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Arran has been overlooked for many years as a malt, due simply to the fact that the spirit it produces has been too young. Founded in 1995 it has struggled on for fifteen long years and is only now finally starting to reap the rewards. Taste the mature spirit now and you will see a huge development has taken place since the early days of NAS bottlings and silly finishes. The current bottlings now show a maturity and individuality that only time can grant a whisky.
Founded: 1993 (First production in 1995)
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Capacity: 750 Thousand Litres
Water Source: Loch Na Davie
Owners: Isle Of Arran Distillers Limited
Arran has always been produced in a relatively modern style, although on a much smaller scale than most other distilleries understandably. It struggled for many years with profitability due to the lack of mature stock. Any whisky fan will remember all the endless daft finishes and single casks that were released, none of which were particularly brilliant due to the grainy youthfulness of the spirit. Arran has been a perfect example of how hard it is to start a distillery, all those products told the story of how much they needed to put into the distillery in terms of cost. It is an expensive business, trying to produce whisky for many years before you have sufficiently mature stock to sell, especially if your market is only malt whisky and not blending contracts. So despite all the silly bottlings in the past Arran is to be commended now for finally getting itself into a position where it has mature, distinctive and beautiful whisky to release at good prices.
Recent bottlings are starting to show a consistent, complex and mature style of whisky. Delicately island in style rather than heavily coastal the emphasis is on a floral salty character with lots of malty, biscuity sweetness, soft garden fruits and often a little vanilla. The whiskies are often well balanced and show quite a good development over time in the glass. There have also been peated batched released in recent years, these are younger but the extra phenols compensate for the lack of age a great deal with the peat offsetting a great deal more coastal character in the spirit. Both these different styles of Arran are fairly multifaceted drams and show great aging potential. Even at 15 years now the standard distillate still has a surprising amount of freshness, even in the more active cask types, this should make for a stunning malt at greater ages in the future. Let’s hope they can manage the stock well enough to keep some back for ageing.
The wood policy at Arran calls for a balance between fresh bourbon barrels, hogsheads and other refill wood along with a handful of sherry casks to be filled each year. Most of the current official bottlings are bourbon led in their composition but the latest 14yo has a more even mix of refill, bourbon and sherry influence, this has paid off well as the whisky has a new layer of richness and overt complexity not usually found so readily in Arran. The finest Arran that I tasted has been from refill casks, if you can find some of the single casks bottled from refill wood you will discover a much more aromatic style that is saltier, more herbaceous, grassier, fruiter and more expressive of the natural Arran character with a drier mineral structure and more subtle complexities.
Arran has been a very clear success story and a warning that you need real energy, passion and love to start a new distillery from scratch and create such a unique single malt. Thankfully the rewards of all that labour are now starting to arrive and the whisky improves every year with many more fine examples to come in the near future. Let’s hope they continue to nurture the spirit in the same way for the next fifteen years and beyond.