Lochranza Vertical – Arran 23 year 52.6%

I’ll admit it, I simply fell in love with the Isle of Arran. Early September 2020, we spent a fabulous day driving all around the Island… prompted by my desire to visit the Lochranza distillery! It was so much fun discovering this microcosm of Scotland that we completed the circumference – even making it to Arran’s new Lagg distillery too.

I wanted something special from the distillery to commemorate our trip – a bottle that I could not buy anywhere else. There were so many to chose from, but this 23 year old single cask sherry, bottled at cask strength, caught my eye!

I very happily picked this up at the distillery shop and knew the biggest challenge would be my impatience to try it! Determined to share it in an evening tasting with fellow whisky enthusiasts in Mumbai, I sent the bottle home to India with my partner where it would wait…until some indeterminate time to taste…

Thankfully it wasn’t so long! Just a few months later, late January 2021, we cracked it open in a combined virtual / real life Whisky Ladies of Mumbai session.

Arran 23 year (29 May 1996/11 March 2020) Sherry Hogshead Cask No 436, 52.6%  Bottle 245/283

We first sampled it ‘neat’ without a drop of water:

  • Nose – Nuanced and subtle it grew in intensity, from light rose to rich mocha, caramel, cinnamon, clearly complex, rich, the aromas swirling in the glass combining to create a beautiful perfume – one even quipped “American Leather” after a men’s cologne…
  • Palate – Wonderful! A spirited sherry… almost too much of a good thing! Fierce and forceful – there was rich toffee, coffee, chocolate, dates and rum raisins
  • Finish – An intense long finish

My fellow tasters knew this clearly had a higher alcohol percent – likely cask strength. So we were encouraged to add water… how did it change?

  • Nose – Enabled more of the dark fruits to emerge, caramel sweetness, fudge
  • Palate – Ahh… opens it up and does wonders! Now we can really settle in with all those fabulous flavours, fruitier still full and quite fabulous
  • Finish – Perfection! Remains long and lingering… dark fruits of dates, prunes, dried figs with cinnamon spice… rum raisin Christmas pudding

While intense, we found it had an absolutely phenomenal aroma and with water, the elements were lush, rich and indulgent but not overwhelming. Yes the heaviness remained but it was now balanced.

Even after setting it aside, contrasting and comparing, there was a compelling quality about this one – distinctive and definitely a sherry bomb! If anything, the aromas kept getting sweeter – it became like eating sugar or molasses!

In complete contrast, our ‘In Real Life’ Whisky Ladies thought it was like pineapple grilled on a campfire, perhaps even a single rum not whisky at all!

Could I see the rum? Absolutely! Having recently spent a lazy evening revisiting Jamaica’s Hampden 2010, I easily understood why there was speculation I had thrown a rum in – just to mix things up! As I poured a dash more without water, I completely appreciated the strong heavy rum-like quality – that peculiar powerful punch that comes from the unique conditions found in Luca Gargano‘s discoveries.

The colour alone was an indicator that this was something different with the 3rd sample…. while initially the 18 year (2nd) seemed quite similar in colour to the 14 year (1st), there was a subtle deepness to the gold… However nothing compared to the almost ruby red intensity of the 23 year (3rd).

Sitting back comparing all three side by side, there was no doubt the 2nd managed to strike a brilliant balance between age, intensity and flavour. Clearly complex, it was full bodied and flavourful without being overwhelming like the 23 year old. While those of us who sampled virtually eased into the cask strength with water, the 23 year old was a ‘miss’ for those who met in person. For all of us, the 14 year was easily the most accessible, the sherry influence more restrained. It was simply enjoyable without complication.

What do the folks at Arran have to say about this 23 year old?

A rare opportunity to purchase a bottling from one of our oldest Sherry Hogsheads. These precious and unusual bottling are in short supply and as such are a real treat for those who love a Sherry Cask matured Single Malt.

This particular Single Cask is a Sherry Hogshead from 1996. In the first years of production at Arran, Sherry Hogsheads were often used. We have an outstanding, but small collection of casks from this year still slumbering away in our warehouses. This cask was specially selected and liberated for our visitors to Lochranza and our online whisky shop by Master Blender James MacTaggart and is the perfect one for sipping and savouring.

