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Whisky Event: Isle of Arran Whisky Masterclass

Quaich Bar invited us to their cosy Waterfront Plaza flagship store for an Isle of Arran Distillers Whisky Masterclass last Thursday to meet managing director, Mr Euan Mitchell, of Arran distillery. A couple of other bar owners and whisky experts also attended the event.

The subject of the event is the range of exceptional Arran whiskies which Euan wanted to showcase, as well as for Euan to share more about the distillery with us. WhiskyGeeks is honoured to take the front seat this time, and we got the chance to get up close and personal with Euan.

An Interesting Event Kick-Off

Quaich bar’s owners, Khoon Hui and Joyce, kicked off the event with some tasty chocolate milk. Oh, wait, milk? Well, it wasn’t technically chocolate milk, but it was cream liqueur mixed with Arran Malt. If you guess that it was the Arran Gold, you got it! Here’s a little picture of this beautiful baby.

When Euan arrived on the scene, all of us were ready to take on more yummy stuff that he wanted to introduce.

The event started officially with an introduction to the distillery, the production process and of course, a little history about them. As the only distillery on the Isle of Arran, the privately-owned distillery has a lot of room to grow.

Euan Mitchell is the managing director of Isle of Arran Distillers. Their Master Distiller, James MacTaggart, recently celebrated his ten anniversary with the company. As an independent company, there are no red tapes around any decisions made, and things typically progress pretty quickly around the distillery.

The Liquid Gold from the Isle of Arran Distillery

After the short introduction, Euan and Khoon Hui produced the liquid that we were all eagerly waiting for.

We tasted six different whiskies that afternoon beside the Arran Gold cream liqueur. The whiskies were the 10-year-old, 14-year-old, 18-year-old, Machrie Moor Cask Strength, Amarone Cask Finish and the Sauternes Cask Finish. The 10, 14 and 18-year-old are part of their core range, while the rest are limited releases from the distillery.

Every bottle is exquisite in their way, and each offers something to the whisky drinker. The 10-year-old is perfect for the beginner; someone who wants to try. The 14-year-old has a little more to offer and is an ideal dram for a beginner who wants to upgrade. The 18-years-old is more complex and likely favoured by the more seasoned drinkers.

As for the limited releases, the Amarone and Sauternes Cask Finish are part of Arran’s Cask Finishes series. There is a third bottle with a port cask finish, but we did not try that one. The Machrie Moor is perhaps the unique whisky out of the lot. It is the only peated whisky in the Arran range, and Arran releases one batch each year. The peat is controlled at 20 ppm (parts per million), making the whisky gently peated. The added flavour enhances the sweet citrusy spice that is Arran and makes the whisky fantastic. The highly abv also heightens the aroma and characteristics of the whisky.

Exciting News ahead for our Readers

Euan patiently explained each whisky and their ideas behind each bottle. He also answered many questions, including one involving new releases! According to Euan, the world has something fresh to look out for in 2018 – Arran 21-year-old! Besides that, there is a chance that Arran may consider a single cask bottling, especially for Quaich Bar Singapore!

Euan also shared that Arran has a more significant market in Taiwan and Japan and has some new single cask releases there. As the WhiskyGeeks team is heading to Taiwan soon for Whisky Fair Takao, we are going to search for some of those single cask releases! If there is a chance for us to try them, we will share our results, promise!

As the event draws to a close, we ask Euan for a photograph together, and he happily agreed to it.

We hope that Euan will be back to our sunny island soon and we look forward to meeting him again!

 

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Isle of Arran Distillery – The One and Only

The Isle of Arran Distillery sits in the foothills of the village of Lochranza on the north-west tip of the Isle of Arran. The owner of the distillery chose this location because of its vicinity to Loch na Davie. Loch na Davie holds the purest water in all of Scotland because granite and peat cleansed and softened the water in its slow meandering down from the mountaintops.

Short History of the Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran used to house about fifty distilleries on the island. However, most of them were illegal, and smuggling activities went on for a period. Similar to Campbeltown, the proximity to water made producing and selling moonshine easy. However, as time passed, these illegal distilleries either obtained licenses to operate officially or close down. The last legal distillery on the Isle of Arran, called Lagg, was closed in 1837.

History of Arran Distillery

Harold Currie, a former director of Chivas, founded Arran Distillers in 1994 with the intention of building a distillery on Arran. Construction started in 1994 but halted after a pair of endangered golden eagles built their nests on a cliff near the distillery. As a result of the interruption, the distillery opened only in 1995. Arran distillery also took on the silhouette of two golden eagles as part of their logo.

The first spirit ran from the stills at the Arran distillery on 29th June 1995 at precisely 14.29 hours. It is the moment of glory for the Isle of Arran as it is the first legal distillation after more than 150 years of non-activity. The distillery was forced to store some casks in the warehouse of Springbank distillery due to their small capacity. However, in a recent revolutionary upgrade, the Arran distillery is now capable of storing and maintaining its production efficiency.

