I took a flier on this one. It’s not very often I buy whiskies this young anymore, but from time to time I need to inject a little perspective into the site beyond the often high end whiskies I am fortunate enough to try. I tend to practically leap at any opportunity to taste and write-up some of the more ‘entry level’ offerings. And $50 for an age-stated, unfiltered 46% malt is not a bad deal anyway. This bargain was sweetened up a little more with the addition of a couple of bespoke tasting glasses snugged into the grossly oversized box that this bottle came in. Neat little glasses too, but that’s incidental to what we’re here for.
Arran has really come into its own in the past couple of years. The distillery now has a house style, a mature range of malts and a reputation that gets better by the day. For a while I was nervous that they seemed to be more interested in novelty releases and odd finishes than in just turning out true ‘stand-the-test-of-time’ Scotch whisky, but they’ve managed to put my mind at ease and turn out a few back to basics releases that are truly of world class calibre. I think I’ve said it here before: I can’t wait to try Arran at 25 or 30 years on.
But let’s forget the old and expensive for now and raise a glass (well…another one anyway) to finding a real gem in the lower rungs of the pricing ladder. I can’t even pretend to not be excited about this one. It’s a rare treat to find such an appealing young unpeated dram. It’s a great showing for Arran and bodes extremely well for the future of this still fledgling distillery. I think this may well be one of my favorite young whiskies now. Easy and appealing.
Seems a good time to grab a few before the price goes up or the quality drops.
Nose: Lovely nose. Light and fruity. Soft and creamy…like a banana cream pie. Sweet and incredibly appealing. Some black currents, ginger and a dusting of old pepper (none too fragrant). Orange and apple. A little bit of white chocolate. Chewy fruit candies. Apple and plum skins. Can’t over how soft and custardy the nose is.
Palate: Not as spectacular as the nose, but solid…very solid. Some softly herbal Sauvignon Blanc notes. Orange again. Creamy with some nice spice notes. A squeeze of lemon. Some sort of pudding. Bread pudding, maybe. Quite some zip and zing here…really gets the tastebuds singing. Could be an almost light fudgy note too. And a little oak.
Thoughts: If only the palate could stop stepping on the toes of the nose…this would be a real showstopper. As it stands, still a brilliant example of entry level whisky.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt
I like it too. I’m on my fourth bottle and I’m liking it more than the first one I tried in 2011. Spot on review.
Here’s where the math falls apart for me: Arran 10, 86.5 points, $50; Springbank 25, 87 points, $700. Is .5 points worth another $650? I would get it if the Springbank was scored in a category of 20 to 30 year olds and the Arran was scored in a category of 10 to 15 year olds, or if the scoring was weighted somehow by value for money, but when scored against each other, it makes no sense. I guess it does make sense as far as quality is concerned, but not when the money difference is factored in. You are certainly not alone in this method of scoring whereby the cost is disregarded in the score. Interested to get you views on this, and also Jeff’s take as it is something he has alluded to recently.
Anyway, glad to see you appreciating some younger contenders of which there are many in the 10 to 15 year old bracket: Springbank 10, Talisker 10, Ardbeg 10, The Laddie 10, HP 12, Caol Ila 12, Lagavulin 12, Balvenie 15 SB, Glendronach 15 Revival, Glenfarclas 15, come to mind in a much longer list.
Feel free to give us more reviews in this more affordable category.
Although they are (hopefully) somewhat better, at least in some ways relating to quality/character, than their younger kin, older whiskies are just worse values in terms of QPR (and, no, price/age is no guarantee of quality, and never has been). It’s difficult to factor price into a review number for at least three reasons: not everybody pays the same price; not everybody considers the same prices “reasonable”; but, most importantly, a review is about the quality of the spirit – a whisky no more knows its price than it knows whether its age is on the label.
That said – and given that everyone does have different budgets for whisky – it’s not unfair in any way to review a whisky but THEN to render an opinion as to whether it is overpriced for the quality/value it represents compared to rest of the market, particularly as a drinkable whisky rather than a collectible (and Curt frequently provides this kind of commentary). This is a point I repeatedly tried to make at Whisky Advocate pertaining to crystal-decantered bottles priced in the tens of thousands: that the quality of the whisky can be good, but that it isn’t rocket science to admit that the values represented (even if these whiskies were perfect) were ridiculously low if the stuff was to actually be paid for, opened, and consumed – and if the stuff was just to remain sealed and corked as an interesting “collectible” crystal doorstop, then its quality is irrelevant in any case, so why review it? This is the Catch-22 on QPR as it relates to a lot of professional reviewers: they’ll talk quality to the skies, offer no comment on pricing and then bemoan how whisky is being wrecked by those out to flip bottles and drive prices up – while doing nothing to denounce/reverse the trend, yet these people help to make/influence the market just as much, and frequently more, than anyone else by endorsing what the industry does.
