KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 15

15 12 2016

A couple days ago I whined excessively in my daily whisky write-up that my family had gone through a particularly horrible run of consecutive sickness that was making the blog feel like a bit of a grind.  In the two days since, my son has gotten the flu and my wife has gotten a sinus infection for the fourth time in the last two months.  Far from dreading Whisky Advent anymore, I’m now starting to think it’s the only thing keeping me healthy, so let’s keep it going.

One fairly consistent theme of this year’s calendar posts has been me railing against the relative lack of originality employed by most distilleries in selecting their maturation vessels.  Like wineries and their coin flip of French vs. American oak, distilleries seem to make their choice dichotomous as well:  bourbon cask or sherry cask.  However, since (unlike wine) whisky gets many of its flavours not from the vessel itself but from what was previously aged in it, this opens up so many avenues of alchemy for distillers to coax new expressions out of the same duly processed malted barley.  Most appear either oblivious or uninterested in the challenge, but one distillery that has embraced the multiplicity of available aging options with élan is tonight’s calendar star:  the Arran distillery, named after the tiny round Isle of Arran sandwiched between the western shores of mainland Scotland and the peninsula housing the whisky region of Campbeltown, both due east of Islay.

fullsizerender-508Arran is a traditional distillery with modern foresight, which releases a wide array of scotches aged in practically everything possible — current highlights include a Sauternes cask, a Port barrel and (!!!) an Amarone cask bottling.  I love it.  If you’re so inclined, you can also BUY YOUR OWN CASK OF SCOTCH and then come visit it while they mature it for you.  I’m not even kidding.  £1,850 for 200L of ex-Bourbon glory – who’s in with me?  Of course, now that I’ve raved about how cool Arran is, I have to report that tonight’s whisky, from the 5th batch release of their 12 Year Cask Strength Single Malt limited edition, is aged in the boring-est ever combo of first-fill sherry butts, refill sherry hogsheads and first-fill bourbon barrels.  At 52.9% and only $80, though, it’s a lot of scotch for the money.  It smelled exactly like a cereal I’d eaten as a kid but had to Google search to remember the name of (Corn Bran, it turns out), mixed with cantaloupe, barley, corn husks and spice, but then ramped up on the palate and tasted like something out of a Christmas catalogue:  Bailey’s and eggnog, gingerbread, canned peaches, whipped cream and coconut milk.  Super friendly for a cask-strength whisky, it brought the fun and the charm in spades even if it wasn’t an intellectual heavyweight.  Time to buy a cask.

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