Whisky News

Arran Distillery: The Past, The Present and the Future

Arran is the first (legal) distillery on the Isle of Arran since Lagg distillery closed in 1837 which was highly revered back then. Arran distillery marks the revival of whisky-making on the Isle of Arran, so let’s dive into how Arran distillery all started!

Photo of Lochranza distillery in the morning. Taken in 2018.

How did it start?

The late Harold Currie who left us in 2016 held many titles, and amongst those titles, he was the Managing Director of Chivas Bros and saw the merger of Pernod-Ricard. After his retirement, he was approached by David Hutchison, who is one of Glasgow’s best-known architect. Moreover, he has ancestors from the Whiting Bay village of Arran and owns property on Arran. With the connections and experience Currie possesses, along with the technical ability for David to help design the distillery, they decided to start a distillery on Arran! In 1991, Harold Currie and David Hutchison set up the company called the “Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd” with a head office in Pathhead, Edinburgh.

Location Location Location

One of the first things to decide is the location. The location determines the cost and water supply, and therefore, the maximum capacity of the distillery. In addition, certain locations might pose limitations on the area of the distillery takes up.

The Isle of Arran has been described as ‘Scotland in miniature’ due to its geology and topography. The island has beautiful granite peaks and gorgeous glens around the north that is reminiscent of the Highlands and juxtaposes with the green arable lands in the south that resembles the Lowlands. Therefore, on the Isle of Arran, one location might differ significantly from another.

A distillery requires a good water source of a certain quality for its operations. The pH, mineral content, supply and general cleanliness are some of the essential factors. On that basis, Blackwaterfoot, Whiting Bay, Corrie and Sannox were struck off leaving Lochranza that can provide good quality water.

Planning and Finance

In November of 1991, the team approached the local Town Council for approval. However, this proposal incurred some harsh resistance from the residents of Lochranza. Residents voiced concerns over potential pollution and the over-industrialisation of their town. But after a bit of compromise and a pinch of humour, the majority of residents had their worries eased. The residents also recognised the benefits the distillery will bring to the island as a whole.

Earlier, the company came up with an estimated cost of the distillery to be around 1.5 million pounds. However, the costs quickly escalated to 2.5 million pounds, and the company needed more capital. In 1993, the company offered a £450 Bondholder Scheme to the public, offering 6 bottles of blended Arran Whisky after 5 years and 6 bottles of Arran Single Malt after 8 years. There was even a 10% discount for anyone who purchased before 6th December 1993! The company launched another offer of single malt ‘units’ which was defined as a dozen bottles of 70cl bottles. By autumn of 1994, the sale of bonds accounted for 60% of start-up capital. Fortunately, Currie managed to gain more investors and shareholders through his connections. This allowed the construction to begin in 1994.

The Early Years

The construction to be temporarily halted due to some golden eagles which were spotted nesting near the site. However, they finished their construction in June of 1995. During the official opening in August, Harold Currie addressed the crowd, amongst it was a much younger Jim Murray. Surprisingly, the eagles flew past the distillery on that day. Maybe, it was a good omen!

Gordon Mitchell was Arran’s first master distiller! He started his whisky career at Lochside distillery and later joined Cooley distillery in 1989 up till December 1994. As the distiller of a completely brand new distillery, he designed Arran’s new make spirit during the pre-production testing before the official first still runs on 29th June 1995. The quality of the spirit character astounded John Lamond, Master of Malt and Keeper of the Quaich. Gordon continued for over a decade, making Arran whisky and fulfilling the Bondholder schemes. Gordon also had a hand in distilling experimental Arran whiskies, like peated Arran and bere barley, both in 2004.

In August 1997, the Visitors Centre of the distillery was opened and graced by Queen Elizabeth. The distillery gave two casks to the Queen for Prince Harry and Prince William. The opening of the visitor centre was also greeted by big names actor Ewan McGregor, Whisky writer Michael Jackson, and Takeshi Taketsuru, nephew and adoptive son of Japanese Whisky Legend Masataka Taketsuru.