So while I don’t think a review score of a whisky’s quality should, by definition, be influenced by its price, that price/value is no more “irrelevant” to the average consumer than its quality and so is fair game in any review. To ignore value is how we arrived at the Paterson Collection (I think I had it figured out that, even if all 12 bottles were perfect, the QPR was still less than 1/1000th of a dozen Corryvreckans) and, in the face of falling scotch exports but rising scotch prices, it’s how we’re going to end up paying ever more not because of, but regardless of, market forces.
In addition, there’s some interesting commentary along these lines here as well: http://www.dramming.com/2014/07/23/are-you-being-priced-out-too/
I might hazard a guess that you’re feeling a truth here that you don’t want to admit. A $50 bottle like this is indeed almost as good as the $700 Springbank 25. (I haven’t had either of those, but I’m 100% willing to go with ATW’s ratings for the sake of discussion.) I’m not sure what extra “sense” you’re hoping to get from a pair of reviews like this. Actually, just from your post, I can’t tell whether you think the expensive old Springbank should penalized for being expensive or get “bonus points” for being old. 🙂
Maybe you’re thinking, “Wow, that Springbank 25 seems like really poor value next to an affordable Arran 10—but that can’t be right, can it?” I think it’s right.
Sure, the experience of drinking a young whisky is different from drinking a well-aged whisky so they’re not totally apples-to-apples, but it’d be silly to put them on different scales or something. Unless you also expect different scales for peat v. sherry v. naked malt v. whatever. Irish v. Scotch v. Japanese. Age-stated v. NAS. It could go on.
I think all reviewers who rate the drinking experience in a vacuum have it just right. Additional commentary on the price and value are cool too, but it shouldn’t be part of the rating.
Yeah, I take your point Ol’Jas, and I understand that these ratings are only about the quality and characteristics of the whiskies and are blind as regards price. I trust Curt’s opinions and if his review is part of a consensus among other credible reviewers, I’m in. My impression was that the Springbank needed to be much better than 87 points to be worth any consideration at its $700 price, but the Arran was very worthy of consideration at 86.5 and $50.
Unless someone is handing out bottles of $700 whisky, I won’t be buying a bottle that provides 26 one ounce drinks and returns not much more than its 10 cent deposit.
I also understand that someone, somewhere is ponying up $10,000 for some over hyped Macallan or Dalmore, but it ain’t me or anyone I know. I’m just an average guy who likes good whisky and I would like it to remain affordable and of good quality and not the exclusive domain of the rich, famous and affected. The way I see it, the whisky industry is taking advantage of a worldwide demand, but if they continue to push the pricing too far, there will be a backlash from we the lumpen whisky proletariat. It’s all about money and getting as much as they can while the getting’s good. As Karl Marx said: “Capitalism is like a dead fish; it may glisten in the moonlight, but it still stinks.”
Measured on a common scale of quality, many mediocre, even bad blends will beat single malts on QPR just because the gap between their prices is wider than the real gap between their qualities. Consider, using Curt’s scores and current LCBO prices, Red Label (70 pts./$29.95 = 2.38 pts./$) vs. Glenfiddich 12 (83 pts./$52.95= 1.57 pts./$) vs. Glenfiddich 18 (87 pts./$109.95=.79 pts./$).
I take Chris’ point that what happens in the luxury scotch market seems remote from the average consumer, but I’m not sure that it still doesn’t have a detrimental effect. Where price is so far out of whack with quality and still not denounced leaves little hope that any of the pros, much less the companies, will ever take much of a stand against price trending with any bottle under $1,000 and the murky (even reversing!) “market force” narratives that we’re told are driving them. But, then again, it confirms to me that, of all the many things “broken” in whisky, the majority of commentary – and almost all professional commentary – is really what leads the field; there’s no hope in correcting issues where there is little honest effort in identifying them. Where whisky marketing leaves the realms of logic and common sense (luxury bottles, NAS, colour but not age matters, et al), the silence can be deafening. I don’t find even what producers do as objectionable as those who clearly aid and abet it and then want to be trusted as the consumer’s friend in finding a good buy for their whisky dollar.
Yes. Nailed it nicely in the last paragraph, Jeff.
I’m a proud member of the lumpen whisky proletariat!
Right on, brother.
