I’m going to start at the end, if you don’t mind: I don’t think Arran and I are made for one another.
A long time ago I decided I was going to deep dive on Arran: The end result was a 32-part multi review that was much too long, much too much, and a decision that perhaps the distillery needed more time.
But Arran is out there, and I do enjoy picking up different things, so Arran reviews were going to happen. Part way through I figured out that the orange, salt, and mineral weren’t my wheelhouse. But I kept going.
So the question we ask today: How are these Arrans compared to the last Arrans and is there an Arran that is a nice Arran that a non-Arran fan will enjoy? Let’s find out, shall we? Also Arran.
Arran 11 2008 Single Cask is the first one that kicked off this new review series.
“Hey, TOModera, if you don’t love Arran, why keep trying them?” Because this was put into an ex-Pineau des Charentes cask! I’ve now had an Irish whiskies, a bourbon, and a Scotch that was in this type of cask. Why am I into it? Was I a huge fan of this alcohol? Not really! But weird casks, right? Gotta try weird casks.
Yeah, that’s totally it. It’s a single cask 11 year unpeated Arran that was aged in this wacky regional French aperitif cask.
Could it be good? My internal jury is still out, the internal executioner is working on my liver, the internal judge is singing various 1970s corporate jingles and the internal people are confused.
Let’s see how it does, shall we?
Cask type: Pineau des Charentes
Cask number 119
Number of bottles: 965
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Lilac, sugar syrup, lime, popcorn
Perhaps the reason I like Pineau des Charentes cask whiskies is they have the mineral, floral, and buttery notes of old style Lowlands, which may as well be dodos, dinosaurs, or wild hedgehogs with how extinct they’re becoming (keep up the good work England!)
Floral, sweet, some heat, some lime, and some cereal/buttery notes. The citrus I can maybe attribute to the Arran. So that’s working okay.
Taste: Butter, candied fruit, orange juice, caramel
Stronger arran notes from the orange juice note and the caramel here.
If I’m being honest, which I try to, otherwise these reviews would be a waste of time, I’m missing that big pop of floral now. The sugar is still here, and so is the butter, however it’s less complex now and the lack of that crisp, strong note is evident.
Finish: Salt, floral, charcoal, caramel, ruby cocoa
The ruby cocoa note is what stands apart in here, and what takes a simple, random, finish and says “oh, you’d prefer something we worked on, here you go”. You really gotta give it time for that though. Otherwise it comes off as a lighter Lowland.
Conclusion: Pineau des Charentes maturation is great, Arran is still meh. I get the feeling that the cask took over a tad, then when it stepped back it left the work for an undeveloped worker. Most of you will experience that in your working lives and it’s gonna suck. Now you can drink whisky based on bad management techniques!
Joking aside, this was fun, and I feel like Arran could lean into this a bit. There are additional Lowland profile whiskies popping up, and while not as crazed as peat fans, could be a niche they could work on. Take the orange/citrus elements of their whisky, use Pineau des Charentes casks to make them floral, buy a Lomond Still, and we’re all happy (I am, and very few others).
Thanks to /u/smoked_herring for sharing the next two drams.
Arran “The Bodega” Sherry Cask
Oh my goodness. Oh my gracious. I’ve had to come down from my Ivory Tower to talk and live with the landed gentry, truly. Why? Is it because I’ll stop being such a dandy? Never.
No, I’m doing a regular release from a distillery. Either something’s gone wrong, I’ve reviewed too many good things, or rather it’s because I’ve done a bunch of them already and don’t really love retreading old ground.
Enter Arran “The Bodega” Sherry Cask. This standard offering is aged in ex-Sherry casks from Sherry Bodegas in Sherry, Sherry. Sherry? Oops, my Sherry button got stuck. It’s from Jerez, Spain. Are they Oloroso? Are they Pedro Ximenez? Are they Amontillado? First off, how dare you even ask. Also it’s not mentioned on the website for this whisky.
That’s okay though, because these sum bitches, these mathmen, these crazy fudgepackers did it folks: They released something with a strong abv. again. On a regular basis. Upon hearing about that my head turned so quickly that the sonic boom ruined my veranda (that’s a joke, I don’t even know what a veranda is).
So it’s cask strength, sherry aged, and states it’s using good casks right from Jerez. I’ve liked Arran using different types of casks in the past (and that’s part of why I return to the distillery even though I feel the world would be a better place without the flavour of orange in it). So this seems up my alley.
Let’s see, shall we?
Cask type: Sherry Hogshead
Colour: 2.5YR 3/6
Nose: Cinnamon, rye bread, brown sugar, red grape, plum
Okay, spice… spice and cereal… brown sugar and sherry. Also some sherry. Oh, and my sherry key isn’t stuck again, but the nose is denoting that it was for the whisky.