In 2001, Isle of Arran Distillers became a patron of the World Burns Federation. This later saw the launch of the Robert Burns blend and single malt! Around this time, Arran also did many cask finishes using casks that once contained Calvados, Cognac Marsala and port. Later, a Champagne Grand Cru cask finish was also introduced!

Master Distiller James MacTaggart

Wefie with Mr James MacTaggart in 2018!

James MacTaggart took over Gordon Mitchell as Distillery Manager of Arran in 2007. James had worked at Bowmore distillery for 31 years and played a part in some of the best Bowmores revered by Bowmore fanatics. At Lochranza distillery, he handles the quality control, buys quality casks for whisky maturation and chooses select casks for bottling.

A piano belonging to James MacTaggart, in the warehouse. Photo taken in 2018.

In addition, he determined the malting specifications at Glen Esk maltings so that the barley Arran distillery used could be up to his standards and expectations. He started requesting for peated barley as well, at 20ppm and 50ppm. That effort would bear fruits 3 years later when Arran distillery launched the first release of Machrie Moor, a peated Arran!

In 2019 James moved on from the position of Lochranza Distillery’s Master Distiller to the Director of Production and Operations which oversees both distilleries. In his place, David Livingston took over the role of Distillery Manager. James was also responsible for mentoring and getting Graham Omand to take up the role of Lagg Distillery Manager.

Arran in 2020

Photo of Arran Whisky Core Range from 2019. Photo Credits: Arran Whisky News

Arran distillery has come far from doing just cask finishes in the early 2000s. There is a core range featuring a 10, 18 and 21 age statements, a revamped cask finishes range, various limited editions, a lovely cream liqueur and single casks bottlings. The core range bottles were also rebranded in 2019, with the cask finishes range expected to follow suit!

Lagg Distillery and what lies ahead!

Lagg distillery under construction back in 2018.

In 2019, Arran Distillers revived Lagg distillery, and it would serve to produce peated whiskies for the company and allows Lochranza distillery to focus on unpeated whiskies. Due to Lagg distillery being on the south end of the island, it is below the highland boundary fault line, and it is technically considered a lowland whisky. That leaves the Isle of Arran with both a highland and lowland distillery. Perhaps Arran should become its own whisky region!

During the construction of Lagg distillery, the team also started planting apple trees in the field near the distillery. To the date of this article, close to 3000 apple trees have already been planted. It is likely that whisky might not be the only thing that will be made at Lagg distillery!

New wee apple trees growing near Lagg distillery. Taken in 2018

To continue the culture of experimentation, Isle of Arran Distillers has announced plans for a blended malt by putting new make spirit of both distilleries into various casks. This “Project North & South” will be maturing until it is deemed ready! According to Global Brand Ambassador, Mariella Romano, in 2020, Arran also has some local barley casks ageing in the warehouse. In another Facebook live video, the comments indicate that there is Champagne cask in the works!

 

 

This article contains a lot of recorded history from the book “The Arran Malt: An Island Renaissance” by Neil Wilson. If you wish to know more about the history of Arran, you can get the book at the distillery website or from amazon. Special thanks again to Euan Mitchell, James Mactaggart and the wonderful people at Arran for that unforgettable time in I spent on Arran in 2018.

Paul John – 6-row barley Whisky

Whiskygeeks sat down for an extraordinary tasting with Yash, the brand ambassador for Paul John whisky! He’s a geek himself, graduating from the Harriet Watts brewing and distilling masters course, and I have learnt a lot!

The Barley

One of the unique things about Paul John is their use of 6-row barley for their core range whisky production. However, this is not bere barley from Orkney; this 6-row barley originated from the Himalayas and grows in India today. In contrast, most whisky producers use 2-row barley like Concerto or Optic strains. In Scotch, the most common 6-row barley used is Bere Barley that originates from Orkney. 

While the 2-row barley has more sugar but fewer proteins and fats, it is the reverse for 6-row barley. As we would need sugar to ferment to alcohol, this means that the alcohol yield for 6-row barley is lower than 2-row barley. However, for 6-row barley, the higher content of barley fats and protein results in more flavour and complexity in its spirit character. 

