This whisky is the eagerly anticipated new release from the Arran distillery, which is one of the youngest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. Arran was founded by an independent group called the Isle of Arran Distillers Limited in 1993 and production began in 1995 - the first single malt whisky released in 1998. The distillery is located on the isle of Arran, which sits between the west Lowland coast and the Campbeltown peninsula, near to the village of Lochranza. It became the first legal distillery to operate on the island since the 1840s.
The Isle of Arran Distillers Limited decided to employ traditional whisky production methods rather than modern day mechanised alternatives. Arran is one of Scotland's smaller distilleries and has a capacity of 750,000 litres per year, although they are currently running at about a third of that. Arran's visitor centre is one of Scotland's most visited, despite its relatively remote location, due to the island being served by frequent ferries from the west Lowland coast and being within relatively easy reach of Glasgow.
A change of direction
The Machrie Moor is Arran's first foray in to a general release of the peaty, smoky style of whisky (they have released some single cask smoky limited editions in the past) and is lightly peated at 14PPM (Phenol Parts per Million - click here for our explanation). The name reflects this - Machire Moor is an area of moorland on the west coast of the island that is covered in peat bogs. It is released to compliment the lighter, fresher style of whisky that Arran has become well renowned for. There are to be only 9,000 bottles being released at the moment, although more peaty whisky is understood to be maturing at the distillery for future release.
To mark the difference of their new release, Arran have designed alternative packaging to that of their regular range - Machrie Moor is presented in a dark green bottle with the lettering and an image of a dog in copper. The dog is a representation of Bran, the dog of warrior giant Fingal as the legend goes, who Fingal used to tether to one of the Bronze Age stones on the Machrie Moor. This new whisky is released at 46% ABV, with no age stated and should cost around £40 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers in France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the UK, the USA or from Arran's website.
Our tasting notes
The colour of the Machrie Moor is lemon yellow and the nose is light, fresh and subtle to begin with. Aromas of vanilla, honey, citrus (think of lemon zest) and unripe plums (or maybe greengages?) give way to more robust malty barley grains (imagine oatcake biscuits) and sweet, earthy peat smoke. These give the nose some punch and impact. There are also notes of shortbread, coconut and woody oak spice. The vanilla aromas increase with time in the glass and in contrast, the peat smoke softens. On the palate, this whisky has a clean but youthful and slightly hot, peppery burn which quickly subsides to give a lovely creamy combination of sweet notes - vanilla (reminiscent of custard powder), malty barley, honey. Then comes tangy citrus (the lemon zest again) and a hint of salt or brine. Finally, the soft subtle peat smoke appears with an initial damp earthy quality. With time, this smokiness takes on a feeling of toasted cereals and burnt caramel. It is very pleasant indeed. The finish is of decent length for a lighter style of whisky and has a distinct tangy, zesty freshness (think of lemon zest and a hint of sherbet). This becomes hot, peppery and slightly dry right at the end. The soft smoke burns away throughout, like the embers of a dying bonfire.
What's the verdict?
This is an interesting dram and an equally interesting experiment by the Isle of Arran Distillers. By producing a lightly peated whisky they are changing direction but without alienating fans of the traditional Arran style. As a result, this whisky lends itself to being a good choice for a beginner or someone that hasn't tried any or many smoky whiskies - it is soft and light with some of the characteristic aromas and flavours of peat, but without being too much. Machrie Moor is a pleasantly fresh and enjoyable dram.