Getting started with Arran Lochranza Reserve 43%

There we were – one hot sweaty April evening in Mumbai – about to kick off a tasting with a random yet remarkable range of whiskies. Just like with fine dining, it helps to have an “amuse-bouche” to whet the appetite, so we needed a whisky to ease into our evening.

I considered a few options before settling on the Arran no age statement – Lochranza Reserve. Launched in 2014, it was intended to be part of the core range as the ‘entry’ dram replacing the Arran Original, easily accessible – in terms of flavour profile, price, and availability in travel retail. Today in 2022? It has joined the Limited Edition section with just a few bottles remaining… though if purchased in the UK it is still quite reasonable – at a mere £25.

So what did we think?

Arran Lochranza Reserve 43%  

  • Nose – Hmmm… after a slightly musty start, becomes a clean, classic whisky with green apples, dry leaves and toasted oats, dry desiccated coconut, citrus, a hint of honey… also a herbal element – rosemary or thyme? Or a touch of cardamon?
  • Palate – A light spice, slightly salty and initially a bit astringent, it then shifted into more of that citrus joined by crunchy tart green apples, oak, and a dash of cream, nicely coats your tongue
  • Finish – Pink peppercorns, slightly bitter, chased by bourbon vanilla
  • Water – One would think with such a low ABV there is no need… however a splash of cool water brings out the orchard fruits and citrus after the initial spice hit settles down

Whilst the nose had a honey sweetness on the palate it deepened into a creamy caramel toffee and milk chocolate, smooth and straightforward. We weren’t expecting anything complex, however, I will admit that I had anticipated something a bit lighter. Even still, this hit the spot as a teaser of tastings to come!

What do the folks at Arran have to say about their Lochranza Reserve?

Our Lochranza Reserve is back for a short time only as the very last bottles of this edition.

This light, fresh and fruity Single Malt is bottled at 43% and is delicious on its own, with a splash of water or a bit of ice.  It is the perfect Single Malt for mixing and is a marriage of both Sherry and Bourbon matured casks.

Official distillery tasting notes:

  • Nose – Vanilla and lemon
  • Palate – Fresh Island notes. A touch of salt and sweetness
  • Finish – Citrus. Vanilla. Salty.

What else have we tried from Arran? Rather a lot as this distillery has become a clear favourite with a few of us:

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Remarkable Random Range of Whiskies

What does a Scottish blend from the 1950 / 60s made for a Hamburg distributor and a German malt that barely qualifies as whisky have in common? Or what does a peaty coastal single malt bottled by an Indian distillery have to do with a sophisticated complex Island dram from a much-coveted Indie bottler? And how about the price range from an affordable entry-level Island OB in GBP 20s vs another over 150?! Or sourced from an auction some 40 years after bottling vs direct from bottler within hours of going on sale, to Le Clos Dubai duty-free or available exclusively in Bangalore only… Frankly speaking, they have practically nothing in common beyond a random sweaty evening in Mumbai where they just so happened to be tasted together!

A Remarkable (Random) Range

What a remarkable – if random! – range for a brilliant evening… which was revisited another night in Mumbai with more malt experts!

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Talisker 8 Year (2020) Rum Finish 57.9%

Talisker is known for its lightly peated salty maritime character, situated on the Isle of Sky. Part of the Diageo stable of whiskies, their range has been quite stable over the years with a 10 year, 18 year, Storm… More recently, they have launched some variations with whiskies matured to 8 years – one of which I tried as an ‘Old Particular’ mini from Douglas Laing – quite a pleasant dram that hit the spot in colder climes…

So what did we think of this new cask strength experiment?

