Complex and vibrant. Full of zesty fruits, savory herbs, and malty sweets. Bottled without chill filtration or natural color at a hearty 46% ABV.
Without a bit of water, the sharp, bitter fruits overwhelm the sweet and savory notes and leave the dram unbalanced.
The Arran Malt, as the name implies, is distilled in the northern village of Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, which lies off of the western coast of Scotland, between the Kintyre Peninsula and the Lowlands. Latitudinally, the distillery sits further north of Campbeltown and on almost the same plane as Glasgow and the southern coast of Islay. The back of Arran’s bottle tubes contain a nifty map for the less-geographically educated.
There’s a lot to say about this young distillery, and we’ll cover most of it here in the initial 10 year review. The Arran Malt, which started distilling in 1995, is currently the only distillery on the island. (They are currently working on a second distillery called Lagg on the south end of the island). The island itself has a long history of illicit distilling and bootlegging dating back to the 18th century.
Arran is independently owned, and embodies the nature of Scottish “craft” distilling along with the likes of Kilchoman on Islay, Springbank and Glengyle in Campbeltown, and Wolfburn in the northern Highlands. These distilleries are all relatively young (other than Springbank), they are independently owned, they rarely wholesale their stock to blenders or independent bottlers, they strive to be as self-sufficient as possible, and they bottle at generally higher strengths without chill filtration or added coloring.
The distillery itself is a small collection of unique buildings nestled in the foothills of Lochranza. The still room contains 2 wash and 2 spirit stills, and Arran matures all of its whisky onsite using both dunnage and racked warehouses. The distillery draws its water from the nearby Loch na Davie, whose water runs down the nearby mountains through granite and heathery peat before reaching its destination. Arran sources all Scottish-grown Optic and Oxbridge malted barley. They fill into a variety of ex-bourbon and wine casks, and blend and bottle onsite.
Arran has a plethora of bottlings – both age stated and NAS, batched and single cask. The age stated range contains a 10 year, 12 year cask strength (which was recently discontinued but still fairly easy to find), 14 year, and 18 year, which are all vattings of bourbon and sherry casks, with the proportion of sherry casks increasing as the age increases. Arran also bottles a non-age stated “cask finish” series which features ex-bourbon malt “finished” in different wine casks including Port, Amarone, and Sauternes, as well as a non-age stated peated malt called Machrie Moor. Age stated cask strength single casks – typically bourbon or sherry casks – are also fairly common, as well as several commemorative and limited releases.
On now to the review of the 10 year old.
- Distilled, aged, and bottled onsite
- Vatting of primarily ex-bourbon casks with sherry casks
- Bottled at 46% ABV
- Non-chill filtered and natural color
Nose: Vibrant; sweet, and bitter. Full of zesty fruits and malty sweets. Fresh melon, tangerine, and lemon zest. The fruit notes are very citrusy. Candied ginger, fresh honey, bitter-fresh grain, and a touch of kiwi round things out. The aroma is spirit-driven, but shows excellent clarity and refinement.
Palate: The arrival is bitter, fresh, and slightly sharp. Citrus and grain. The dram further develops notes of fresh lemon, sour citric acid, and bright orange, along with orange blossom and heather, and hints of raw honey and blanched almond. The mouthfeel is creamy and full-bodied. Overall, the bitter/sour fruits are a bit out of balance with the florals and sweets.
Finish: Long! Melon, apple skins, sour citrus, and bitter florals. A slightly astringent note lingers.
A note about water: I’d highly recommend a bit of water with this one. It smooths over this whisky’s one weak point – the lack of balance on the palate. 1/2 tsp adds notes of dried strawberry, savory spice, and grapefruit pith to the nose, with less bitterness and more bright fruits alongside a touch of sage and coriander on the palate. Note that the overall scores are with the water added.
Buying Recommendation: Buy it now! Arran does everything right in their whisky making approach, and the results show in this young single malt. Complex, bright, fruity, and savory, this malt is a spirit-driven experience, but it shows refinement and maturity well-beyond its age. For $50 or less you will be hard pressed to find another unpeated single malt that can match the Arran 10 year in intensity or complexity.