I recently tidied up my bottle shares and samples and what became clear is that I was due a big Arran post. Due to their class leading social media engagement strategy and totally excellent products, Arran is a big favourite with whisky nerds and bloggers and hence there are a lot of split bottles, samples and tastings to take account of. This has been building up for a while!
Let’s open with the Green Welly 50th anniversary Arran though. Because GW is generally awesome and should be supported, and also because the first 50th anniversary bottling (an 11 year old Glendronach) was cracking. I haven’t tried the 3rd bottling yet (another Glendronach) but will do shortly.
20th September 2004 - 4th June 2015, 287 bottles, ex-Oloroso sherry cask (perhaps first fill according to the shop, seems like refill to me)
Nose - Dark, sweet, winey but pleasantly sour. Puddings - raspberry pound cake, some kind of big, cream filled American meringue pie, and Rainbow Drops. There’s a lovely talcum powder and meringue softness that's very appealing, offset by a masculine edge - leather jackets and tobacco. Reminds me of my youth… with time there's enormous popcorn and pecans against a classy varnished oak.
Body - Quite heavily wooded, almost piney, with a bright fizzing bitterness at the side of the tongue. Apple chews and more pastry. Unexpectedly acidic but it really works against the bright sweetshop. Water tones down the acid and brings wax and fruit to the fore. Delicious.
Finish - Mature sulphur content belies its youth, quite complex wood and sour fruits, big tannins and more Marlboros in the finish.
For such a young whisky, this works really well and plays to Arran's puddings and tannins structure. A real cracker, and good Xmas drinking too.
Next the White Stag, tasted on a tweet tasting. This did the “crash the servers” thing when they released it in June this year, and sold out immediately.
Arran white stag, first release, 54.2% A⊕
Nearly 18 years in a single refill Oloroso sherry cask - American oak hogshead.
Body - Coffee cake, spicy sulphur, juicy and sweet. Extremely delicious and well balanced with strawberry laces, cough candy and toffee at the tip of the tongue.
Finish - Dusty sweets, fizzing oak, lemon sherbet and tannic sulphur. A balanced bruiser.
Next is the 18 OB, which was a the “final” release in a trilogy of aged Arrans (16, 17 and 18). This was one of my favourite whiskies of the year, and one which I was very serious about buying a case of (but had a word with myself). The next aged Arran OB will be the 21 year old in a few years’ time (it won’t be 21 years after the opening of the distillery, they need enough casks of enough quality to make a release).
The Arran Malt, 18 years old limited edition, 46% A⊕+
Nose - Deeply sexy. This is most of the things I look for in a non-peated whisky. Elegant, intense fruit (peach, figs, ripe pear, banana), bold, blonde wood, woody herbs and very balanced. Lemon drizzle cake and ozone in the air before a summer thunderstorm.
Body - Again, more balance. Whoever put this together is a genius. Apple strudel, raisin, tannic oak, foam bananas, milk tart and butter.
Finish - Medium, sweet and wooded. Soft toffee and custard. Extraordinarily drinkable.
A couple more distillery releases before getting into some private casks; the last two casks from the Arran musical festival.
Arran Festival 2014, 18 years old, 52% A⊖
Sherry hogshead, 238 bottles
Nose - Restrained but interesting, stewed fruit, pecans in caramel and surfboard wax. Pain au raisin actually, with that custard that's in the cheap ones and a little UHU glue. Good stuff though, a real slow motion sherry monster. Even better with water, the sweetness is better integrated and the overall feeling is classier.
Body - Sweet, sweetshops, fizzing tannins but ultimately rather uninteresting. And very young tasting given that this was the oldest ever Arran released at the time. Better with water, wax, wood and tobacco coming through, but still my initial impression of a young, oddly bitter whisky holds.
Finish - Much better here, sweet plays against sulphur and wood oak nicely, fizzing bright tannins back it up.