Talisker 8 year (2020) Rum Finish 57.9%

  • Nose – Hay, heather, leather, comes across as ‘dry’ yet also has a rum sweetness and raisins, heavy on the ripe bananas joined by other tropical fruit, some roasted pineapple, a hint of coconut and pepper spice chased by a light curl of smoke and sea spray
  • Palate – Jeera (cumin) tamarind ‘goli’… loads of bitter (almost edging into bitter gourd) that initially got in the way of discerning other elements… gradually easing into a roasted black pepper, followed by a sour rum, steeped neem leaves – slightly astringent, then salty
  • Finish – There but… didn’t have any predominant notes – perhaps a bit of black licorice at the end?
  • Revisit – After setting aside, when returned the rum dimension was much more evident – in a good way!

Whilst clearly not a typical Talisker, the light peat, pepper, and saline maritime elements were there. The rum certainly took it in a different direction however it wasn’t entirely harmonious. The nose was the most appealing part with the palate more curious than enjoyable and the finish almost forgettable.

I realized much later that I wasn’t in the least bit tempted to try with water – though this was at cask strength. Perhaps that would have brought out different elements and tempered the slightly strange palate.

So what more do we know? This is part of the Diageo Special Releases 2020 and was finished in pot-distilled Jamaican rum casks.

What else? There was also care taken with the packaging – certainly upping their ‘game’… Not just with this special edition – they have also refreshed their standard range too.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

This whisky joined an evening devoted to a curious trio of Rum, Tequila and Mezcal finishes… followed by:

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Arran Cask Finishes – Arran Port Cask Finish 50%

Last in our evening of Arran “finishes” was the Port Cask Finish, which followed the Arran Sauternes, Amarone and Sherry.

Years ago this Port finish was my first introduction to Arran, courtesy of purchase by an actuarial friend (on condition I could reimburse!) who was in Edinburgh. I recently came across the faded receipt for £45 from Stirling Whisky Shop, near Stirling Castle… It meant so much more given I’ve now both been to that very shop and the distillery!

Today in 2022, it no longer is part of their core range… Which is a pity. While it may not be for everyone, I remembered the Port Cask Finish as a rich intense whisky that stands proud at 50% yet also works with a dash of water.

So what did we think?

Arran Port Cask Finish 50%  

  • Nose – Heavy and intense – prunes, dark rich wood, then shifted to be intensely floral, rose, vanilla, then deep forest, even some slightly sour black cherries
  • Palate – Full-bodied, tobacco, a nice spice – think more of garam masala than sweet spices alone
  • Finish – Dry, very long, with more of that light spice
  • Water –  Just a dash opens it up nicely – after the extra kick of spice subsides, it makes this more approachable, dry to ripe fruits, yet still nicely robust

This whisky was full of dark heavy elements – from the dark fruit aromas to the tobacco… there is something that makes you ‘picker up’ with this one. It also paired rather well with a Cigar,

I’ve revisited this one a couple times – it’s more intense and flavourful than I prefer for a “daily dram”.

What do the folks at Arran have to say?

A fantastic choice at any time, particularly as an after dinner dram, especially with a delicious cheese selection.

After initially maturing in traditional oak casks for approximately 8 years, The Arran Single Malt in this bottling was finished in a selection of Port casks sourced from an artisan producer of this iconic Portuguese fortified wine.

The maturation process was monitored under the watchful eye of our Master Distiller, to ensure that the Port casks and the intrinsic character of The Arran Single Malt partnered with each other perfectly. The end result is a combination that’s full of charm and rich flavour, and a wonderful way to discover more about the Arran range of Single Malts.

Official distillery tasting notes:

  • Nose – Cinnamon, baked apples
  • Palate – Vanilla spice, ripe citrus & dried fruits and nuttiness. With a splash of water more depth of mandarin citrus with fudge and honeyed notes.
  • Finish – Spice, Bitter orange, Chocolate, Cherries.

We chose to try this Port together with three other Arran whiskies:

Whilst all from this finishes series are no age statements, there was no doubt that they are well-thought-out expressions that are worthy of attention.