Tasting notes:

  • Nose – Toffee, fudge and caramelised lemon
  • Palate – Delicious sweet spice and hazelnut
  • Finish – Sweetness, Spice, Vanilla, Smooth, Hazelnut, Dark chocolate, Creamy.

After a long time, it was such a pleasure to sample a single distillery vertical – we could see the progression – building in intensity and complexity. A fabulous evening!

You can find here the detailed tasting notes for the other Arran‘s sampled together with the 23 year:

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

Lochranza Vertical – Arran 18 year 46%

Next in our Arran age statement flight after the 14 year was an 18 year old! While the bottle we tasted from was purchased in 2018, it remains part of their core range, now in fresh new 2020 packaging. I understand that the style has remained consistent – playing with a range of Sherry casks to produce a fruity, tasty dram.

Arran 18 year 46%  

  • Nose – Wow! Quite the nose – initially sweet with heavy syrup, lots of sherry influence with this one, chocolate and coffee, mild cinnamon and back to dark fruits
  • Palate – Mmmm…. there is a real depth here, sherry berry, dark fruits with dates, sweetened prunes, vanilla, good dose of sweet spices – particularly cinnamon, some  allspice, even ginger… as we continued sipping, coffee became more and more prominent, joined by rum raisin cake
  • Finish – There was a debate on this – first sip it seemed a bit ‘short’ with so much going on initially that the finish was lost… but as we continued, realized it has quite a long flavourful finish full of lingering mocha, cinnamon chased by sea salt, even a bit of a citrus tang

If the 14 year old had a toffee sweetness, the 18 year old was mocha – a decadent coffee chocolate…. a kind of creamy dreamy desert. There was no doubt everything that was fabulous about the younger whisky was taken up a few notches with the 18 year. It had wonderful flavours that invites one to just sip, savour, rolling around on the tongue, simply enjoying.

While I tried with water, it isn’t needed though holds it own too with a drop or two. It does help bring out the orange marmalade fruitiness, however keep it in your glass long enough without water and that also comes forward too. I kept thinking of one of those fruit and nut chocolate bars! With just an extra kick of zesty orange… with a fresh pour, the dates are more prominent… much later there was even a bit of black licorice joining the various elements – lovely!

There was no doubt this was a favourite for many. It was indulgent without being overwhelming… a fully satisfying well rounded robust sherry influenced whisky.

What do the folks at Arran have to say about their 18 year old?

The Arran 18 year-old is the one of the most popular expressions in our core range of single malts and one of the oldest available.

The Arran 18 year-old is a wonderfully balanced expression of Arran Single Malt which displays the tremendous depth of character of our Distillery.

Caramelised citrus and tropical notes on a background of toasted oak have created an intense, well rounded dram with charm and personality. A luxurious mix of our finest aged Sherry Casks, this fully mature expression of Arran Single Malt is exceptional.

Official tasting notes:

  • Nose – Orchard fruits with syrup and toasted oak
  • Palate – Caramelised orange, dark chocolate, baked peaches
  • Finish – Sweetness, Spice, Citrus, Baked peaches.

What else did we sample from Arran in our vertical flight?

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Do also check out the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai blog with the continuing adventures of the lovely ladies in India…

Whisky Collections – The long haul, long gone…

In these strange COVID times, lockdown in India (as many other parts of the world) has played havoc with tasting groups. When one can barely leave ones home… how then can different and interesting whiskies be sourced? And shared in a convivial gathering?

In my case, this was compounded by the dawning realisation that my visa challenges returning home to Mumbai had no simple solution.

By mid-summer, I decided why not convert despair on my side into delight for others?

Whiskies tasted and given away… most with mere dregs remaining…

And here are a few I never had a chance to open and sample:

  • Teeling small batch
  • Tamnavulin Batch 0308 American Oak, Sherry Finish 40%
  • Finch Classic 40%
  • Aureum Single Malt 43% – Now after going to Ziegler distillery, very curious how it was received! 🙂

And finally one somehow kept back from the hungry hoards enjoyed together on a fine evening – completely without any tasting notes!