The Peat

Paul John produces peated and unpeated whisky and brings in 2 kinds of Scottish peat. The barley is peated using Islay peat and Mainland peat to approximately 20-25ppm and 30-35ppm respectively. The Paul John Bold uses Islay peat while the Paul John Edited uses mainland peat. These two bottles make an interesting comparison between peat from 2 different regions as the whisky comes from the same pot stills.

The Fermentation

The fermentation process is approximately 70 hours in total, using a unique strain of yeast that performs well in Goa’s hot climate. The wash undergoes a 60-hour primary fermentation and sits in the washback for an additional 10 hours to develop flavour. During the warmer seasons, the fermentation is slightly faster, and during the colder seasons, more time is given for fermentation.

Distillation

The copper pot stills in Paul John distillery is not from Forsyths, but they were made locally in India! The still features an ascending lyne arm, which causes more reflux, allowing for a sweeter lightly distillate. 

The Maturation

The angel’s share in Goa is 8% per annum, which means that whisky ageing in Goa will lose 22% of its original volume in 3 years. However, as whisky matures faster in a warm climate, a 3-year-old whisky in India would taste like a 12 to 15-year-old Scotch! 

For the past few years, Paul John has released mostly American white oak matured whisky primarily due to the law in India with importing casks. There is a new upcoming bottle that I cannot talk about at the time of writing this article, but let me say this – Christmas is coming early for sherried whisky drinkers! 😛

Paul John’s main ageing facility is on the ground level with ventilation from the wind. The distillery also has an underground cellar with a slightly lower angel’s share. Yash told us that it’s a challenge to stay in the underground cellar as the alcohol vapours are thick and intoxicating!

Challenge accepted!

Singapore’s first Single Malt!

Singapore’s first Single Malt distillate was filled into a Four Roses ex-bourbon barrel! In a collaboration between Brass Lion Distillery and The General Brewing Co., the wash was carefully formulated and distilled.

The Process

The team used a barley strain called Maris Otter for the mash. This malted barley used for the mash was especially unique, as it is a pale malt that Scottish distillers do not use. The mash then underwent fermentation, utilising a blend of 80% high gravity yeast and 20% ale yeast. Brewer Daryl Yeap noted that the high gravity yeast could survive a higher alcohol content and produce a high alcohol yield. He went to explain that the ale yeast contributed fruity flavours to the new-make. In crafting a truly Singaporean whisky, the fermentation was at a very local temperature of 30 degrees Celcius, which possible due to the thermotolerant yeast used. After 36 hours of primary fermentation, the wash sat for another 36 hours to allow unique and funky flavours to emerge.

This 2000L wash at 9.5% reached Brass Lion distillery for a double pot still distillation. Although Brass Lion’s hybrid consists of a pot still and a modern column still, the low wines did not get distilled in the column still. Instead, the low wines underwent distillation a second time through the same pot still. A strict numerical point did not determine the cut of the heart. Instead, Javin Chia analysed the new-make distillate in most of all the distillations and took the cut of the heart. This process bears a striking similarity to Chichibu’s method of nosing to determine the cut of the heart rather than a fixed numerical figure.

Challenges

As this is Singapore’s first legally distilled Single Malt New-Make Spirit, the team faced many challenges. One challenge was getting Singapore customs to understand how whisky duties would work, taking into account the angel’s share. Executing a brew without hops presented the brewery with new challenges. The wee pot still had a volume of 150L, and approximately 130L can be distilled each time.  After a gruelling 22 distillations done, Brass Lion obtained 180L of new-make spirit, which would go into a bourbon barrel.

The New-Make Spirit

Nose: The nose was generally malty, with notes of cereal biscuit aromas, butter, and peanut nuttiness.

Palate: The arrival gave notes of unripe green apples and cereal. The texture was buttery, and after a bit, lemon rind notes start to appear.

