Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Whisky Road Trip, Florida Scotch dinner part 4

After tasting through Monkey Shoulder, the Port Cask Finish bottling from Arran, and Kilkerran, Work In Progress 7 - Sherry Wood, we moved on to the final whisky of the latest installment of the Florida Scotch dinner; Kilchoman’s Machir Bay. Although not a prerequisite, something smoky always seems appropriate for the last dram of this event as it accompanies a round of hand rolled cigars.

With distillate flowing for the first time in December of 2005, Kilchoman was the next new distillery to come to life in Scotland after Glengyle. More significantly though, it was the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years.

There are currently eight distilleries producing whisky on Islay. Additionally, 20 others are known to have existed in the past. It’s very likely that there were many others, of which we have no record simply because they would have been small scale, unlicensed, farm distilleries that came and went 200 or more years ago. Even of the 20 that we know about, most of them were established in the first half of the 1800’s and were out of production before the end of that century. There are three exceptions to that generalization. Lochindaal operated from 1829 to 1929, Malt Mill (which was a small but separate distillery within the Lagavulin complex) ran from 1908 to 1960, and Port Ellen went from 1825 to 1983 (but that included being mothballed for a lengthy period, from 1929 to 1966).

The introduction of steam powered “puffer” ships in the late 1800’s, which dramatically improved the commercial transportation links between mainland Scotland and the islands, prompted the building of two new distilleries on Islay, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain, both of which were established in 1881. It’s very likely that many of the existing distilleries on Islay expanded significantly during this period as well.

Interestingly, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain were the first two purpose-built commercial distilleries on the island; all of the others had grown organically out of smaller scale, farm-based operations. They were also the last two distilleries built on Islay (ignoring the anomaly that was Malt Mill) until Kilchoman came along nearly a century and a quarter later. The most fascinating part of this story is that while Kilchoman was established as a commercial distillery, its initial concept was that it would only use barley from local farms, which would all be malted at the distillery on traditional floor maltings.

Kilchoman was established by Anthony Wills, who had been in the whisky industry as an independent bottler for eight years. When that business became increasingly difficult as surplus whisky stocks dried up and buying opportunities for independent bottlers became quite scarce, Wills decided that the only way forward in the industry was to start his own distillery. Such an endeavor requires a lot of capital, and luring investors isn’t easy when the necessary aging of the product results in a lengthy timescale before financial returns can be realized. At least today it’s trendy and popular to start a new distillery; I’m sure it was exponentially harder to convince investors that this was a good idea back in 2002, when planning for Kilchoman began.

But Wills prevailed and was able to secure £1million; enough to at least get the distillery constructed. Once he had gotten that far it was easier to shop the idea around than when it was just words on paper. Of course more money was needed to fuel operations and growth, and to date the project has had a total investment of more than £10million.

In the early days of Islay’s distilling history, its remote location and abundant peat resources were its biggest assets. Before the Wash Act of 1823, the British government had excise taxes set so high that most legal distilling wasn’t economically feasible. Barely accessible by the tax men, Islay became a haven for illicit distilling.

When the post World War II boom period was going full swing in the 1960’s, consumer preferences were also changing in favor of milder, more approachable whiskies. That trend was highlighted by the fact that both Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich switched their spirit over from heavily peated to unpeated in the early 1960’s. Islay’s reputation for producing big, bold peat monsters meant that the boom period’s beneficial effects were muted on the island. Port Ellen going back into production in 1966 after a 37 year closure, and Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich adding second sets of stills (1963 and 1975, respectively) were really the only notable expansions of that period.

When the downturn of the 1980’s came along, Islay was hit particularly hard. Port Ellen closed for good in 1983, Ardbeg was closed for most of the decade, and all of the other distilleries limited production, often to just a few days a week. It’s doubtful that anyone could have seen the coming resurgence in the popularity of Islay whisky when the industry began to rebound in the 1990’s. Today all of the island’s distilleries are revered by the many lovers of smoky single malt and Islay is the ultimate destination for many of the enthusiasts who embark on a whisky pilgrimage.

Anthony Wills had the foresight to recognize the importance of this trend and capitalize on it when he chose a location for his new distillery. Just having the word “Islay” on the label draws a lot of attention. The buzz around the first new distillery to be constructed on the island in well over a century drew a lot of media coverage. Being one of eight distilleries on an island that’s a prime destination for touring enthusiasts guarantees a steady stream of visitors.