  • Old Pulteney 11 year 2006 Vintage 46%

What fun to ramble down malty memory lanes thinking of whiskies discovered, drunk and enjoyed or dismissed!

Anyone else do a thorough “whisky cabinet” clean during these COVID times?

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Lochranza Vertical – Arran 14 year 46%

Kicking off our Arran veritical flight was an 14 year old! Back in 2010 it was released to take a step up from the Arran 10 year and matured primarily in ex-bourbon casks. At the time, it was reasonably accessible in select travel retail around the world. In India, The Vault Fine Spirits brought this particular bottle to Mumbai Duty Free where I was happy to pick it up in 2018.

Prior to trying the official bottling, I had sampled The Whisky Exchange’s 14 year cask strength expression as part of a trio recommended by Sukhinder Singh for the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai. That one was intense and flavourful, taking a bit of time to open up to show off its full glory.

Naturally I was very curious to see what this official bottling would bring… we sampled it late January 2021 in two parallel sessions – one virtual and another in person – coming together at the end to contrast and compare our experiences.

I was enjoying life in the country so joined the virtual session… here is what we found…

Arran 14 year 46%  

  • Nose – Initially a bit musty, malty, vanilla, quite fruity, even a bit tropical with a touch of coconut oil, overall quite refreshing… as it continued to open up, the musty quality disappeared and it was just delightful fruits – some cooked apples, even a bit floral, with lots of lovely toffee
  • Palate – Mmmmm… smooth, balanced and well rounded with a nice fruity fullness, a bit of that coconut oil, orange spices, perhaps some light sherry influences with dried figs or dates
  • Finish – Peppery – black peppercorn specifically – initially seemed quite long, but after the next sip didn’t seem to have quite such a long strong staying power – still eminently pleasant though

At first whiff – we knew we were in for something good. And first sip? Ahhhhh finally a proper whisky. For some this was after months… even a year deprived of a decent dram.

I braved adding some water to see how it shifted the dram dynamic…

  • Nose – For me, at least, it brought out a nutty dimension, even some nasturtiums, kept the fruitiness on the nose
  • Palate – Initially a bit spicier, it retained its character with a malty fruity approach… even creamier and almost reminded me of a good masala chai chased by chocolate

Overall, we found it was an easy happy whisky – well crafted and friendly. Something  refreshing yet eminently satisfying.

And what about our ladies who sampled together in Mumbai rather than our virtual session? Complementary with a few different insights – like melon on the nose which we didn’t catch. For more insights, there will soon be detailed tasting notes on Whisky Ladies of Mumbai blog.

Unfortunately you won’t find the official distillery tasting notes for the 14 year old any more as they have gone back to having the standard range go from the 10 year old to skip ahead to the 18 year.. So I’ll bring to you instead the The Vault tasting notes:

Dried fruits, vanilla and toffee upfront. With a little water, a salty tang appears along with caramelised fruits indicating a depth of flavour. The palate has an initial burst of brine leading onto warming toffee apples and hazlenuts. This is followed by dates, chocolate orange and spiced tea cake. The mouth feel is overwhelmingly rich and weighty.

The bottle had scant additional details – indicating it is from Batch No A14 L271016 From October 2016 – I have no idea if this is simply to keep our friends in customs happy along with the description of ingredients “Matured Potable Alcoholic Distillate, Water.” However it would seem to indicate this expression was from a 2016 batch ie the barrels were laid in 2001 or 2002.

The label did provide notes with:

The Arran 14 year is a smooth and richly rewarding expression of the Arran Malt bursting with character and complexity. The extra years of maturation have added a depth of sweetness, and spice to create a fully rounded and satisfying dram. 

Would we agree? Certainly. And did we like it? Absolutely! An undeniably enjoyable dram and a great way to open our tasting trio.

What else did we sample from Arran that particular evening?

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Arran Flight

Years ago I started to collect a flight from Arran… inspired by how much we enjoyed the Arran Port Cask and even more so by the Amarone Cask.