Finish: A lovely malty, and buttery finish

Unlike most new-make spirits that I have tried, this did not have strong notes of sour mash. Furthermore, the malty notes of the Maris Otter shone through. This very drinkable new-make is likely due to the commitment of Javin and the Brass Lion team to smell and analyse the distillate.

 

Whiskygeeks is very honoured to be invited to the barrel-filling and showcase of Singapore’s first legal Single Malt New-Make! I am confident that the spirit will evolve into something spectacular.  Special thanks to Javin Chia and Brass Lion!

Doing your part for the ocean with a Whisky Auction

I think it was a good cause when the Whisky Auction approached me to write an article about an upcoming charity auction that they are hosting on their esteemed auction site. It is a sister company of The Whisky Exchange, and the bottles that are going on auction will make you sit just a little taller in your chair.

Judging by what the line-up looks like at the moment, whisky lovers and collectors alike will go crazy at an auction like this. Dangerous I know, but with a good cause.

The Brief about the Charity Auction

The special auction that Whisky Auction is hosting will give all the proceeds to their chosen charities to actively combat the damage done to the oceans. One of the prominent charities that the auction is supporting is US-based NGO, Plastic Oceans. The money donated will be used to expand global awareness, with a plan to reach another billion people by 2020. The project includes developing films and contents to educate, inspire and foster change.

What kind of bottles can you expect?

An auction of this magnitude cannot showcase anything but what many perceived to be the best. There are many 1 out of 1 bottle that will be going on offer. Currently, some of these bottles include:

Port Ellen 38 Years Old
Dalmore 45 Year Old
Bowmore 43 Year Old
Ardbeg 37 Year Old
The Balvenie 1973 Vintage Cask
Glenfarclas 1967
Brora 35 Year Old
Macallan 50 Years Old Millennium Decanter

There is also a crown jewel in this auction – a Karuizawa 50 Years Old that was given 94 points by WhiskyFun. Legendary and beautiful to behold, such a bottle do not come by easily. I trust that the bid for this bottle will be more than just fierce, but hey, if you have the dough, why not? It is a 50 Years Old Karuizawa! The packaging is lovely too, just see below!

How not to love the Japanese when they can do such excellent packaging for an equally fantastic liquid?

You can check out the pictures of the other bottles below.

I remember seeing that bottle of Glenlivet in last year’s Whisky Live – it was a significant sum of money…one that I cannot afford at the moment. Hahaha…

As for this Nikka, it is a Yoichi single cask. From what I know, this is yummy stuff…

There are other spirits too

If you are not that into Scotch and Japanese whiskies, you will be pleased to know that there are also rare bourbons and rums in this auction. The OFC 1990 is something special and let’s not even talk about the rare Caroni Magnum that will be on offer!

How do you bid?

Like many other auction sites, you will need to register for an account before you can bid. There is a fee of 5 GBP during registration to make sure that you are sincerely interested in the auctions. It is a one-time fee, and once your account is set up, you are ready to go!

The special auction starts on 18 November and ends on 27 November 2018. However, if you are already a user of this auction site, I doubt you will need to register again. However, just try clicking the “register now” button on this site to make double sure that you can participate when the time comes around!

Good luck and happy bidding!

 

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!




 

Will you drink a Scottish Highland ‘Rye Whisky’?

Picture Credits: Arbikie Distillery

We hardly heard of Arbikie Distillery in this part of the world, but they are doing a lot of fantastic stuff over in Scotland. The Stirling brothers, John, Iain and David, are fourth-generation farmers on the Arbikie Farm. Their forefathers started farming at Arbikie since the 1920s, so their history is long indeed. In 2013, the brothers decided to build a small distillery on the farm after coming up with a farm to bottle process. They aimed to produce the finest malt whisky in Scotland using the barley they farm and the water on their estates. Scotland hails the distillery as one of the most experimental distilleries due to the various projects and experiments that the master distiller does.

What is Arbikie producing?

