Friday, September 28, 2012

Isle of Arran 10yr

stats: single malt scotch, Islands, 92 proof, $48

The end of my last post made me realize that it was high time to pull that dusty bottle of 10 year Arran off my shelf for a thorough tasting. It can be hard for me to find the motivation to write about a whisky that I’m indifferent to – it’s much easier to get the ball rolling with a whisky that is spectacular, or even one that is awful. But tasting a much more impressive bottling from the same distiller was just the kick in the pants that I needed.

Before I get into the whisky (literally and literarily) I’d like to take a look at the background of the distillery. I’ve talked before about the massive downturn that the Scotch whisky industry went through in the 1980’s, but the reality of that time period truly comes to light when one looks at the pattern of distillery openings and closings in Scotland over that last five decades.

Information about distillery closings from the 1960’s is hard to come by, but I’m relatively sure there were very few, if any, and during that decade at least 13 new distilleries came on-line. The 1970’s saw the trend begin to reverse, with just five new facilities being almost balanced out by the three that were lost. Then things really went south in the 1980’s with no less than 18 distilleries shutting their doors, and not a single new one opening. Keep in mind that I’m only counting closures that were essentially permanent – I’m not even considering the outfits that were mothballed for anywhere from a few years to a decade before eventually coming back into operation. The after effects of the 1980’s saw four more distilleries go under in the 1990’s, but there was some hope as consumer demand surged and three new distilleries came to be. In the first decade of the new millennium, six more new facilities commenced production. In the same period roughly half a dozen have closed or been mothballed. It remains to be seen if those mothballed distilleries will return to production, or become permanent closures.

The point that I’m trying to get at here is that it would take a lot of moxie to open a new distillery in Scotland in the early 90’s; but that is just what Harold Currie, a former director of Chivas, did. He founded the Isle of Arran distillery in 1993, construction began late in 1994 and the stills were running by mid 1995.

The island is located in the Firth of Clyde, a body of water that separates the Kintyre peninsula from the southwest coast of the Scottish mainland. Arran has a rich distilling history, although most of the 50+ distilleries that operated on the island in the early 1800’s were not licensed, and the last legal distillery closed in 1837. The location of the new distillery, on the far north of the island, was chosen partly for its exceptionally pure water source – Loch na Davie.

In the early years of operation, several very young expressions were released, but now that they have enough stock aging, the lineup is led by the 10 yr, as well as a 14 yr and a few “no age statement” cask finished bottlings. Several limited releases seem to be available, as well as a moderately peated version (most of the malt used here is unpeated). No chill filtering is employed, and no caramel coloring used. As for the 10 year:

Pale golden in color.
Aromatic nose, mix of clay and floral notes.
Light to medium bodied.
Slightly sweet up front. Fairly floral through the mid palate, and those flavors carry on through the respectably long finish, where they are joined by warm spice notes of moderate intensity. The spice fades off late in the finish, leaving the floral notes as the whisky’s final voice while they turn slightly perfumed. It progresses through with no rough edges and decent balance, but I’d like to see more complexity.

My feelings of mediocrity towards this whisky may be partly down to personal preference. As I’ve put some time in with this bottle over the last week, it seems to have grown on me a bit, and I think it’s really just the tail end of the finish that I don’t care for.

Looking at the CalMac ferry map, I see that a short drive from Glasgow followed by less than an hour on the ferry will get you to Arran. From the other side of the island, a 30 minute ferry ride would put you on the Kintyre peninsula, where one could head south to Campbeltown, north to Oban, or west to catch the ferry to Islay. Every picture I see of Arran looks stunning, and I think this could be a great way to start a coastal / island distillery adventure.

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