It began primarily as a combination of travel retail acquisitions however culminated in a fabulous day trip to Isle of Arran in September 2020… amusingly these Arran’s were paid with four currencies from four countries, collected over three years with the intention of sharing with a whisky group in Mumbai.

Unbelievably I’m back in India! Even more remarkable, I finally have a chance to share these bottles from Isle of Arran with friends. Naturally this will be done responsibly, virtually and all that… we do live in COVID times after all!

I decided to break the Arran exploration into two parts….

A vertical – doing a straightforward age progression…

  • Arran 14 year 46% – A balance of ex bourbon and ex sherry finish, likely from 2016, purchased early 2018 from Mumbai Duty Free for Rs 7,200 (approx EUR 80)
  • Arran 18 year 46% – A mix of sherry casks, picked up by a kind ‘whisky mule’ during his travels in October 2017 for USD 81 (approx EUR 67)
  • Arran 23 year (1996/2020) Sherry Hogshead Cask No 436, 52.6% – A single cask sherry which produced a mere 283 bottles, bottled at cask strength that I purchased in September 2020 directly from the Lochranza Distillery for GBP 145 (approx EUR 160)

I then kept in reserve for another time the additional expressions with no age statements…

  • Arran Lochranza Reserve 43% – A mix of ex bourbon and ex sherry casks, purchase late 2018 from Dubai’s Le Clos for AED 150 (approx EUR 34)
  • Arran Port Cask Finish 50% – As the name suggests, finished in a port cask, purchased early 2019 from Dubai’s Le Clos fro AED 180 (approx EUR 40)

The tricky choice was what to do with a small bottle hand filled from the new Lagg Distillery? Keep it back for the NAS expressions or throw a mini of a mini into the mix to give others a chance to try something unique? In the end, not having enough extra mini bottles clinched it – so it has again been stored to wait for another time.

  • Arran Peated (2020) 60.4% – 1st batch from a peated bourbon barrel, bottled by hand on 3 September 2020 at Lagg Distillery, purchased for GBP 30 for a 200 ml bottle (approx EUR 100 for a 700ml)

And with that, decision made, minis filled, packages dispatched, balance remaining in bottles sent to one of our Whisky Ladies who offered to host a few able to join in person – socially distanced – in her large living room. How lovely!

Notes to come – both here and on the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai‘s blog!

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Auchentoshan, Benrinnes, Duilaine, Linkwood

Prompted by the combination of an overall positive experience at The Village Whisky Festival in Nurnberg and the delightful Glencadam, I decided to treat myself to a quartet of miniatures from German independent bottler –  The Whisky Warehouse No. 8.

What did I chose?

I’ve noted the prices I paid above for 2 cl bottles as indicators – if ordering within Germany.

What else? I would like to ‘challenge’ myself to learn all vocabulary on the German tasting wheel! I may be a long way from any level of proficiency, but always great to be motivated by a passion to have a common ‘language’ for describing an interesting (or disasterous) dram!

As I’ve lots to catch up on, it may be some time before I get to both tasting and sharing notes… however am looking forward!

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Aveux Gourmands

Our absolute favourite from Maison Benjamin Kuentz is their Aveux Gourmands – launched late 2020.

Aveux Gourmands 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Mmmm….. bubblegum, toffee, salty caramel, a nice nuttiness with roasted hazelnut, fudge… then all combining together in an indulgent salty caramel hazelnut chocolate fudge… as it opened up further came a caramelized banana, pineapple upside down cake, buttery brioche, strawberries and cherries
  • Palate – Buttery salty toffee, spice, fudge, more of that buttery brioche,
  • Finish – Nutty fudge, salted butter toast

Pure decadence! We loved this one! Aromas were yum! A melt in your mouth fudge on the palate, rewarding finish… In short it was luxury… like an indulgent incredibly high calorie desert that you just – must – have!

And what happened when we added water? Just dampened everything – it simply wasn’t the same. And who wants decadence diminished?

And with the glass we left ‘as is’? We let it rest for some time and returned to be rewarded by salty buttery toffee fudge desert in a glass! Who could resist?

