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…

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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Lagg Distillery – new kid on Isle of Arran

We didn’t actually plan to go to Lagg Distillery… our primary intent for a day in Isle of Arran was to spend time at the Lochranza Distillery and then explore a castle or two, maybe do some hiking.  However as we drove around the Island… we found ourselves passing Machir Moor, lunch at the golf club just up from Blackwaterfoot…. and there we were in Lagg… how could we simply drive past?

And yet in these strange COVID times, a visit to a distillery is a cautious and limited activity. Care is taken to reduce entry and minimize contact. Yet even with these restrictions, it was clear it would be worth stopping and spending a few moments getting a glimpse of might be possible when fully open.

What about a distillery tour? Alas not possible. A tasting? Not a proper sit down affair. However you can go to the rather lovely visitor centre’s shop. Here you can peruse books and art celebrating whisky and the island. Meander through a lovely assortment of whiskies and related paraphernalia.

And around the corner from this section was a generous range of Arran whiskies… including an opportunity to purchase some of the new Lagg distillery’s new make spirit, miniatures….

Alternatively… there is a whole wall of full bottles… just waiting to be taken home… with friendly staff happy to help share insights into the different expressions.

Or, best of all, a chance to pour your own 200ml bottle from a cask. I couldn’t resist… just haven’t decided if it will go home to hubby to Mumbai or join me back in Nurnberg.

It is a beautiful site and I can just picture enjoying a light bite in the bright central cafe area overlooking Alisa Craig, also known as Paddy’s milestone.

What about Arran samples? Though there were a few wee drops available at the shop to help decide what to buy, I skipped. However here are a  few notes from previous tasting experiences:

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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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Whisky Ladies TWE Cask Strength Night – Glen Moray, Arran, Ledaig

This was not our first evening devoted to high alcohol strength whiskies… Last time, our Diwali celebration featured Glenfarclas 105 60%, Chichibu 2009 63.1%, A’bunadh 35 (2011) 60.3% and we’ve certainly sampled other Cask Strength drams including our Bruichladdich peat progression session.

So what made this session distinctive? This time our selection had a decidedly independent bent, all purchased through The Whisky Exchange in June 2017, personally recommended by Sukhinder Singh as affordable quality drams:

What did the ladies think? We had a range of reactions. Curious to know more? Click on the links above and read on!

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Douglas Laing’s Island Blend Rock Oyster Cask Strength 57.4%

Our Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts explorations continued with the Island blend… this time from the Cask Strength edition.

Rock Oyster Cask Strength 57.4%

  • Nose – Had a similar yoghurt quality, yet with more character and oomph! than the Timorous Beastie, zest of lemon rind, barley, young, mild yet fruity – particularly melon, some smoked sweet bacon or other sweet meats, agave then quite a bit of brine
  • Palate – Nice spice, sweet, skirting on the surface, amazingly balanced, nothing harsh, a hint of pipe tobacco, honey, cherry bokum pickle, ginger, briney
  • Finish – Nice long finish, salted caramel, cinnamon, sawdust, for some too salty on the finish for many
  • Water – Opens up more, removes the edge, salty, adds a dash of cayenne, paprika, makes it smoother

There was a sense that this is from a similar ‘family’ as the Timorous Beastie however also had its unique variation, like siblings.

Many found Rock Oyster just like one would expect from the name, salty raw oysters, the feel of being on a boat, the distinctive pervasive smell of barnacles, a tidal pool of salty whisky.

At cask strength, it is also very deceptive, giving no hint of the power behind its smooth briney swish.

There was a clear divide between those who enjoy salty whiskies and those who do not care for this maritime style.

Here’s what they have to say:

Introducing Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster Cask Strength; the super-charged partner to the original Rock Oyster bottled at 57.4% ABV. Containing the finest Malt Whiskies from Scotland’s Whisky Islands, including those distilled on Islay, Arran, Orkney and Jura, this Limited Edition delivers a massive amplification of all those coastal qualities from the original Rock Oyster.

Tasting notes:

Anticipate a blast of sea air on the nose and a tempestuously oceanic storm on the palate. Rock Oyster Cask Strength delivers a big peat hit full of Islay phenols, iodine and coal dust, with a shake of pepper softening to a distinct honey sweetness from the Arran casks. The Isle of Jura brings waves of citrus and barley to the mix, and Orkney fetches up some salt from the deep.

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

What were the whisky blends explored?

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Worthy Whiskies – Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

As Whisky Ladies, we have started to explore cask finishes beyond the standard with a cognac cask Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 8 years and Brenne Estate Cask 40%, pinot noire with AWA Pinot Noire 42%, rum with Mackmyra, port with Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask.

This was our first foray with an Amarone cask finish. Amarone is rich Italian dry red wine made from partially dried grapes of the Corvina (45–95%), Rondinella (5–30%) and other red grape varieties (up to 25%). In Italian, the name Amarone literally means “the Great Bitter” as this helped distinguish it from the Recioto produced in the same region, which is sweeter in taste.

And what does finishing Arran whisky in ex Amarone casks do? Some pretty marvellous things…

Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

  • Nose – Light sweet cherry, a lovely sweet not candy sweet, restrained and nuanced, nothing dominant yet overall delicious
  • Palate – Yum! Starts with an interesting fresh layer, almost like sweet paan, or a Turkish Delight, some mint, a spice tingle here too yet with a light touch, super smooth and very easy to simply keep sipping
  • Finish – Subdued, cilantro, a light sweet finish

Normally we don’t remark much on colour however in this case we couldn’t help but observe how attractive this whisky is with its pink rose hue.

It was also absolutely perfect for a Sunday Sundowner – refreshing and delightful, sophisticated and utterly enjoyable. In short – it was dangerously drinkable. For many, this was the by far the preferred whisky of the evening… as it was just a perfect pick for the setting watching the sunset dip beyond the horizon of the Arabian sea.

It also very much falls into the category of whiskies that are not impossible to track down and reasonably affordable. While I’m not sure where our Whisky Lady picked it up in the UK, it is available from both Master of Malt & The Whisky Exchange for approximately $60. Believe it or not, I first spotted and coveted it in Winnipeg, Canada at the local liquor store!

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach, Arran Amarone, Lochside, Aultmore

We’ve had several attempts to hold a Whisky Ladies evening in Versova so when I suddenly found out I would be traveling to North America and it happened to be the same night, I simply had to ensure it was a flight after our session rather than reschedule yet again!

And it was completely worth it. Having a chance to overlook the Arabian sea as the sun set is indeed a lovely backdrop to sampling whiskies in wonderful company.

Particularly when this was a “Worthy Whiskies” session which brought together:

Tasting this time had a bit of a twist – the Lochside and Aultmore were previously sampled with another set of fellow whisky aficionados. The Whisky Ladies reaction to the Lochside was very much in synch, so I combined the tasting notes. Whereas the response to the Aultmore was curiously divided… prompting a completely different post

Just click on the links and read on… reactions and opinions welcome!

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