Isle of Arran single malt whisky was overlooked for many years, due simply to the fact that the spirit it produced was too young. With production beginning in 1995, Arran has recently started to reap the rewards of being in the vanguard of new Scottish distilleries. Taste the mature...
Isle of Arran single malt whisky was overlooked for many years, due simply to the fact that the spirit it produced was too young. With production beginning in 1995, Arran has recently started to reap the rewards of being in the vanguard of new Scottish distilleries. 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 single malt whiskies from Arran distillery - recently renamed Lochranza after the opening of the company's Lagg distillery in the south of the island - now show a maturity and individuality that only time can grant a whisky.
Arran (Lochranza) Distillery Founded: 1993 (First production in 1995)
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit Capacity: 1.2 million litres Water Source: Loch Na Davie Owners: Isle Of Arran Distillers Limited
Arran/Lochranza has always been produced in a relatively modern style, although on a smaller scale than most other distilleries, and struggled for many years with profitability due to the lack of mature stock. Many whisky fans will remember a spate of questionable finishes and single casks that were released in the early years of this century, none of which were particularly brilliant due to the grainy youthfulness of the spirit.
Arran distillery was expanded in 2017, with another pair of stills doubling the production capacity to 1.2 million litres per year, giving the distillery much more stock to lay down and mature for future long-aged releases.
Arran has been a perfect example of how hard it is to start a distillery - it's an expensive business having to wait for many years before you have sufficiently mature stock to sell, especially if your market is only malt whisky and not blending contracts. 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 of Arran's single malt have shown 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 usually very well balanced and show quite a good development over time in the glass.
There have also been peated batches of Arran single malt released as Machrie Moor, these are younger whiskies but the extra phenols compensate for the lack of age, with the peat offsetting a more coastal character in the spirit. In recent times Arran Distillers have moved all peated production to their new Lagg distillery in the south of the island, which began malt whisky production in 2019, and the original Arran/Lochranza distillery now makes only unpeated malt whisky.
Both these different styles of Arran/Lochranza are fairly multifaceted drams and show great ageing potential. The oldest iterations of Arran's standard distillate still have a surprising amount of freshness, even in the more active cask types, and this should make for a stunning malt at greater ages in the future.
Thankfully Arran/Lochranza have managed the stock well enough to keep some back for extended ageing and in the last couple of years this parsimony has been rewarded, with the distillery releasing well-received official bottlings of 18-year-old, 21-year-old and 25-year-old Arran alongside a string of recent 1996 sherry casks.
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 sherried versions are also available and the oldest examples of both kinds show a 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/Lochranza distillery 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 have now arrived and Arran's whisky continues to improve every year.