So far, we’ve already tried the Arran Port Cask Finish 50% together with:

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Arran Cask Finishes – The Sherry Cask 55.8%

There are times when only a sherry bomb will satisfy. After progressing from the Arran Sauternes to Amarone, we shifted gears to the cask strength “The Bodega” Sherry finish. Just looking at the colour, there was every indication this would be one serious dram!

So what did we think?

Arran “The Bodega” Sherry Cask 55.8%

  • Colour – Deep burnt orange, almost a red copper
  • Nose – Oh my! Sherry meets banoffee pie! Rich, dry fruits, drunken raisins, intense, salted caramel, roasted almonds, dark berries, dates, a hint of leather, fruity sweet and sour cherries with a pinch of salt
  • Palate – Smooth! No burn even at 55.8% Proud and full-bodied, a complete sherry bomb, bursting with dark fruits and berries, a spark of spice, a swirl of dark chocolate and marmalade
  • Finish – Long finish with a dash of salt joining the dark dry fruits, chased by sweet dry spices
  • Water – Necessary? No. But a generous dollop opens up tames the aromas and transforms the palate into juicy ripe fruits – more plums than figs – delicious!

Well, well, well… There was absolutely no doubt this was matured in a Sherry cask. Too rich and robust for an ‘everyday’ dram, it had balance and charm. Fabulous!

What do the folks over at Lochranza have to say about The Bodega?

Sherry Cask ‘The Bodega’ is a stunning new addition to our core range of whiskies and is the perfect choice for someone who enjoys their Single Malt with plenty of body and complexity.

Matured in some of the finest casks available to the whisky industry, this cask strength Sherry matured Single Malt is both luxurious and elegant with layers of rich sweet spice and oak. Our Master Distiller has worked with producers in some of the most prestigious Sherry Bodegas in Jerez, Spain to select only the best quality casks to be filled with our precious spirit.

This bottling is a return to the style of some of the earliest Arran Single Malt, which was mostly matured in Sherry Casks.

And the official tasting notes?

  • Nose – Toffee, sweet spice and fruit
  • Taste – Ripe fig and cherries
  • Finish – Dark chocolate, Mandarins, Ripe figs.

And with that, we continued our evening exploring Arran Cask Finishes:

Currently, The Arran Sherry Cask remains available for approx GBP 46 / EUR 48.

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Arran Cask Finishes – Amarone 50%

Oh the beautiful Arran Amarone Cask Finish… we fell in love with you back in September 2017 during a delightful Sunday sundowner… I had such fond memories I feared trying again and being disappointed.

Back in 2017, there was an announcement that the Amarone would be back soon…. it was… but then next it wasn’t, and currently, there is no update on if and when it will return… much like some of the other cask finishes like Sauternes.

However for that fine evening in early January 2022, here is what we thought of the Amarone…

Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

  • Colour – A lovely bright pink rose blush
  • Nose – Fresh and fruity! Raisins then red fruits… ripe raspberries and cream, sour plum and cherries… then shifted back to raspberries but this time Rogers raspberry cream soda! Then back to cherries again… and then the slightly tart cranberry…. back to raspberries… simply yum!
  • Palate – Silky smooth… tempting and teasing like Turkish delight, fruit and berry sweet, slightly gingery with a touch of pink peppercorns
  • Finish – Slightly spicy, rich, and satisfying
  • Water – Does it need it? Nope! But if you feel like adding a wee splash… it greedily marries it with the whisky to become even fruitier

Did it stand up to my romanticized notion of this whisky? It did indeed… It is like a decadent dessert, yet not cloyingly sweet. A perfect balance of its different elements, harmonious from its intoxicating aromas to captivating taste which carries through in a lingering finish.

What do the folks at Lochranza distillery have to say about their “Out of Stock” Amarone finish?

Our Arran Amarone Cask Finish is the perfect partnership of rich, red wine and our iconic Arran Single Malt taste.

