Category Archives: Arran

Arran 18 y.o. Review

Not only have there been requests to write up a few Arran malts, but there is an absolutely rabid following for the stuff around here. Part of that loyal fanboy and fangirl-ism, I honestly believe, can be laid at the feet of Kensington Wine Market here in Calgary. (And yes…I work at KWM. But you knew that, aye?) Twelve bespoke casks of Arran have been brought into the store over the past few years. Twelve. And having sold through all but the last handful of our most recent acquisitions, I think we can safely say that, at the very least, we’ve helped cultivate the adoration.

The icing on the cake is that Arran is a ridiculously approachable malt; complex enough that geeks still love it, but sweet and easy-going enough so that even those with little experience can find it a decent gateway dram. The key, though, is that inherent sweetness that defines the distillery character. So, where does it come from? Well…

Here’s what we know (based on info from decently lengthy fermentation time (~65 hrs, shell and tube condensers to maximize copper contact; tall stills with long lyne arms (ditto on the copper contact); Kerry M yeast (slightly longer for the yeast to get moving, typically resulting in a more fruit-driven distillate) and a solid wood program that focuses primarily (though not exclusively) on sweet jammy sherry butts and clean active ex-bourbon casks. The malts are nabbing really robust cask influence at relatively youthful ages, without then having to be offered up too young. A nice balancing act, really.

So, what comes out the other end is a sweet, syrupy and ester-driven pile of loveliness. I can’t always drink such a sweet style, but man…what a well-composed spirit. Hard to argue that.

I’ll be heading for the distillery in a matter of weeks. Hopefully I can confirm a few details then. More to come…

Tasting Notes

Nose: This one even noses sweet. Bucketloads of fruit. Sliced apple and berries drizzled in lemon juice. Decent oak structure, without being tannic. Some sherry in here too? The suggestion of an unlit cigar sitting behind a vase of week old flowers (you’ve lost the plot, ATW!). Pineapple and mandarin. Lemon meringue pie, with toasted meringue. Plantains.

Palate: Juicy arrival. Then big oak. Then an explosion of fruity sweetness. Apple and orange with a squeeze of grapefruit. Dried papaya slices. Mashed banana. Pineapple flan (flan de pina). A decent amount of citrus again. Danish pastries. Orange ju-jubes.

Finish: Clean and dominated by fruit skins. Lemon popsicle, especially the stick afterwards.

Thoughts: Nice balance here, if a wee bit sweet for my tastes. I do like the fruits here, edging into tropical territory.


Arran James MacTaggart 10th Anniversary Edition Review

Arran James MacTaggart 10th Anniversary Edition

54.2% abv

Score:  87/100


Just a couple weeks back I walked the club through a range of ten single cask Arran releases that were all bottled exclusively for Kensington Wine Market.  Ten cask strength beauties ranging from seven years to two full decades of age.  Nary a bad drop in the lot.  I was already a fan of this wee island distillery, but this event cemented things to an even greater degree.

At it’s core it comes down to three basic elements:  1) Arran has a clean and estery base spirit coming off the stills that is cut just right.  2) The brand’s wood policy is excellent.  3) The talents at pulling together barrels for vatting are immense.  The sum of these pieces is a beautifully cohesive whole.  And what it ultimately leaves us is a rich portfolio of Arran malts that are always fun to sit down to and rarely leave me anything but impressed.

This particular expression just hit our shelves in Calgary a couple weeks back.  It’s a ten year old malt, composed as an homage to Master Distiller James MacTaggart, who’s been plying his craft at Arran in this coveted role for…yep…ten years.  A nice little tribute to a gent who I understand is an absolute gen of a human.  Nice to see these things in our jaded age.

As for the malt…clean and lovely.  Broadly appealing, I’d imagine and infinitely drinkable.  Almost a ‘session malt’ in my humble opinion, if maybe a tad too sweet for my own personal tastes.  But, hey…that’s just me.  My own personal leanings shouldn’t color what, ultimately, should be as objective a review as we can fathom.  The whisky is well-composed and without a trace of off-key notes.  Well worth a tip.  And the price is right for a cask strength beastie like this: ~$115.

Nose:  Clean and custardy.  White chocolate and sprinkles of ginger.  Poached pear.  Orange and cherry.  Cinnamon.  A slight popcorn note (maybe just the strong influence of ex-bourbon barrels bringing a corn-iness?).  Beignets with a dusting of powdered sugar.  Toasted oats.  White tea.  In short…soft fruits and soft white baking aromas.

Palate:  Orange.  Clean oak notes.  A lot of bourbon influence seeping through here.  I can only assume some very active barrels in the mix.  Plenty of spice.  Ginger and chili.  Some pepper.  Lots of syrupy sweetness.  Underripe Bartlett pears on the finish.

Thoughts:  Clean and easy-drinking.  Uber-sweet.  The ice wine of malt whisky (or should that appellation be reserved for Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or?)


 – Image & words:  Curt

Arran 10 y.o. Review

Arran 10 y.o.026

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100


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

Arran 17 y.o. Review

Arran 17 y.o.102

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100


Arran turns 20 this year.  That’s right.  20.  I know we’re all used to distilleries touting claims of antecedence and longevity, but Arran is a relative upstart in the Scotch whisky world.  The distillery was founded in 1993, released it’s first malt a couple years later and has since continued an evolution that has been both innovative and on an impressive upward trajectory.