When Arbikie first ran its stills, they produced a potato vodka using Maris Pipers and King Edwards potatoes. They grew both species on their farm. After that, they created a gin in August 2015. Then the distillery began producing single malt spirits. They determined that these spirits will lay in barrels for a minimum of 14 years before getting bottled as single malt whisky.

Arbikie Scottish Rye Whisky

However, Arbikie released something interesting recently – Arbikie Scottish Rye Whisky. Distilled in December 2015, the Scottish Highland Rye Whisky is two years old when bottled. This is batch one of their experimental pot distilled Scottish Rye spirit. Arbikie Farm grew a variety of rye since 2014 and experimented with both the variations and production techniques. The first release consisted of two versions of Rye Whisky. There is a Scottish Rye, which is in line with the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 and an American version, in line with techniques used in North America.

Picture Credits: Arbikie Distillery

As you can see from the label of the bottle, all the essential information that a discerning drinker would like to know is there. It is exciting to know that more experiments are happening all over Scotland. While the younger distilleries such as Arbikie are leading the way, well-established distilleries like Bruichladdich are not far behind either. As to how these experiments will help the industry as a whole, we will have to wait and see.

 

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!




Is Jane Walker going to bring gender equality?

 

The whisky world is filled with amusement and criticism when news of Diageo submitted a trademark application for “Jane Walker” hit the Internet. The drinks giant applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month and stated that Jane Walker is for “alcoholic beverages except for beer”. There was also news that labels submitted to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) show a drawing of a woman similarly dressed as the famous striding man logo and a bottle label named “The Jane Walker Edition”.

The Internet has been blazing with both praise and criticism for the gender-specific trademark application. Some have come forward to applaud the move as a reminder for gender equality. Others have feedback that it is a backwards move to spread gender inequality and biases further.

Is Jane Walker going to bring about gender equality?

Gender equality is a long-suffering debate that gets nowhere, so far as we can see it. Men claim one side of the story while the women argue the other side. There is no end to this argument. We would rather see a general inclusion of human beings, accepting every one of us as an individual.

Jane Walker, if done right, can indeed bring about a general inclusion of human beings. It is, however, a very tricky move that needs extreme planning. Is Jane Walker going to be a different blend? Will it be weaker or stronger than Johnnie Walker? Is the liquid going to be the same? Will Jane Walker become a core range or a limited release? Is the expression planned for release globally or only in the United States of America? The questions are endless.

Nonetheless, the answer to each question will determine if Jane Walker will succeed. What if Jane Walker is a new blend that is more floral, fruitier or sweeter? How would the world respond to that? Or maybe Jane Walker could be a heavily peated whisky that is floral and sweet at the same time? What will the world think?

Countless combination for Jane Walker’s success

We believe that numerous combinations can build Jane Walker’s success on the world’s stage. The global community is waiting impatiently for Diageo to reveal their plans and share the new trademark with us. The revelation is likely to make or break the new Jane Walker Edition. Diageo is known for its work in promoting gender equality in the workplace, as well as running campaigns and projects to empower women around the world.

The news of Jane Walker comes in a period where sexual harassment is trending in the news, mainly founded in the allegations made against Hollywood movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. Will Jane Walker help women around the world, or will she be seen as another sexist plot against women? We hope for the former!

Reactions from around the world

While we wait for news from Diageo, here’s a top response from Jump Radio. Listen to Jesse and Jenna as they present to you: The New Jane Walker Whisky Ad.

 

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!




 

 

Douglas Laing to release 25-year-old Big Peat

Have you ever tried Big Peat? It is an extraordinarily peaty and smokey whisky released by the independent bottler, Douglas Laing. It has a massive number of releases, with some of them having only limited bottles.

Douglas Laing recently announced a new release of their iconic Big Peat whisky. What is exciting about this announcement is the age-statement attached to the latest Big Peat. Planned to be launched in December 2017, the 25-year-old Big Peat that is gracing the newest addition to the Big Peat family is causing quite a stir!

