Monday, June 1, 2009

In the whisky cupboard ... Arran Sassacaia

arran wine finishThe Arran distillery is one of the newest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. It was founded by an independent group called the Isle of Arran Distillers Limited in 1993 and production began in 1995. The distillery is located on the isle of Arran, near to the village of Lochranza, and became the first legal distillery on the island since the 1840s. The island lies between the Campbeltown peninsula and the west Highland coast. The Isle of Arran Distillers Limited decided to employ traditional whisky production methods rather than modern day mechanised alternatives and Arran is one of Scotland's smallest distilleries as a result, producing just 750,000 litres per year. to experiment with their spirit by maturing some of it in different wine casks from around Europe.

Arran is a very innovative distillery but their core range reflects the small production capacity and the length of its young history. This consists of a 10 years old, a 12 years old, a cask strength version (called 100 proof) and an un-chillfiltered version. In addition to this, they have started experimenting with maturation in different European wine casks and these are released periodically as limited editions. This bottling has been matured for eight years in a bourbon cask, then for a further eight months in a Sassacaia wine barrique casks. Sassacaia is a full bodied and expensive Italian red wine from Tuscany that is made from high quality Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

This whisky has a gorgeous amber colour that has a distinct crimson red tinge to it. The nose has a lovely sweetness that is full of caramel and forest fruits (think of blackcurrant, blackberry and red cherry). On the palate, this sweetness hits immediately and is almost sugary in the mouth but this quickly goes and is replaced by a lot of tannin, making your gums go dry. There are lots of rich fruit characters but these are different from most that are normally associated with whisky and this must be due to the wine cask used at the end of maturation. The flavours are very concentrated with lots of plums, cherries, currants and berries (reminding me of jam or preseved fruit rather than fresh fruit). There is also some vanilla, caramel, an earthy, slightly musty note and a hint of spiciness (imagine nutmeg or cinnamon). The finish is long and fruity but with an over riding tannic dryness that gives it an unpleasant and disappointing bitter woody feeling.

This whisky is bottled at 55% ABV, so some water was added and this took the edge off the tannins and dryness, with the fruit becoming a bit more juicy and the whole whisky becoming slightly more balanced and rounded. With only 5,750 bottles released of this Sassacaia wine finish, it will only be available at specialist whisky retailers for a short period. A bottle should cost around £40, which is not too bad for a limited release and especially good if you consider that a bottle of Sassacaia wine rarely goes for under £80 and the casks are very expensive.

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