Arran, it should be noted, is one of the heavyweights in the cask manipulation game.  They’ve engaged in malt maturation in a wide range of barrel types, put together quirky and unusual vattings and found angles to market these oddball releases (think Devil’s Punchbowl, the Peacock Edition, Millennium Casks, Machrie Moor, Moscatels, Madeiras, Pomerols, etc).  Sounds a little like Bruichladdich’s M.O., no?  None of this tomfoolery works, however, without a good base spirit, and fortunately Arran is another distillery that has managed to find a sweet spot with their distillate.  Good new make put into good barrels leads to great whisky.  And that is exactly what is happening here.

It’s already been a fun ride watching Arran mature and evolve into a respectable malt, and quite frankly, they’re only getting better.  The prospect of some really mature whisky from this distillery in another decade or so is enough to seriously whet the appetite if the character holds consistent.  Arran’s most mature expression to date is this 17 year old, but now that we’re into 2015 we should be seeing an 18 year old crop up at any time.  I know some whisky geeks that will be vulturously watching the clock tick down till the release of that one, just as lecherously as those out there who had their creepy Emma Watson birthday countdowns going.  (Bad joke, I know)

And this one?  Clean, elegant 17 year old malt.  As the warehouses on the Isle of Arran fill up over the years, and the blenders have more casks to choose from, I can see this whisky getting better and better.

Nose:  Some great fruity notes.  A little bit of orange and milk chocolate.  Some very soft vanilla cream notes.  A faint banana note.  Good granola.  Some citrus…almost lemon meringue pie-ish.  A touch of butterscotch.  Nice spiciness.  Great creamy nose.

Palate:  Some cinnamon on the tip of the tongue.  Apple and lemon.  Berry coulis.  Toasted marshmallow.  More spices and licorice too.  Some oak comes at the back, but not a strong influence.

Thoughts:  One of, if not the best Arran I’ve tried to date.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Arran Machrie Moor Review

Arran Machrie Moor142

46% abv

Score:  72/100


Arran, in my humble opinion, is a distillery just coming of age.  Generally speaking, the usual coming of age for any malt would be about 10-12 years, but that doesn’t really seem like a proper state of maturity, if you ask me.  Kind of like handing out driver’s permits to preteens.  The true test of a whisky is what it does when it is old enough to vote, hit the bar and f*ck.  Crude, I know, but no less true for it.  In my tastes anyway.

Just this past year Arran released its first 16 year old whisky.  I’ve heard good things about it, but have yet to try it myself.  The only reason I bring this up is to raise the point that perhaps this particular whisky we’re about to chat about would actually succeed at a similar age.  As it is…well…not so much.

Machrie Moor is kinda like the proverbial ‘fat guy in a little coat’.  The peat just doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the spirit itself.  Here we have Arran peated to about 14ppm.  Should be enough to provide a bit of a whomp (and it does), but not enough to overpower the underlying structure (hmmm…not so sure about that).  What I can be sure of though, is that this whisky is just not working.

Arran malts seem to be a bit of a fan favorite of late, but the distillery still hasn’t released a whisky that has ticked all the boxes for me as yet.  I’ve tried a bunch of their more novel finished releases, as well as the Peacock and Devil’s Punchbowl et al, but perhaps it’s the purist in me that longs to taste this malt in a pure and mature iteration.  Time to hunt that 16 year old, I think.  Until then…I think this is a bottle that will be finished by friends.  Not really my thing.

Nose:  Young, feisty and citric.  Almost juniper-like.  Grassy.  Quite new make-ish (read: far too young).  Vanilla.  Cleaning product of some sort.  Smoked apple and fresh wood.  Sweet earthy peat.  Coconut lotion.  Very ‘green’…almost pine-like.  Far too sharp and aggressive.

Palate:  Peat and nutty notes.  Ash and smoke.  Quite tart.  Dry pastry dough.  Some fishy notes.  o be honest…not a good drink.  Still seesawing, and definitely not balanced as yet.

Thoughts:  Served up far too young.  The nose borders on ‘ok’, but the palate is failing grades.  Splitting hairs maybe but, while I won’t say this is a bad whisky, I will say it’s not a very good one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Isle Of Arran The Devil’s Punchbowl Review

Isle Of Arran The Devil’s Punchbowl055

52.3% abv

Score:  87.5/100


When I was kid growing up, I recall hitting up the fountain pop stations in corner stores and restaurants and mixing all of the flavors together.  We called this vile concoction ‘swamp water’.  That same principle seems to be at play here for the Devil’s Punchbowl.  And I gotta admit…I embrace it with the same juvenile gleeful delight.

This bubbling cauldron of hellish delight was brewed up by marrying 24 casks distilled between 1996 and 2006 (13 sherry…11 of mixed ex-bourbon and peated malt, if rumour is to be believed.  With, of course, a little eye of newt).  The results are…predictably unpredictable, of course.

And ahhh…the marketing.  This is 1 of 6,660 bottles.  Clever.  How can you not score an extra point for that(*)?

Nose:  Slightly burnt caramel.  Mild organic peaty notes.  Orange and fudge.  Ginger chocolate.  Pear and dry tart sherry notes.  Quite creamy.  A bit of smoke, but understated.  The peat is subdued as well, I should add.

Palate:  A little more peat, heat and smoke here.  Again…caramel.  Maybe cocoa.  Citrus and some puckering red/purple fruit notes.  Kinda wine-ish.  Tart n’ Tinys candies.  Crabapple notes and oak threads towards the back.

(*) I do not say that in sincerity.  The hard and fast on ATW in regards to scoring is completely based on content.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt