KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 19

19 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

One of the things that I love the most about whisky (other than drinking it) is that researching the many and varied distilleries always teaches me something new.  For example, did you know that Arran is an island in Scotland?  I didn’t.  I probably should have, but it was news to me.  The Isle of Arran is located in the Firth of Clyde and, eyeballing it on a map, appears to be slightly smaller than Islay, which is located due west of Arran and is separate by the Kintyre Peninsula, a skinny peninsula extending south off of mainland Scotland.  This is most pertinent news as today’s whisky comes from this very Isle:  the Arran 14 Year Old.

The Isle of Arran Distillers is a relative newcomer to the scotch scene in comparison to many other distilleries in Scotland.  Having been established in 1995, it is the only distillery located on the island.  This was not always the case, as back in the 1800s there were many smaller producers, but they could not compete in an era that valued quantity over quality.  I think that the Arran website puts it best when it says:  “Back in the 1800s there were many small stills to be found across the island.  Not all of them were legal, but all made superlative spirit.”  The Arran distillery is located at the north end of the island and opened its first cask of whisky on July 25, 1998.  Fun fact – the cask was opened that day by actor Ewan McGregor.  In fairness to Arran, The Phantom Menace wouldn’t come out until the following year so I guess it’s OK.

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Taken from the Arran Distillers website to prove that I didn’t make that last part up.

While the distillery releases a large range of product (I have seen bottles aged in various types of wine, bourbon and sherry), apparently all are produced using only Scottish barley (chiefly Optic and Oxbridge) and fermented in washbacks crafted from Oregon pine (I don’t know why they chose Oregon pine over a pine that is native to Scotland, but I’d love to find out).  The water for the spirit is drawn from nearby Loch na Davie which arrives in the lake after traveling through granite and peat and which Arran Distillers claims is the purest in all of Scotland.  I haven’t seen any peer-reviewed scientific studies to back them up, so I’ll assume it’s true (although I have some lingering doubts if it travels through peat).  If any of you really love Arran, you should know that you can actually buy a cask and they will mature it for you (there are even some options as to what type of barrel you want it aged in!).

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Today’s offering from Arran is the Arran 14 Year Old.  It was aged in first fill Sherry and Bourbon casks and is bottled at 46%.  I would describe the colour in the glass as a pale gold; however, Arran clearly has more paint swatches available and poetically describes the colour as “sunset copper”.  The nose is fruity, with smells of orange zest, cantaloupe and apricot abounding.  Hints of toffee and honey round it out.  The palate is bright, sweet and slightly floral with tastes of apple, citrus and perhaps a bit of sea salt.  The finish is long and takes on a bit of a spice characteristic, kind of like very mellow anise.  If a glass of Ardbeg is perfect for reading in a dark cabin next to a fire (or an apocalyptic wasteland if you’re Peter), the Arran 14 Year Old would be ideal for watching a sunset on a beach after a warm clear day.  KWM has the bottle listed for $79.99 if you’re interested in trying it rather than just reading about it.

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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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