I’m afraid I fall into the lumpen whisky proletariat (or as another link referred to me as one who hangs out in the whisky lobby). I simply don’t have the cash to spend my time purchasing the 18+ year old whiskies, so I tend to be a value shopper. That’s tough some times, but the trips to the U.S. and a recent one to Alberta certainly help.
I’ve had this Arran before and it’s a good whisky and a good value. I’d like to hang my taste buds on the world of older whiskies but it simply won’t happen. So my world is one that is inhabited by the Arran 10s and BenRiach 12s and Glendronach single casks of the world. It’s a pretty nice place to be honest. It’s within my budget, I’m really not supporting the NAS games (A’bunadh being a guilty pleasure) and I can pick and choose distilleries that still seemingly have some integrity (hopefully for more than ‘at the moment’).
I’ve said elsewhere that while rankings from others are of interest, they are largely meaningless to me. Kind of like Pirates of the Caribbean I tend to use them more as guidelines rather than rules. I like some whiskies that rate out quite low and my tastes are like no one else’s. Sure, if the group is citing 90+ for a whisky it’s likely worth a shot; so too if the group is calling it an 80 then likely I can save my sheckles. I really enjoy a whisky I can pick up stateside for about $40 and it’s always in my collection. Most wouldn’t waste their money on it (Cragganmore 12 fwiw).
That said, I do appreciate the ratings and reviews, they are fun to read. Two thumbs up.
Good, honest post Brent. I agree. For many of us, 90% or more of Curts reviews are essentially reviews of “unobtanium”. David had posted that he tastes through Curt vicariously. He’s a doctor.
Doctors learn about the word vicarious when they study about liability (as in “David had vicarious liability when his resident left the scissors in the patient” – no. he’s not a surgeon, I made it up).
Most of us would probably, if pressed, admit to possibly some jealousy, at least some envy, at some of the stuff that comes across these pages. I certainly do. There is something fundamentally unjust about some people who get to try expensive, rare stuff, while others, who would appreciate it just as much, get none. And it’s not just about choosing what to spend your drachmas on, it’s about opportunity.
That said, life’s not fair. I’d rather see everyone get a meal three times a day before I start a campaign to even the Scotch playing field.
But as has been touched upon a ATW recently, age and price are not the only thing. Octomore is young and good (but pricy). Bladnoch 10 was neither young, old , nor expensive but was AMAZING (thanks for the taste David), and Amrut has until recently been great and affordable.
So there are still good drams to be had at a good price. I don’t drink enough to waste my time on something that isn’t excellent, so I will allow myself to pay a little more than say, a daily drammer who goes through more than 3-4 bottles a year.
skeptic, yeah, unobtainium works. I do the same, live vicariously for sure, reading many reviews and go “wow, that sounds great, wish I could have some, grumble, grumble, grumble”. So the envy is hanging out there full bore in my case. I don’t begrudge anyone that can achieve more (in this case whisky, but in general as well) than me, I just be jealous I’m not in the same boat. Cars, whisky, whatever. Regardless of what I can’t have, I do find things I can and enjoy them to the fullest.
I’m in an odd place at the moment with whisky. Lots I like and I’m still stocking up for when I won’t be buying so much, whether that’s driven by the industry and rising prices, or it falls to lack of opportunity. Manitoba is damned expensive to buy whisky and the selection is relatively slim. Right now I travel a lot both with work and with my daughter for sports teams, so I buy far more than I consume. Was just in Calgary this past weekend and found what I thought were nice deals on whiskies I like (single cask Glendronachs and BenRiachs – in the $55-80 range) but it’ll be some time before I crack them open most likely.
Keep the unobtainium reviews coming for sure, I confess guilt to buying lotto max tickets so maybe someday…
Those of us who live east of Alberta suffer in (not so) silence. I have family and in-laws in Calgary. Compared to the KGBO in Ontario, you can get good prices and great selection. We’ve made some great catches there. Which is why I don’t sweat not having any Springbank 25. The Mac CS I bought there for $73 when it was selling online for 125 GBP, as well as the other good stuff, will keep me satisfied for a long time.
They say if you don’t know what you’re missing…
Well, if you speak loudly enough,someone is bound to hear….
Case in point, Amrut Greedy Angels. I spoke up, and ended up with a few ounces of the stuff.
I don’t suppose anyone in Calgary is interested in duplicating Ashok’s generosity…
I feel your pain Skeptic. You can take some small comfort in knowing that things are even more depressing west of the Rockies. Not only are prices absurd, selection is pathetic too. I do much of my buying out of the country these days, although so called duty free has become a farce except for standard issue offerings, and in many parts of the world prices are better in supermarkets and big box retail outlets.