Zero doubt this was our favourite of the evening!

What else do we know?

It is aged between in ex Sauternes Grand Cru barrels from Chateau Rayne Vigneau, Bretagne.

The team kindly provided us with further details… Please excuse the rough translation from French:

Gourmet, exotic, salty

Like a confession that you will remember at the tip of your tongue. This whisky is the admission of a small sin of taste. Gourmet on the nose with this mishmash of hazelnuts, honey and cooked fruits. The balance is even more succulent… the fullness of this single malt gently delivers its exotic bouquet. This is perfectly balanced by the salinity of a Breton brandy… making a delicacy that we never tire of. Simple pleasure, sweet complexity. Quiet.

Notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Gourmand, notes de noisettes, de miel et de fruits cuits
  • Bouche – Ample, ronde, saline, notes de noix de coco, d’ananas et de caramel au beurre salé
  • Finale – Amande et noisettes, notes de miel se dissipant sur l’équilibre salin final
  • Pairing suggestions – Gâteau praliné, beurre de cacahuète, carpaccio d’ananas et coco séchée, que de la gourmandise pour un moment d’exception.
It is available in Europe directly from Maison Benjamin Kuentz for EUR 52 for a 500ml bottle. I will confess, I snapped up two bottles – one for our lovely ladies back in India and another for a friend in Canada. Who knows when I will be able to bring either bottle to either country, but at least these bottles will be ready when travel becomes feasible.

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Fin de partie

The end of the party is often that time of the evening when most of the guests have gone, just a few remain… often the close friends who also pitch in for the clean-up before you settle down for a final dram, desultory conversation before finally bidding good night. Or at least this is what it (historically!) has been like for us!

So what does this “Fin de partie” from Maison Benjamin Kuentz bring to us?

Fin de partie 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Soft gold
  • Nose – Raw cashews reminding us of Goan feni, which began to shift to maple bacon, cured meats, tropical fruits – particularly baked pineapple, then shifted again into floral sweetness, then into cloves, light red chilli oil, cherry chocolate
  • Palate – Initially confusing, intense, spice, cocoa, fruity, a hint of honey glazed ham
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice

For me, the cured meats kept returning however for others, it subsided as our tasting progressed. We really enjoyed how it had such a quixotic character – a little of this, a little of that… elements which contrasted and then combined.

We decided to see how it was with a bit of water…

  • Nose – More prunes and plums, fruitier, now a sherry influence was clearly discernable
  • Palate – Initially spicier, warming and then settled in to become quite rounded
  • Finish – Still has that cinnamon but now slightly bitter, peppery and smoky

Above all, this is one you should let linger… whether with water or without, it really came into its own the more time it spent in the glass.

What else do we know?

It is aged between 6 to 7 years in ex Cognac, Bourbon, Oloroso and PX  barrels, from Lorraine.

And what do they have to say?

Sharing greedy notes with a touch of pepper to make the evenings endless.

Fin de Partie marks the end of the day and celebrates the beginning of happy gatherings. The ones one wouldn’t want to end. This generous single Malt, intense and elegant explodes gourmet flavours. Its nose intrigues with a wood bouquet, chocolate, dried fruits and a touch of pastry with custard notes. Prunes, spices and pepper finish make this Lorraine whisky a little less disciplined than it first appears.

Notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Complexe et intrigant, bonne rondeur Fleuri, fruité (fruits cuits), pâtissier Epicé et boisé
  • Bouche – Epais, gourmand, belle sucrosité Epicé, fruité, cacaoté
  • Finale – Fruits secs, écorce d’orange Epicée et poivrée, céréales torréfiées
  • Pairing suggestions – Les chocolats de chez Carré Victoire ou le Jambon Bellota 5j de la Maison Barthouil

Our sample was purchased from Paris and dispatched to each home. Currently a 500ml bottle sells directly from Maison Benjamin Kuentz for Eur 59.

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – (D’un) Verre Printanier

We began our explorations with (D’un) Verre Printanier... having every indication of being the lightest of our Maison Benjamin Kuentz trio with its glass of springtime.