Fruit, spice, the Xmas spices isn’t hitting as much as I’d like and it’s leaning more to fruity, simpler sherry notes.
Taste: Raisin, ginger, orange, more ginger, caramel
That’s so many gingers that Cartman is ready to have a purge. It’s so much ginger that sore throats around the world just got worse (probably a bad time for that joke during the Pandemic).
It’s a lot of ginger, no other spices along with it, and then fruit and raisins. But oh, the Arran orange shows up and hangs out for a bit. So there’s that. I guess.
Finish: Ginger, anise, Sprite, brine, molasses
Two spices? At once? Oh how the heaven’s have sprinkled their divine happy urine upon my head.
Yeah, that joke was too much, even for me, I apologize. It’s more tons of sherry and bits of citrus popping through. Some brine to remind you that it was Arran too. That’s all. It’s not bad, it’s just not terrible interesting.
Conclusion: Lots of sherry, very little Arran, and the sherry isn’t working that well, with mostly light fruit and one or two spices coming out at a time. It’s hot, it tastes of simpler sherry casks, and it’s not doing much for me.
Is it terrible? Far from it. It’s an oversherried whisky. They exist, and are just about everywhere. I would have welcomed more Arran flavour here because I prefer the whisky to be balanced between the cask and the spirit itself. But it isn’t. The notes I’m getting from the sherry aren’t really that rich or spice heavy or even playing off the orange. It’s missing elements that make sherried whiskies interesting.
That all said, if you like the orange and brine or Arran and you’re a big fan of this new style of sherry bomb then you’ve got a new daily drinker.
Arran Lochranza 23 1996 Blackadder Raw Cask is more like something I review: It’s older, it’s questionable, the name is weird, it’s independently bottled, and it’s a single cask. I have a type, folks, and that horse is gonna keep being beaten until I don’t like writing anymore. Or health issues. Most likely the first one.
So what is it? It’s a very Old Arran (remember the company only started in 1994 and the distillery only opened in 1995). Right off the bat I’m interested. There’s some whiskies that shine at older ages (see: older Mortlach). Some that don’t (Looking at your Octomore). And then others we don’t really know yet (Kilchoman).
There are other factors though: First off we know that distilleries go through periods of times where a master distiller’s or owner’s impact can be a big hit (see Bowmore in the 80s). Recently I did a multi-review on Kilkerran, and some of the oldest Kilkerran were interesting, but also from when the distillery was just starting out (first 2-3 years).
You’re trying new things during this time. You’re throwing the spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks.
Today we have the same from Arran. There’s no reason to throw out these old casks or blend them away: However it’s also odd because any changes to the distilling process won’t be here. It could be great, but not to be repeated: It could be bad, but not representative of what’s being made today.
So we’re answering a narrow question here: What does one of the batches of Arran taste like after 23 years, assuming a distilling date of 1996?
Let’s see how the (checks notes from childhood)… years of increasingly annoying pop and nu-metal impacted Arran, shall we?
God I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with Fred Durst.
Price: € 219
Vintage: August 8, 1996
Bottled: November 2019
Cask type: Sherry Butt
Cask number: 932
Number of bottles: 577
Colour: 5Y ⅞
Nose: Pear, grassy/earth, cardamom, rye bread, molasses
I don’t normally do this, but I”m going to take a quick second to double down on the last review: Notice that there’s pear, grassy/earth, and even some cereal notes here. The sherry doesn’t overpower, it’s comes along.
Heck, we’re even seeing the spice impact work well with that orange flavour from the Arran, giving us cardamom. Sure, there’s an impact of the sherry, but they’re playing well together.
It doesn’t nose it’s age at all though: To be clear, this is simpler than the age and cask strength would normally denote. It is balanced though.
Taste: Apple, gummy candy, fennel, caramel
Simpler on the taste. The flavours are quite muted, even with time, water, and all the other things I’m supposed to do to whisky to open it up. I’m sure that’ll surely stop someone from commenting!
Spice, caramel, apple, and sugar fruit flavour. It’s not something I turn down, suffice to say, but it’s a tad simple. No rough elements either.
Finish: Cardamom, ginger, mineral/sand, orange
Nice spice finish (two spices people!), some more mineral and orange (it’s Arran after all Charlie Brown) and it’s alright. We’re all good here.
Conclusion: What a surprise, a cask that was laid down in the first two years of the distillery being open was just average. I can see why they (more than likely) changed things up. Or why they didn’t release this themselves. Or whatever the exact reasons.
