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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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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TWE Cask Strength – Arran 14 year 55.5%

Next in our The Whisky Exchange Single Cask Strength evening was another Island whisky – this time from Arran distillery on the isle of Arran. This isn’t my 1st Arran sample and I’ve quite enjoyed what I’ve tried so far…. particularly both cask finishes – AmaronePort.

This particular bottle was personally recommended by TWE’s owner Sukhinder Singh for the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai as an affordable whisky that is an excellent example of Arran’s style.

Arran 14 year (16 Dec 2000/7 Aug 2015) Barrel 2000/1106 Bottle 185 of 197 55.5% (TWE)

What did the ladies think?

  • Nose – We immediately noticed it has more “oomph!” than the Glen Moray, toasty, almost musty initially, then warm maple syrup, rum raisins, shifting into something pungent, an earthy yeasty quality, like wet fall leaves, some cinnamon and cloves, resin…
  • Palate – Wow! Cinnamon spice – both paprika and black pepper. There was no doubt this was a full on cask strength whisky.
  • Finish – Honey sweet, bourbon, spice, a bit unbalanced initially

There was initially a mixed reaction. Many of have had quite positive experiences with Arran so had high expectations which were not initially met.

But then as we discussed and debated, a funny thing happened. That whisky sitting in our glasses with a little patience began to open up. Making the doubters into converts who warmed up to the whisky as it warmed up to us, revealing apricots, chocolate, apple sauce, and an almost minty freshness.

Some added water whereas some did not. Which was a better option came down to personal preference with more leaning to without.

Bottom line is give this one time and it will reward you with a beautiful, fruity, balanced dram that is both rich, robust and complex. Well worth being just a bit patient.

The bottle provides succinct tasting notes of:

This single-bourbon-cask Arran whisky selected by The Whisky Exchange is loaded with aromas of pear drops, apple crumble and ripe peaches. The mouthfeel is full and rich, with brioche buns, a touch of lemon zest and manuka honey.

Rocky from the Whisky Exchange has this to say:

  • Nose: Complex nose with notes of spicy vanilla and cinnamon, coconut, honey and tropical mango and guava.
  • Palate: Warming and spicy at first with clove and black pepper prominent. Then the sweetness and the fruit start to come to the fore: honey, mango, pineapple and apricot.
  • Finish: Lightly sweet with honey and tropical fruit overtaken again by the spice.
  • Comment: Arran’s history began by bottling lots of single casks, and this is another example of a great one from the distillery. Classic Arran fruitiness, but with lots of spice – a complex and rewarding whisky.

This whisky was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in June 2017, under the owner Sukhinder Singh’s guidance for GBP 65. It was opened from a fresh bottle in July 2018.

What else did we sample in our Sukhinder Singh’s cask strength evening?

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