A great nose on this one but oddly disappointing, probably half due to expectation management. I have a nasty feeling this was selected due to its age rather than its skills. As the next whisky will prove, being half the age and twice as good.
Arran Festival 2015, 9 years old, French Oak, 59% A⊕
Nose - Lemon drops, lemon sherbet, dusty oak, and mineral sweetness with loads of treble. It's one of the yellowest whiskies I've ever smelled (or seen). Almost to the point of urinal cake - but enough of that. Underneath there's characteristic toffee and pudding, maybe just pastry - pursuing that it's actually quite complex and enticing - but then the lemon sherbets come back. Water allows me to dig a bit deeper; water chestnuts, Christmas trees and garibaldi biscuits. Very good.
Body - That lemon sweetness is there and perfectly balanced against mineral structure and sulphur. Big, bright, clean tobacco too.
Finish - Very long, loads of musky oak sweetness and tannic oak. Extremely drinkable too, despite it's very challenging aspects.
This is a complex, balanced, well presented, refreshing, quite challenging, and ultimately extremely lovely to drink whisky. Highly recommended.
Next up, some private casks – then finally a couple of indies.
Arran, Bright Early Spring, 12 years old, Private cask for the Netherlands, 56% A⊕
13/12/2001 - 09/12/2014
Nose - Sweet, deep and quite waxy. Bright, dusty oak - sawdust nearly. Sour in the back of the throat like pine sawdust is too. Fresh, ripe cut peach (including the fur), classy oak and just a delightful youngish Arran showing a lot of the grown up mineral beauty and deep fruit the older bottles do. More citrus fruit with water, but offset by warmer stone fruit. Delicious.
Body - Very sweet with fizzers and hot radiator (the dusty hot smell of it and also slightly metallic to taste). Some hard green apple and undercooked pastry. Less exciting with water but better balance to the bright top notes.
Finish - Long, oily, lightly sulphured and quite tannic. Balanced and interesting.
What's not good about it - Not much…
What's good about it - A beautiful, deep, interesting, obviously high quality nose. Balanced delivery with big sweet fruit but rounded out by herbal tannins and ozone. A cracking cask.
Arran, Private cask for the Glasgow Whisky Club, 13 years old, 54.7% A⊕
Nose - A lovely sweet, but slightly austere wine note to this. Cooked orange, soft toffee and rosemary. Really warm, welcoming but with gravitas too (great wax). I must say it's not the most “Arran” Arran I've had nosed though.
Body - Sweet, quite spicy and vegetal, but held in check by lovely wine cask. Reminds me of those great sherry finished Whisky Broker Arran 18 year old casks. With water, softer and juicier as always, but more intense, bright sweet toffee, a little greener and the high quality wax and sulphur comes through more cleanly. I love this.
Finish - Long, balanced, lovely wine still with great vegetal highlights (grass, earth, good sulphur).
What's not good about it - A bit restrained neat, not very Arran.
What's good about it - But I wouldn't hold that against it if it was an IB. Beautiful, interesting and delicious, great balance and intensity and a great cross between sherry and bourbon cask in a single cask. Cracking again.
This next two came as a pair, more Netherlands stuff (thanks Sjoerd). The White Wizard (bourbon) and Dark Lord (sherry)
Arran "The White Wizard", 14 years old, 56.7% A+
19/7/1999 to 3/7/14, bourbon barrel
Nose - Much cleaner, fresher and more citrus juice than the others today. White wine and lovely cask wax too, almost cleaning product zesty - orange floor cleaner or something. Lovely, fresh and summery, deeply sweet pastry but balanced by summer fruits.
Finish - Long, juicy, waxy oranges. Some barley. Lots of white wine.
What's not good about it - Definitely young. This Arran spirit is extraordinarily high quality and the nose on this works very well, but the delivery needs the edges taking off it.
What's good about it - Fruit, cask, sweet balance and lovely wax.