It’s perfectly fine to have as a dram. It’s not going to blow your mind. It’s easy to enjoy, fruity, and spicy. If you like a decent sherry cask, this is that. It didn’t really grow too much, but I don’t think you’d be too angry to have it. A typical Arran fan would probably be very happy to try an additional older Arran without having to pay the high prices they are asking for their 25-year-old.
So this is why distilleries improve. Nice to know.
Thanks to Tim for pouring me a sample of this one.
Arran SMWS 121.94 Dried-Cherry Lattice Pie is from my favourite punching bag, SMWS. I’m starting to wonder if I should just stop reviewing their whiskies, given the amount of times I’ve done so and the sad attempts they’ve had at astroturfing on the internet. But I did, so hopefully I”m not punching down yet.
So what is this? For the first time in this review, it’s an ex-bourbon cask! Yay! I’m not typically the first in line to try out ex-Bourbon Arran, because ex-Bourbon Arran leans more on the spirit than I enjoy.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from my reviews it’s a cry for help veiled in stale edgy sex humour. If there’s two things then it’s to safely find a way to question some of your set beliefs now and then. Note I said safely there: Don’t slather yourself in honey and hang out with a bear to prove they are big dogs or go out in the nude amongst a group of people who don’t know what consent is to “test your boundaries”. I’m drinking whisky over here, not feeding sharks using my Gentleman Caller.
So I’m trying a 16-year-old Arran that was given the time to age in an ex-Bourbon cask from an independent bottler I’ve basically written off. But what if it’s good though?
Let’s see, shall we?
Vintage: April 20th, 2000
Cask type: Refill Ex-Bourbon Hogshead
Number of bottles: 264
Colour: 5Y 9/8
Nose: Cherry, orange, melon, cloves, pound cake
Wow, that’s a lot of fruit. More than just citrus too! And it goes to this lovely cake/vanilla thing with time and water, and there’s even a bit of heat/spice to it!
Maybe I’ve just been let down by the others too much. Maybe I’m manic. It’s not Maybelline, I’m pale as heck and Autumnal looks are not in these days, meaning makeup and me aren’t working as well.
Taste: Grapefruit, anise, cocoa, caramel, floral salt
Wow that’s a lot of citrus. Enough that if you have a heart condition that you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol anyway. You’ve got a damn heart condition man, take care of yourself.
Spice, some cocoa, some caramel, some brine and a bit of floral that we saw in the first one. Maybe Arran sometimes has floral elements to it. No, if it did I’d be less biased against it.
Finish: Orange, mineral, vegetal, caramel sauce
More citrus, and less complexity. The finish feels like one of the first attempts I did on a fancy dessert. It was edible but not going to be on anyone’s social media feed.
Conclusion: Citrus bomb, which is what you drink Arran for. More interesting citrus here and a lovely nose as well. The taste was even interesting enough to keep coming back to. The finish is like that one Uncle you don’t talk about anymore.
Are there better Arran offerings? Yes. Is this particularly bad? Not really. The finish is weak, that’s really all there is. I’m not the biggest citrus fan but at least it’s interesting enough on the nose. Given the style of the bottle it’s before the company when full Crayola nutjob, so I’m happy to have tried it.
Biases are still intact though.
Arran The Explorers Volume 3 Kildonan & Pladda Island is from the most recent “Volume” series that makes Arran look good on your mantle.
That sounds mean and negative to start out. Perhaps I should explain: Arran has brought out whiskies that have styles to them. They celebrate the history of the Isle of Arran, which is interesting, and they look nice displayed somewhere. Previous ones that I’ve had include the Smuggler’s Series or the Devil’s Punchbowl, which are fun names sure to draw you in.
The Explorers Series does the same, though is a tad easier to figure out: Explore the Isle of Arran. You get a nice looking bottle and you get a metal tin to collect. As someone who’s still sitting on 10 boxes of comics, a tin is easier to store.
So where does Volume 3 fit in? Kildonan is a village on the South of Arran, which is near the new Lagg distillery, known for being that one distillery that screws up your game of Valorant (I’m being told that my knowledge of Lagg may be incorrect). Pladda Island is just off the coast, is privately owned (the whole thing) and can be seen from Kildonan, home to a lovely beach.
But you’re not here to find out you can buy one island in Scotland: You’re here (presumably) for the whisky. What whisky is used to celebrate the view? A 21-year-old offering that was matured in ex-Sherry butts and Puncheons then finishes in Ruby Port Pipes. The distillery feels this perfectly sums up the area.
I’ve never been to the area. I did not buy the tin, only split the bottle with others. Perhaps the tin was needed. Perhaps it wasn’t.
Let’s see how the whisky in the tin tastes, shall we?