After initially maturing in traditional oak casks over a number of years, The Arran Single Malt in this bottling was ‘finished’ in a selection of Amarone wine casks. The wine casks used in this bottling were sourced from an artisan producer of Amarone wine in the Veneto region of Italy.

A luxurious Italian wine meets a complex and vibrant Scottish character – there is a lot to love and appreciate about this Single Malt and you will enjoy every dram.

And the official tasting notes?

  • Nose – Cherry, turkish delight, chocolate
  • Taste – Poached pears, touch of cranberry and honey
  • Finish – Sweetness, Pears, Turkish Delight, Cherries, Dark chocolate

Would we agree? Yes indeed!

We explored this together with:

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Arran Cask Finishes – Sauternes 50%

Our host confessed this Sauternes finish Arran has become his everyday drinking dram… until he discovered that this affordable, fun and easy whisky was out of stock – eek! At the time, he lamented the scarcity of this expression…. However, recently I’ve discovered it can still be tracked down in Europe. Who knows? Perhaps it will also come back as a regular cask finish expression too!

So…. what did we think?

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish 50%

  • Nose – Lemony sweets, bananas, juicy fruit, green apple, grapes, honeysuckle, a hint of spice, soooo sweet… shifts into vanilla creme and slightly salty biscuits
  • Palate – What a surprise! Incredibly smooth yet much more substance than anticipated… this isn’t pure sweetness and light, there’s a bit of ginger and spice, a woody warmth… yet also doesn’t lose its fruity elements either
  • Finish – Subtle at first the carries on and on…. really rather nice
  • Water – To add or not to add? In the end, we did and it was also lovely… amped up the spice in the most delightful way

When I think of Sauternes, the assumption is it would add a subtle sweetness to a whisky. Is that what we found here? The sweetness – yes. However, on the palate, there was an unexpected “Oomph!” of character. Which frankly made me enjoy this whisky even more! Yum!

What do the folks at Lochranza distillery have to say about their Arran Sauternes?

This sweeter side of Arran Single Malt makes an ideal dessert dram with complementary notes of apricots, melon and honeysuckle.

To achieve this rich partnership, our traditional Arran Single Malt is matured in oak casks for eight years and is then ‘finished’ in a selection of Sauternes wine casks.

These Bordeaux sweet white wine casks are specifically selected by our Master Distiller from a talented small producer to ensure the notes from both wine and whisky make the perfect marriage. If you’re looking for something that shows off the sweeter side of Arran Single Malt, this is perfect choice for you. It pairs beautifully with a creamy toffee or fudge based pudding.

And the official tasting notes?

  • Nose – Honey sweetness and citrus
  • Palate – Richly honeyed and backed with a lifting zestiness that slides into spice and zingy salt. Once the dram opens out, vanilla and sultana stand out followed by notes of toasted oak.
  • Finish – Sweetness, Honey, Apricots, Melon, Honeysuckle.

Would we agree? Absolutely!

Here is what else we explored in our Arran quartet of:

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Arran Cask Finishes – Sauternes, Amarone, Sherry, Port

A year ago we came together to enjoy an Arran Vertical – 14 year 46%18 year 46%23 year (1996/2020) Sherry Hogshead Cask No 436, 52.6%.

It was so enjoyable that our London-based whisky explorer went on a bit of an Arran purchasing spree – delighting in their cask finishes series. Confidently we thought we could easily acquire another bottle or two… until we realized our favorites from the Cask Finish series disappeared from Arran’s online shop! And then also from most UK distributors! Thankfully they are still available in Germany… but likely not for much longer.

For now, we can still enjoy this quartet of:

Currently, only The Bodega remains readily available. However hopefully it is simply a matter of time for the Amarone and Sauternes Casks to return to production.

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Seasonal Treat – Arran Gold Cream Liqueur 17%

Tis the season and all that! If I had been back in Canada this time of year, rich, spiced, liberally spiked egg nog would very likely be encountered at some point.