Arran "Dark Lord", 17 years old, 53.2% A
11/12/1996 to 3/7/14, sherry hogshead.
Nose - Deep and dark fruits, bright sherry, very clean tobacco. It's extremely juicy though. It's been a while since I had a "dark" Arran what with all the SMWS refill bourbonry and this is excellent. The sense of "warehouse" is immense, if you nosed this in Arran's warehouse I think you'd flip. Perfectly integrated sherry wine and mineral depth. Ozone and earth bring it together. Coffee. With water, even better; tropical fruit toffee and orange squash.
Body - Fruit and nut chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate brazils. A touch of sulphur and wine and then…
Finish - chocolate. Chocolate. A little chai? Dusty chocolate. Water does bring a bit of orange pith.
What's not good about it - Weirdly one dimensional in the delivery. If this was accidentally aged in some kind of chocolate orange cask I'd feel a bit vindicated.
What's good about it - Fabulous nose. Honestly it's pretty delicious too but I can't get behind all that chocolate. This is whisky.
Time for some proper indies, of which I have tasted many this year (usually society casks).
19 year old Arran is almost common now and we should be seeing some 20 year olds soon (the distillery opened in 1995).
Nose - Sweet, wine gums. Sharp and young though, lactic barley and citric acid. Hard, young grain whisky. Hmm… but also, magic balloons, red bull and squash. Water flattens out that intense sweetness quite a lot and brings out much better integration.
Body - Grapes jelly (jam), strawberry laces, a little (but interesting) bourbon cask (?) and chocolate orange. Water brings big sweet love hearts and refreshers on the tip of the tongue.
Finish - Very long, the enormous tide of sugar is finally balanced by tannins and sulphur.
What's not good about it - I don't really know what this is. It's not the complex gravitas of any other 19 year old Arran I've had, but maybe it's a first fill bourbon or something. Unbalanced sweetness.
What's good about it - Interesting and somewhat intense. Crazed, alien sweetshop elements fight with confused maturity. That's fun, but I wouldn't buy a bottle.
Nose - Really dark and cherry sweet, quite dirty actually. Cakey and earthy, hard wood and sweet pastry. Softer with water, and real interest underneath the alcohol including a great cask, but there's something holding back or masking its greatness.
Body - A straight but tasty Arran with restrained sweetness, blonde oak and a touch of spice. Some dark chocolate with water, ripe plum and a touch of marzipan.
Finish - Initially really lovely, with deep bourbon cask, toffee and white wine. Quite long, turning into cold teabags, chewed pencil and a little blood. It's better than I'm making it sound to be honest (and hangs together well), quite robust and well balanced.
What's not good about it - There's awesomeness in here somewhere. My initial thoughts were that it was excellent but there's stuff in the way. I get the feeling there is a great cask in here mixed with something less interesting.
What's good about it - Fantastic nose, and with water, beautiful delivery and a lovely well rounded finish. This is initially something to really write home about but falters later. Still, very good.
Always go out on a Society dram… thanks to someone for this, I can't tell from the handwriting. Think it's Matt? This is what happens when you organise your samples, you find stuff from years ago.
SMWS 121.62, Steak and ale pie, Arran, 16 years old, 54.2% A⊕
17th September 1996, first fill sherry puncheon, 574 bottles.
Nose - Wow - they don't make them like this anymore. Big, meaty and peppery. Herbally sweet, big pastry backtones and lots of gravy with red wine and stewed onions. Against this meaty background is dried orange peel, Christmas pudding (but probably raw) and window putty. Rather good. Water brings more pastry and fig rolls.
Body - Big, sweet but rounded sherry, lots of lovely sulphur, spicy tannins and raisins by the fistful. Meaty and satisfying. Incredibly drinkable with water, like a malty milkshake.
Finish - Very long, heavy tannins and big wood, like chewing a stave. A big satisfying whisky that you could really settle into too - a big tumbler of this, a slug of water, and a box set. Awesome.