Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review - Arran 18 years old

The independent Isle of Arran distillery has announced that it plans to kick off its 21st anniversary with a second release of an 18 years old expression.  This bottling is the oldest whisky to be released by the owners to date, following a limited edition batch of 18 years old that was released last year and sold out quickly.  This bottling will be a permanent fixture in the core range of Arran malts and this second version has been matured in ex-sherry casks. This 18 years old is bottled at 46% ABV, is non chill-filtered and of natural colour.  It will be available through selected specialist whisky retailers shortly and via the distillery website - The recommended retail price is £75 a bottle.

The distillery was founded in 1995 by the Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd and this makes Arran one of the youngest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. They released their first single malt whisky in 1998 and the core range of whiskies is ever expanding. The distillery is located near the village of Lochranza on the isle of Arran, which lies between the Campbeltown peninsula and the west Lowland coast. It became the first legal distillery on the island since the 1840s and is one of Scotland's smaller distilleries with a production capacity of 750,000 litres per year.

"As the only distillery on the island, we stand for its centuries of whisky-making tradition. This is a very special bottling for us. As the most mature expression of the Arran malt it represents the very best of the distillery in this, our 21st year."
James MacTaggart - Master Distiller at Arran.

Our tasting notes
The colour is deep golden yellow and the nose exhibits a pleasant set of initial aromas - think of butterscotch, caramel, sultanas and candied orange peel especially.  These are backed up by further lighter aromas including hints of malted cereals, tropical fruits (dried mango in particular), stewed apple and whiffs of cinnamon and ginger spice.

On the palate the whisky feels soft and gentle, especially once immediate notes of tangy candied orange and warming wood spices begin to settle.  The combination of the two elements is very pleasant and compliment further notes that continue to develop.  There is also plenty of butterscotch and toffee present, with hints of burnt caramel and black treacle.  Dried fruit is evident and splits in to two distinct characteristics - dark fruits (raisins, sultanas and a hint of dates) and tropical fruits (mango and a hint of pineapple).  Background notes of dark chocolate, nuts (especially walnuts and toasted hazelnuts), milky coffee, cinnamon and hints of dried grass and bittersweet malt add further depth and complexity.

The finish is of decent length and continues the sweet, dried fruit themes.  As these fade the more robust elements - the nutty, malty and wood spice notes in particular - push more to the fore to give a warming and lasting effect.

What's the verdict?
This new expression of the 18 years old is different from the previous limited edition expression, which was lighter and fresher from memory.  This version has a lovely richness and sweetness but without becoming too heavy, and it is good to see it as a permanent fixture in the core range line up.

It also represents good value for money for an 18 years old malt in these days of ever-increasing prices.  Isle of Arran Distillers could easily have put it £15-20 higher but should be applauded for not doing so.  A very nice, easy drinking whisky that should be the benchmark for quality that all new small independent distilleries should aspire to.

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