Thinking of this tempted me to try out the Arran Gold Liqueuer… and I’m so happy I did! This is no Bailey’s Irish cream… it is less cloyingly sweet (a good thing in my books!), full flavoured with a delightful whisky kick. It was just the right indulgence to get into the seasonal mood in Nurnberg

What do the folks at Arran have to say?

Since its launch in 2004, it has become incredibly popular and everyone who has tasted Arran Gold agrees that they would happily ditch their usual bland cream liqueur in favour of this deeply delicious treat. Made with a healthy dose of Arran, this is a cream liqueur where you can really taste the quality. Try it on its own chilled, with ice, in coffee or even as part of a pudding.

Here are the official tasting notes:

  • Nose – Toffee, creamy fudge
  • Palate – Chocolate, cassis, a wee touch of fresh mint
  • Finish – Sweetness, Honey.

I would tend to agree! Nothing to argue or add, just sip and enjoy it for what it is.

I picked up the Arran Gold from Dein Whisky for EUR 17 late 2021.

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Mini Malts – The Arran 14 year 46%

Once upon a time there were apparently several distilleries (or only three?) on the Isle of Arran, naturally these were unofficial away from the taxman’s eagle eyes… fast forward to 2016 when I picked up this mini and The Lochranza distillery was the only one found on the island and one of Scotland’s few independent distilleries. Or so the story goes

Opened in 1995, there is a growing interest in what Arran is producing. Much of what you may find plays around with different finishes… I spotted a ruby red Amarone wine finish at a Manitoba Liquor Mart and have coveted it ever since! A Port cask finish bottle sat in my whisky cabinet for over a year waiting patiently for an appropriate evening to sample.

In one of those twists, I actually sampled the cask finishes – Port and Amarone – before finally getting around to trying its traditional age statement avatars. Even more amusing is after acquiring this mini, I picked up a full bottle and used it to launch a special vertical tasting after an amazing trip to Lochranza distillery on Isle of Arran! Which has now also been joined by its “cousin” – Lagg distillery – both of which I had the pleasure of visiting late 2020.

So what happened to this mini? Well…. I brought it to our wee country home, together with the last drops of the full bottle and shared with a neighbour one fine evening. It was fascinating to contrast and compare the same vintage…

Here’s what we found…

The Arran 14 year 46%Arran 14 year

  • Colour – Rich amber gold, a shade darker than the later edition
  • Nose – Fruity like the full bottle but a deeper sherry influence, richer darker fruits, nutty, also shifted into sweet cinnamon apple pie, chased by caramel toffee
  • Palate – Delicious! Just like its later edition, it was smooth, full and most enjoyable with more of that sherry influence, orange with sweet spices of cinnamon and cloves joined by plump dates and hazelnuts
  • Finish – More sweet spices, satisfying

Overall it was simply enjoyable… a perfect sipping dram to sit back and relax, savouring. An absolute treat and cemented yet again how much I enjoy what the Lochranza distillery produces!

Here’s what the Arran folks had to say:

The Arran 14 year-old is an immensely popular part of our core range of Single Malt. It is a perfectly balanced marriage of both first fill Sherry and Bourbon casks and is a righly rewarding Single Malt with depth of character and zest. It captures perfectly all the fresh character of the Arran 10 year-old with an added layer of intensity and fruitiness.

  • Nose: Dried fruits, vanilla and toffee up front. With a little water a salty tang appears, with caramelised fruits indicating a depth of flavour to come.
  • Palate: An initial burst of brine leads onto warming toffee apples and hazelnuts. This is followed by dates, chocolate orange and spiced tea cake. The mouthfeel is overwhelmingly rich and weighty.
  • Finish: A trademark Arran finish with cinnamon spices leading back to where the experience began, with a classic island-style salty wave balancing the sweet fruit of the palate.

This sample was purchased in 2016 from London’s Whisky Exchange together with:

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