Curt uses a grading scale similar to others that one cannot simply divide by price to get quality value. I taught for 10 years and I guarantee a 70 student generally underachieves and is doomed to work in sales or politics ( just kidding). In fact I rarely had a student as bad as Red Label, although one is currently in the pen for murder.
On a serious note, I haven’t found a Beam product that is more than mediocre. Like most of you, I reach for Scotch 90% of the time, so I’m quite picky about what bourbons I drink. Top of the list are Whild Turkey and Heaven Hill products. Next would be Buffalo Trace and further down Brown-Forman products. Beam edges out jack Daniels, which to me is as bad as Red Label. Hmmmm… No, actually worse.
Have you tried Booker’s? There you will find a Beam product that is not only more than mediocre but stellar.
I haven’t had it in a while, but I don’t remember anything about it, so I guess I wasn’t impressed (or had too much to drink). I do have a bottle of their Anniversary (?) somewhere, but haven’t opened it yet, so maybe I should. I had both Knob Creek versions a while back and had a hard time choking them down. Those bottles lasted a loooong time, and not because I liked them.
The last time I had Beam Black (and Jack Black) was on a Delta flight which was out of Scotch. Yeecch! Last for all three! Gotta have Scotch or Wild Turkey on flights!
If it makes you feel better, Four Roses is also mediocre to me, so I’m out of step with most bourbon guys.
People like what they like…. I happen to like most bourbons I’ve tried, but I only try the ones that are minimally diluted, and most of them have been Beam products and BTACs, so I’ve not had a representative sample.
Thanks for the reply. If a score means what it means and a dollar is a dollar, I don’t see where I went wrong; if the gap between two whiskies is 10 points, then that’s the difference in quality, whether between whiskies scoring 70 and 80 or between 80 and 90 – it doesn’t mean more (or less) depending upon where the difference is found on the scale, although some whiskies might more commonly fall toward 80 than 70 or 90 (and this does relate to some of the questions I have about scoring systems). If someone is saying that, in reality, a “70” whisky is really only little better than say half or two-thirds as good as an 80 or 90 then, again, the scores don’t reflect that. “70” students underachieve (although there have been some brilliant successes who never excelled in school)? Well, so does Red Label, I think (certainly as a neat experience), but that doesn’t make it a bad buy in terms of the quality it delivers for the money. The question is what’s the lowest level of quality one will except in the pursuit of a good buy – and your results will vary slightly if, like others, you can’t give Red Label a 70. I’m certainly open to other ways to read QPR, but I still think that the point I’m making will stand.
Opposes! Meant to put bourbon reference on Buffalo Trace thread. Sorry! Too lazy to move it. Enjoying a Hatp while working in yard.
“Harp” not hatp.’ It sure what a hatp is.
Resonant points made here. On a personal front it makes me a little more driven to get my hands on some of the more affordable day-to-day malts. If those are the reviews that actually help others then I’ll try to be a little more diligent in my pursuits.
I’ve been motivated to write up the ones that are most exciting to me (for one reason or another), but maybe at the exclusion of some that simply SHOULD be reviewed. More to come. Think we’ll start with the Ledaig 10 in the next day or two.
That’s good to hear, Curt. We can get reviews on all the obscure, expensive and no longer available stuff from Serge. I’m going to his site more often recently to see what interesting music he’s got rather than what weird whisky he’s reviewing. Although he does get back to the basics once in a while. I think what most of us want from ATW is a good recommendation, or a thumbs down, for affordable, available whiskies from a credible reviewer. That would be you Curt. BTW, I think this is becoming one of the best venues for intelligent discussion in web world, certainly better than Connosr these days.
Bloggers have every right to do whatever they want and anyone who doesn’t like it does not have to stay tuned. As the ever entertaining, and more than slightly whacked Ted Nugent once said at one of his concerts: “Anyone who doesn’t like rock and roll can just turn around and get the f*** outta here.”
Chris 1, I gotta agree that the discussion at Connosr is poor. It seems like it really cooled off over the past few months—though it still gets plenty of reviews posted.
What’s your handle over there? (I’m Ol’ Jas everywhere.)
I’m BlueNote over there, but haven’t been participating very much lately. I find that there are only a handful of credible reviewers posting reviews there, maybe 10 that I take seriously, and the discussions are not particularly stimulating these days. I know Jean-Luc and Pierre are doing the best they can and someday perhaps the long awaited upgrade to the site will actually happen. Meantime, I’m liking it here.
Flattery will get you everywhere.