An interesting note about the founder, Harold Currie, is the fact that he was 70 years old when he decided to build Arran. He lived to a ripe, old age of 91 years old and left the distillery in capable hands when he passed on.

Production Methods at Arran Distillery

Arran distillery continues to use the traditional methods of producing whisky. The only drawback for the distillery is its lack of space for a traditional malting floor. Nonetheless, they buy their barley from the best source in Scotland to ensure high quality.

Arran distillery used barley and water from Loch na Davie to make their whisky. First, the barley and water are mixed in a mash tun to make wort, which then goes into wooden washbacks. The workers then add yeast to the wort for fermentation. To ensure a fruity new make, fermentation at Arran runs between 52 hours to 72 hours. The result is a liquid called “wash”, which is what we know as beer.

The workers double distilled the wash in copper pot stills and the final new make is a liquid that is about 68% alcohol strength. The distillation team placed this colourless liquid into oak casks that previously held sherry or bourbon. The wood gives the colour and character of the whisky, so the choice of the cask is one of the crucial influence for the final product.

Most of the Arran whiskies are bottled at either 46% abv or cask strength, so the flavours and aromas are retained for enjoyment. There are some of them which are bottled at 40% and 43% abv.

The Range of Arran Whiskies

Some bottles from the range of Arran’s exceptional whiskies

Arran has an impressive range of whiskies despite its young age as a distillery. All of the single malt whiskies at Arran are non-peated except for one. While most of their single malts are non-age statements, they do have age statement whiskies in their core range. We highlight some of them below:

Arran Lochranza Reserve

This is a non-age statement whisky bottled at 43% abv. It was released to celebrate the location of the distillery and named after the village. It is made up of 7 to 8-year-old whiskies mostly matured in bourbon oak casks.

Arran 10-year-old single malt

The Arran 10-year-old single malt is their flagship single malt. It is the backbone of Arran distillery, and one of the most enjoyed Arran whiskies in the world.

Arran 14-year-old single malt

The Arran 14-year-old single malt is one which is exceedingly popular among whisky drinkers. Slightly more complex than the 10-year-old, it is the go-to Arran whisky if you are looking for more complexity and richer flavours.

Arran 18-year-old single malt

The Arran 18-year-old single malt is the premium league of the Arran range of whiskies. The complexity is heightened at 18 years old, and the whisky displays rich and matured notes of Arran’s signature – orchard fruits and vanilla.

Arran Machrie Moor and Machrie Moor Cask Strength

Arran Machrie Moor and its cask strength version are released yearly since 2010 in small batches. Every batch is slightly different, but the core flavours are mostly the same. The difference is more prominent in the cask strength version as the abv usually differs from the previous year batch.

In addition to the above, Arran also experimented with wine cask finishes. Currently, they have three different wine cask finished whiskies labelled as cask finishes.

Arran Port Cask Finish

The Arran Port Cask Finish is the first experiment of wine cask finish. Using barrels from Portugal, the port wine cask give a sweeter finish to the typical Arran Malt.

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

The Arran Sauternes Cask Finish is a sweeter version of the Port Cask Finish due to the influence of the delicious white wine that is Sauternes. The whisky is highly complex with notes of the white Sauternes shining through.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish

The Arran Amarone Cask Finish is a marriage of the Arran malt with the cask of Amarone wine from the north-east of Italy. The Amarone cask imparts a bright reddish tinge to the whisky and gives higher complexity to the drink.

There are other Arran whiskies such as the Smugglers Series, The Bothy Quarter Cask, the Robert Burns Single Malt and the latest release of the Arran Malt Distiller’s Edition. The newest release celebrates the 10th anniversary of Arran’s master distiller, James MacTaggart working with Arran Distillery.

Arran In the Future

Arran distillery has much to offer to the world of whisky, and we look forward to more exceptional whiskies from them. There is new of a 21-year-old Scotch coming in 2018 so do stay tuned for more! Arran is also building a second distillery in the southern tip of the Isle of Arran, in the village of Lagg. The new distillery will take over the making of the peated Machrie Moor series. Estimated to complete only in 2019, the future of Arran is looking brighter with each passing moment.

 

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Whisky Review #71 – Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

The Arran Cask Finish is an experimental series that Arran did to cast new insights into the excellent Arran Single Malt produced by the distillery. The whisky is transferred from the traditional oak casks into three different wine casks for a period to add flavours and character. It is then bottled at 50% when they achieved the balance between the malt and the wine casks. The higher abv retains the aroma and flavour of these expressions.

The subject of today’s review is the Arran Sauternes Cask Finish. It is almost a gourmet whisky after taking on influences from the highly sought-after Bordeaux sweet wine. Arran sourced the Sauternes cask from an artisan producer of the Sauternes white wine, and we are assured that it is a fantastic whisky to try.