(D’un) Verre printanier 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Light honey
  • Nose – Well hello pear! Followed by fresh cut grass, light hay, a nice fruity floral vibe… notes of bergamot, then cereals, shifting from pear to white nectarine, rounding things out with white and green peppercorn
  • Palate – Hmm… more of the cereals – think barley, a bit bitter even
  • Finish – There but…

If this whisky had a ‘colour’ it would be a fresh verdant green! Truly quite ‘spring-like’, comes across as young and fresh.

We were tempted to skip adding water as it is already 46%, but thought, why not try? And thank goodness we did. Wow!

  • Nose – Lots of pear returns, dripping with honey, and the floral? Think dew on honeysuckle. Vanilla custard, marshmallows
  • Palate – Delicious! Yes there is a bright pepper yet also toffee
  • Finish – Sweet pepper

Without water, it came across as a bit ‘young’ or ‘raw’… with a splash of water, the cereals  disappeared into the background, allowing the sweet fruity floral elements to really shine.

Overall we found this whisky fresh and fun. A brilliant way to whet the appetite for more!

What else do we know?

It is aged between 5 to 7 years in ex Cognac and ex Bourbon barrels from Lorraine.

And what do they have to say?

A sunny, fresh, supple and surprising whisky.

(D’un) Verre Printanier will surprise you with its lightness and freshness. Such as nature when it rises, this Single Malt from the Mirabelle plum country will awake you to new fragrances and colors. It distinguishes itself with a well-defined taste between rough flavour and fragrance but keeps its secrecy that will keep you on tenterhooks. The dominant feature is fruity with subtle notes of white fruits and fresh cereal with a spicy finish and a nice softness. An open air olfactory promenade off the beaten track.

Tasting notes (rough translation)

  • Nose – White flowers, orchard fruits (pear in particular). Notes of cereals and fresh herbs, slightly spicy 
  • Palate – Crunchy attack, very supple. Fruity (pear again, but also notes of yellow fruits, such as plums), vegetal
  • Finish – Malty, slightly spicy, airy, which whets the appetite. Maintained tension, which makes you want to come back
  • Pairing suggestions – Baltic salmon from Barthouil or oysters from n°3 de la Maison Legris

Original notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Fleurs blanches, fruits du verger (la poire en particulier) Notes de Céréales et d’herbes fraîches, légèrement épicé
  • Bouche – Attaque croquante, toute en souplesse. Fruité (poire encore, mais aussi des notes de fruits jaunes, comme la mirabelle), végétal
  • Finale – Maltée, légèrement épicée, aérienne, qui ouvre l’appétit Une tension maintenue, qui donne envie d’y revenir
  • Pairing suggestions – Saumon baltique de chez Barthouil ou les huîtres n°3 de la Maison Legris

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Introduction

Late 2020 we kicked off a series of virtual sessions fuelled initially by my acquisition of some bottles from North Star and Chorlton. As brilliant as these were, we were hungry for new experiences. Given one of lovely ladies relocated from Mumbai to Paris, it seemed only natural to want to explore more from France.

The host of our 5th session decided to get creative and reached out to Mangali at Maison Benjamin Kuentz to purchase a trio for tasting. Very kindly, these samples were instead sent to us only with the cost of shipping.

As for what we thought? We were so impressed in December that we requested an opportunity to re-taste with the folks from Maison Benjamin Kuentz, curious to have all our questions answered!

Here is our intro to the core trio from Maison Benjamin Kuentz

What we discovered is a philosophy, a clear vision behind the approach which goes beyond selecting an interest cask, instead to evoking a certain thought for aroma and flavour profile, then experimenting until a recipe achieves that result.

Anything we speculated was overshadowed by the experience. Particularly the Aveux Gourmands was pure indulgence in a glass….

Enabling more bottles of limited liquid, Maison uses 500ml bottles – with prices ranging from EUR 52 to 75. I purchased a bottle of Aveux Gourmands for Mumbai and it was the 1st whisky I sipped and enjoyed in the new year – from my quarantine hotel room overlooking the Arabian sea…

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