Stated Age: 21-years-old
Cask Type: Sherry Butts, Puncheons, and Ruby Port Pipes
Number of bottles 9,000
Colour: 10YR 4/8
Nose: Caramel, plum, violets, strawberry, wood
It’s a fight between the sherry influence and the port influence. The whisky “caramel” note at least hints that it’s still there. So I like the fruity and floral elements though the wine casks have come to roost and now you got ants.
That’s how animals work, right?
Taste: Plum jam, cloves, orange juice, poppyseed
Less overwhelming on the sherry, which is nice. Love the strong, sweet plum notes. Love the cloves. Orange juice. And that seed aspect pops up and leaves you with a nutty flavour that compliments it all and reminds you of those fun times in college when the world didn’t seem so terrible.
Finish: Char, cloves, orange, black pepper, daisies
Long finish. Some char/clove/black pepper notes take over, and seems to grow with time. Also orange. But that herbal/char note is where it’s at. Soil and daisies work too.
Conclusion: One of the better, well made whiskies I liked from Arran. So I guess Arran fans must be very happy with it. I was only just somewhat happy with it.
Oh, I’ll drop the act, this surprised me. It’s really a better Arran than I was expecting. It’s packaged similarly to some silly, very expensive special editions that usually include the words “Lalique” and are disturbingly low abv.
Instead you have a fun mix of casks (port and sherry), you have decent age, and honestly the tin or the bottle don’t matter. They really, really don’t. The whisky is decent. I’m as surprised as everyone else. It’s interesting. Probably because the orange isn’t the main thing going on.
Arran Peated Sherry Cask Small Batch BeLux
I picked up this sample blind. At the time of drinking it, as usual, I don’t look up anything beyond what’s on the label.
No abv on the label? Ok. Will look it up after. Don’t remember what “BeLux” is? Sounds vaguely French and assumes it’s a single cask picked out by a store named BeLux.
Turns out I was incorrect, because Arran Peated Sherry Cask Small Batch BeLux is in fact a peated sherry cask picked out by The Nectar. BeLux is Belgium and Luxembourg.
While I can’t just pop over to Belgium whenever I want (stupid Ship of Theseus problem with transporters), I’ve been lucky enough to have friends who’ve shared The Nectar picks in the past.
Suffice to say whomever picks the whisky is awesome possum as far as I’m concerned. They picked out a ten year old, small batch of whisky? God Dammit, I’m in!
But let’s keep to the story so far, shall we? This is Arran and I we’re talking about here. There’s hope for people getting along and doing what they need to do on a collective level. There’s no negotiations with Arran and I: No red phone to call, or sense of brotherhood.
But it’s also peated and sherry, so let’s agree that it falls right into Bias Town, population me.
Let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: € 75
Cask type: Sherry Cask
Bottled for The Nectar
Colour: 2.5Y 6/8
Nose: Cocoa, raspberry pie, grapefruit, fresh bread, cinnamon hearts
Buttery, some earth/sweetness, some tart notes, and this lovely fresh bread note that I”m addicted to and that’s okay because society said bread is fine (save some carb haters out there).
Water opens up some spice. Would not guess this was Arran peated: Normally I associate that with other flavours, and the orange side seems like it’s the sherry cask. Looking back though that buttery/acidity is probably because this is Arran, and if this was a story I’d learn some lesson and my heart would grow larger.
Luckily this is real life and any heart growth isn’t literal, as that could cause a lot of issues with my chest cavity. Also I already believe there’s always a chance you’ll enjoy a whisky from a distillery, even if it’s only one.
Taste: Raspberry, pumpernickel, salted caramel, grape
More tart notes. I’m not the biggest pumpernickel fan, though perhaps I should try it again soon. Goes from funky to sweet and then rests in sweet. Though not overly so, like a future reviewed Benrinnes that made even my sweet tooth give up.
Finish: Peat, brown sugar, brine, cinnamon crackers, cranberry
Yes, I write peat and smoke interchangeably. I always have. Someone commented on another review of mine, so here’s your update, little special boy.
Cereal, spice, big molasses note, and some woody/red berry notes. Finish is very nice.
Conclusion: So The Nectar should now be in charge of picking all Arrans. Period. This is leagues ahead of the majority of Arran I’ve had. It fits perfectly in what you want from peat and sherry: The actual whisky comes through and works to take the tartness and create flavourful fruit notes. There’s times where the sherry and the salt of Arran works well together.
Remember to always salt your baked goods.
Finally the nose was a delight. This isn’t the best Arran I’ve ever had, but if more like this came out then I’d be gladly grabbing more of it.
Scotch review #1478-83, Island review #159-64, Whisky Network review #2182-87