All of that is irrelevant though, if the whisky isn’t up to snuff. The second smartest thing Wills did (after his choice of location) was hiring Dr. James Swan as a consultant. For the new distillery to be economically viable it would be necessary to start selling whisky when it was relatively young. The goal, which was deftly achieved by Dr. Swan, was to produce a quickly maturing spirit. This was done by designing the equipment and process to make a fruit-forward, gentle spirit and minimize the heavier compounds which require lengthy aging to tame. Long fermentation times, maximizing copper contact and the use of 1st fill casks primarily were the keys to this strategy. The first Kilchoman I tasted was the spring 2011 release, a mix of 4 year old and 3 year old whisky; I was immediately won over.

I mentioned above that the original concept was for Kilchoman to be a complete farm distillery. The realities of the local barley supply and the distillery’s floor malting capacity didn’t quite allow for that. Currently 20% of their barley is from the farm surrounding the distillery and malted in-house. There are five other distilleries in Scotland that malt some, but not all, of their own barley. They all blend that together with the commercially malted barley that makes up the majority of their supply. At Kilchoman the two are kept separate and local barley is only and exclusively used for their 100% Islay bottling. The floor malted barley is peated to 20 ppm and the commercial malt is peated to 50 ppm, further differentiating the two.

Production has grown steadily since spirit first came off the stills in December of 2005. In 2006 50,000 liters (of alcohol) were produced. By 2012 that was up to 110,000 liters. The projected quantity for 2016 is 200,000 liters, and the distillery’s maximum output is estimated to be 250,000 liters unless more stills are added. In November of 2015 Kilchoman purchased the surrounding Rockside Farm, which has been the source of most of their local barley, ensuring that the “farm distillery” concept will continue to be a part of their business model going forward.

As time has marched on, the ages of the various Kilchoman bottlings have slowly been creeping upward. While none of the labels carry age statements, information about their maturation is usually pretty easy to find. When the 100% Islay expression was introduced in 2010 it was a 3 year old. By the spring of 2015 its age had surpassed the 5 year mark. The Vintage releases come out every other year, but they are from distillate produced in successive years, so each is a year older than the one before it; the 2006 Vintage (released in 2011) was a 5 year old, the 2007 Vintage (released in 2013) was a 6 year old, the 2008 Vintage (released in 2015) was a 7 year old, and the 2009 Vintage will be and 8 year old (when it is released in 2017). Loch Gorm, which is their expression aged exclusively in Oloroso Sherry casks, started off as a 5 year old in 2013 and it has now crested the 6 year mark.

According to Wills, most of the core expressions will ultimately end up somewhere in the 8 year old to 12 year old range. He won’t be more precise than that until the whiskies actually get that old and can be properly evaluated.

For the Florida event we went with Machir Bay, which is Kilchoman’s flagship bottling. It was introduced in 2012 as a vatting of 3 year old (60%), 4 year old (35%) and 5 year old (5%), all of which was aged in 1st fill bourbon barrels, with the 4 year old portion finished for an additional 8 weeks in Oloroso Sherry butts. The bottle at hand is from the 2015 release, which is reported to be a 6 year old that spent 5.5 years in 1st fill bourbon barrels and 6 months in Oloroso Sherry casks.

The nose is fragrant with obvious peat smoke, but there’s a mellowness to it; the peat has depth, but isn’t harsh or jarring. Malt character and briny coastal notes round out the aromatics.
In the mouth it is full bodied, with a hint of malty sweetness up front. A big wave of peat smoke quickly rises up and takes center stage. Notes of burning beach grass and smoldering driftwood embers reverberate and linger. There are some interesting complexities, with the dry phenolic character countered by subtle tropical fruit and a touch of freshly cut hay.
It gracefully meanders through the increasingly spice-driven finish before slowly fading off.
This is very nice as it is, but I’m curious to see where it goes as the age edges upward.

An interesting point which I noticed is that the year of the release for Machir Bay was clearly noted on the label and on the box it came in for the first three years (2012, 2013 and 2014). That is no longer the case with the 2015 release, although the year can still be identified by the bottling code that is printed directly on the glass. To me, this signals that the year-to-year changes may now be subtle enough that the information isn’t too important. It also gives them the flexibility to make age changes midway through a calendar year and not have to worry about maturation information being inaccurate.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Whisky Road Trip, Florida Scotch dinner part 3

Continuing on from part 1 and part 2, the dinner’s third whisky was Kilkerran, Work In Progress 7 - Sherry Wood; a product of Campbeltown’s Glengyle distillery. This was Scotland’s next new malt distillery after Arran and as I mentioned previously, there was a time span of almost 10 years between their openings. In the case of Glengyle the location wasn’t chosen because it was exceptionally marketable, although the region’s whiskies do have a small but very passionate following.

The building of a new distillery in Campbeltown was a key step in the process of restoring some of the former glory to what was once the “whisky capital of the world”. Accomplishing that goal would, in turn, raise the profile of the new distillery, advancing its image in a self-fulfilling sort of way.