Let’s check it out!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright Gold
ABV: 50%

Nose: The Bordeaux sweetness is apparent on the nose. Tropical fruits, oaky sweetness and a slight musk hang in the forefront. Pepper spice fades in and out from the background. (16/20)

Palate: Rich, honeyed notes coats the palate coupled with a little citrus zest in the back of the tongue. A gentle spice floats in the background, adding some depth but not overwhelming the sweetness of the honey and citrus. Towards the end, the spice turns warm as the liquid goes down the throat. Quite a good whisky to drink on a cold winter night. (18/20)

Finish: Relatively long finish with sweet honey and the return of tropical fruits. (16/20)

Body: It is not as well-balanced as the Amarone Cask Finish, but it is still a balanced whisky. The surprising citrus zest in the palate is both the strength and weakness of the whisky. Nonetheless, it is savoury and worthy to try. (30/40)

Total Score: 80/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I think this is the whisky to drink on a cold night when you want to savour a good whisky for some warmth. Among the 2 Arran Cask Finish whiskies which I had tried, I prefer the Arran Amarone Cask Finish to the Sauternes Cask Finish because I think there is a deeper character in the Amarone Cask Finish. I have yet to try the Port Wine Cask though – will be back to Quaich Bar to try it!” 

Geek Choc: “Well, Flora remembered me this time, and I get to try this delicious whisky. I like the honeyed notes in this one. While I had only nose the Amarone Cask Finish and did not try it, I guess that I will prefer the Sauternes over the Amarone because of its warm spice.”

 

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Whisky Review #70 – Arran Amarone Cask Finish

The Arran Cask Finish is an experimental series that Arran did to cast new insights into the excellent Arran Single Malt produced by the distillery. The whisky is transferred from the traditional oak casks into three different wine casks for a period to add flavours and character. It is then bottled at 50% when they achieved the balance between the malt and the wine casks. The higher abv retains the aroma and flavour of these expressions.

Today’s review looks at the Arran Amarone Cask Finish. It is an expression known for its complexity as Arran sourced the Amarone casks from a traditional and respected Italian producer of this iconic red wine. The Amarone Cask Finish comes with some high recommendations, so we tried it without hesitation.

Let’s dive into the review now.

 Tasting Notes:

Colour: Deep Amber
ABV: 50%

Nose: The first waft of the aroma is that of a sweet red wine or that of a cherry liqueur before developing notes of honey and pear. Some cranberry juice lingers in the background. It is an elegant nose that reminds us of high-quality red wines. (17/20)

Palate: Sweet plum notes coats the palate immediately when the liquid enters the mouth. As we hold the whisky in the mouth, a gentle pepper spice develops. Dark chocolate soon appears and adds a delicious layer in between the plum and spice. (17/20)

Finish: The finish is long with sweet fruity notes of cranberry and cherry. Sweet plums add to the elegance of the finish. It is almost like a high abv red wine. (17/20)

Body: A beautiful, well-balanced body with characteristics of the red wine finishing makes this whisky a winner among the Arran range of whiskies. The subtle sweetness throughout the experience of drinking from nose to finish makes this whisky approachable and easy to accept, even for those who may not be whisky drinkers. (33/40)

Total Score: 84/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “The Arran Amarone Cask Finish is my favourite in the Cask Finish series. The balance is exquisite between whisky and red wine, making it extra special. The elegance of this whisky is exceptional. I enjoyed this very much.”

Geek Choc: “Geek Flora drank everything! I did not get to taste this, but I got to nose the glass after the liquid is gone. 🙁 The nose is lovely though, and I would love to try it soon!”

 

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Whisky Review #66 – Arran 10-Year-Old

The Arran 10-Year-Old is the entry level to its incredible range of whiskies. Made with the occasional whisky drinker in mind, this whisky is approachable and easy to drink. If it is the first time you are trying Arran, the 10-Year-Old is an excellent bottle to start. The liquid that made up the 10-Year-Old is 20% from ex-sherry casks and 80% from ex-bourbon casks. The result of this mixture is a sweet, fruity and slightly spicy concoction.

Let’s check out the review without further ado.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Pale Gold
ABV: 46%

Nose: Sweet vanilla cupcakes greets the nose with a touch of spicy cinnamon. Notes of citrus fruits (oranges, lemons) follow after to create a sweet and gentle nose. With some time, fresh oak appears to deepen the complexity of the whisky. (15/20)

Palate: Sweet vanilla notes couple with red apples coat the palate beautifully before citrus fruitiness rush in to fill the palate. The mouthfeel is soft and mellow, creating an almost silky feel. (16/20)

Finish: A relatively long finish with sweet apples and a slight citrus zest. Hints of spice linger in the throat. (16/20)

Body: Reasonably balanced for a 10-year-old whisky with a straightforward character. It is indeed an entry level whisky that can be enjoyed by everyone. (29/40)

Total Score: 76/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I like the Arran 10-Year-Old for its simple character. It is an approachable dram and one that beginners can easily adapt to. The sweet, fruity spice adds complexity to the mellow notes of the whisky.”

Geek Choc: “It is a simple drink that can be enjoyed anytime. If you have friends who are not whisky drinkers, this is a good dram to introduce if you want to convert them into whisky lovers!”

 

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