry journey needs sitting through before you can really compare them. Then, the sulphur on the PX makes it seem more vegetal and less obviously fruity. The dryness on the Oloroso is a shock all over again, but it's not the disappointing dusty nuts of some recent winey Olorosos I've had. Fascinating.
These three are all very different, and all very good. Hard to call between them - the bourbon is a classic Arran, the Oloroso has that very well executed dry nutty thing going on and the PX is wonderfully deep and sulphured. Buy them all. I always say that….
Whisky Broker Clynelish 18 year old, 54.1% A+
This cask has had new charred ends added* which has deepened the colour and changed the character markedly (I'd guess - I didn't try it before!).
Nose - Fascinating compared to the Arran - much more grown up but restrained. Freshly planed pine shavings, cognac, deep cigar toffee and (almost) rosemary and cumin. There's a bourbon note to it too, hard vanilla from freshly charred oak which I guess is the fresh cask heads. It works really well but simplifies things a little. With water, sweeter and more ozone, better balanced and more fruit (ripe red cherries).
Body - Clean, sweet, sharp oak. Toffee pennies and red wine cask finished. Balanced and well executed but triggering my Scotch preferences. More toffees and oilier with water.
Finish - Bourbon dominated. Wine cask and bourbon. Medium, and not lacking midrange, with lingering toffee, oak and apple wood.
What's not good about it - This bourbon thing doesn't work for me anymore I'm afraid. Fans of bourbon and Scotch, form a queue.
What's good about it - The cask heads really work on the nose and the Clynelish is a real champ, fighting to get through that hard vanilla onslaught. Great dry, herbal and toffee notes still come through. It works, but I think I would have preferred it in its original cask.
* EDIT: According to Martin at Whisky Broker “The Clynelish cask had the new ends put into it by a cooper before filling in '96” – so not “finished” with the new cask heads, but a refill cask with brand new ends before filling, and the whisky full term in the cask like that. This accounts for the good integration.