The 25-year-old Big Peat is the debut bottle of an “old and rare” limited edition trilogy collection of the Big Peat range. Given the name “The Gold Edition, this 25-year-old invites high expectations from whisky lovers. There are two more releases in this collection, with the later editions likely to go up in years. Douglas Laing bottled Big Peat 25-year-old at cask strength of 52.1% abv. With only 3000 bottles available globally, the bottle’s time on the shelf is likely to be very short. The price in the secondary market is going to be interesting too. Currently, we are not sure if this expression will be available in Singapore.

About Big Peat

Big Peat is essentially the representative of Islay in a bottle. It is a marriage of malt whiskies from the island of Islay. It is produced without colouring or chill-filtration and bottled at 46% abv to retain the aromas and flavours of the whisky. If you ask what is in Big Peat, we heard that it includes Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg and Port Ellen. Yes, the best of Islay are all in Big Peat, so perhaps it is time to try a Big Peat if you have yet to try it.

 

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!




Whisky News: New Speyside Distillery Slated to Open

Speyside, Scotland is about to get a new distillery. The Cabrach Trust has announced plans to build Cabrach Distillery in the Cabrach area on the southern edge of Moray, which is also the heart of Speyside. The Moray Council has given the approval for the Cabrach Trust to build the distillery recently.

The new £5.3M whisky distillery plans to employ traditional distilling and bottling methods passed down from years gone by. The aim of the Cabrach Trust is to put Cabrach back on the whisky map and recalling its long history of Scotch whisky production. Cabrach is said to be one of the earliest places where illicit stills and smuggling of whisky could be found in ancient times.

Construction plans are slated for June 2018 and production to start in 2019. The first bottling of matured whisky from Cabrach Distillery is planned for 2024, where 150,000 bottles are expected to be released each year thereafter. Cabrach Distillery is committed to source all ingredients locally and their water source is natural springs located on the land surrounding the distillery. The whisky will be matured in quarter casks (50 litres) and bottled directly on site. With such small casks, we can expect great whiskies from Cabrach Distillery!

In the meanwhile, Cabrach Trust is busy working out the final specification for the distillery. They are also conducting deeper research with the ICBD regarding the exact balance for process, ingredients and maturation to get the flavour right for their whisky.

A share offer will be announced early next year to give supporters a chance to be involved in the early stages of the distillery and own a small piece of whisky history.

Whisky News: Macallan launched Edition No. 3

Picture Credits: www.sg.themacallan.com

Macallan announced the launch of their Edition No. 3 last week. It is the latest release of their annual limited edition series. Similar to the previous editions, this expression continues to explore Macallan’s unique approach to whisky making by revealing intimate details of the creation.

In this new expression, Macallan’s Master Distiller, Bob Dalgarno, worked with Master Perfumer Roja Dove and his exceptional sensory insights in describing unique aromas in oak casks to create the complexities of single malt character. What they did was to get Dove to nose particular oak casks in their warehouse and described the distinctive aromas. Dalgarno then selected particular casks from those descriptions to create Edition No. 3.

The final selection was a combination of smaller European and Amercian oak casks. The smaller size of the casks meant a greater contact between the spirit and the wood, creating a final product that is “sweet and fruity with fresh oak”.

With a global release of 250,000 bottles, the Edition No. 3 is bottled at 48.3% abv, slightly higher than the normal Macallan bottles.

It is priced at US$95. We figure it will be made available in the Singapore market soon!

 

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!




Rare Macallan Surfaces at Hong Kong auction in August 2017

Picture Credits: www.whiskyintelligence.com

A set of rare Macallan surfaced in a Bonhams Whisky auction in Hong Kong last week, much to the delight of the participants. The complete set of The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection was actively bidded for and finally sold for HK$3,797,500. This is possibly one of the first set of rare Macallan sold at an auction after news that a Macallan vintage bottle located in St Moritz, Switzerland couuld be fake.

The six decanters made with Lalique crystal were produced between 2006 and 2016. Each of them are in limited quantity with age statements of 50, 55, 57, 60, 62, and 65, released in that order. All of the bottles are highly sought after individually, but to get all six in a complete set is pretty much an achievement. Congratulations to the winner of the bid!

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!