I’ve already talked about some of the factors that led to the explosive growth in the number of distilleries in Campbeltown. All of that happened between 1823 and 1835, when the total number of active distilleries in the small city peaked at 28. A few fell by the wayside in 1837. Others occasionally came and went through the ensuing decades, with the number of operating distilleries hovering between the mid twenties and the high teens until 1922. Then the real collapse came.

Campbeltown lost 15 distilleries from 1923 through 1928. One other held out until 1934, and then the city was left with just two distilleries; Springbank and Glen Scotia. There were many factors that put Campbeltown’s whisky industry in a weakened state in the latter half of the 19th century. I’ve written abut them elsewhere and those details are beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll simplify things a bit and just say that the post World War I economic downturn was the final nail in the coffin of “Whisky City”.

For a time it looked as if distilling in Campbeltown might end entirely. Glen Scotia was closed from March of 1930 through November of 1933, as was Springbank from some time in 1930 until early in 1936. But the two pressed on, surviving the chaos of World War II and the industry downturn of the 1980’s, even though both were closed for much of that decade.

Understanding how the opening of Glengyle fully ties into the resurgence of Campbeltown requires a look at the history of Springbank and the Mitchell family. The Mitchells first came to the Kintyre peninsula around 1660 as part of a wave of farmers who migrated there from the Lowlands. Several generations later, the Mitchells were at the center of Campbeltown’s distilling revolution. Archibald Mitchell Sr. (1734 – 1818) was a prominent farmer in the area. His son, Archibald Jr., was a maltster around the turn of the century, and is even said to have operated an illicit still on what would eventually become the sight of the Springbank distillery. All five of his children, Hugh, Archibald III (1804 – 1863), John (1811 – 1892), William and Mary, were involved with Campbeltown distilleries.

1825 – Archibald Mitchell III is part of the group that establishes the Rieclachan distillery. Hugh Mitchell later joins them.
1828 – The Springbank distillery is established by William Reid, who is related to the Mitchells by marriage.
1834 – Mary Mitchell is involved in the establishment of Drumore distillery. It appears to have closed in 1837, reopened at an unknown later date, then closed for good in 1847.
1837 – The Reid family suffers financial difficulties and they sell Springbank to John and William Mitchell.
1851 – John Mitchell is part of a group that acquires the Toberanrigh distillery, which was built in 1934. It closes nine years later, in 1860.
1872 – John and William have a falling out after quarrelling about a difference in sheep farming. William leaves Springbank, joining his other brothers at Rieclachan. Later that year he establishes the Glengyle distillery, which opens in 1873. After William’s departure, John brings in his son, Alexander (1853 – 1912), to help him run Springbank. At some point the company name is changed to J & A Mitchell, as it remains in the present day.
1919 – Glengyle is sold and no longer part of the Mitchell family.
1925 – Glengyle closes and all of the distilling equipment is sold off shortly thereafter. The space is later rented to the Campbeltown miniature rifle club, serving as its range for much of the 1930’s.
1934 – Rieclachan closes.
1940 – The Glengyle distillery and brand are sold to the company that owns Glen Scotia. An attempt is made to reopen the distillery, but that is scuttled by World War II.
1957 – The Glengyle buildings are sold again, and another attempt to reopen the distillery fails to come to fruition.
1969 – Springbank acquires the independent bottler Cadenhead’s. This was done to provide consistent work for the staff of their recently opened bottling hall, which is located in a former warehouse of the defunct neighboring Longrow distillery (1824 – 1896).
1970 – The former Glengyle buildings become the depot and sales office of the Kintyre Farmers Cooperative. Eventually all use of the buildings is abandoned.
1973 – Springbank first distills a heavily peated malt (which was double distilled, further differentiating it from the two-and-a-half times distilled Springbank), naming it Longrow. Initially this is done only as an experiment in 1973 and 1974.
1985 – Longrow first released as a 10 year old.
1987 – Distilling of Longrow resumes, with small quantities made in 1987, 1989 and 1990 before it goes into regular production in 1992
1997 – Springbank begins producing Hazelburn, an unpeated, triple distilled malt, which is also named for a former Campbeltown distillery.
2000 – Hedley G. Wright, the Chairman of Springbank and a direct descendent of the Mitchells, buys the former Glengyle buildings and tasks distillery manager Frank McHardy with their restoration and the assembly of a modern distillery within them.
2004 – The first distillation run happens at Glengyle.
2005 – Hazelburn is first released as an 8 year old.
2009 – Kilkerran (Glengyle) single malt is introduced as a limited release 5 year old.

While Springbank has always had a good reputation, it was during the 1990’s that the distillery gained an almost cult-like status, especially in the Japanese market. Glen Scotia was mothballed from 1994 to 2000, but has been producing steadily since reopening after a change of ownership. Along with Springbank regularly making three distinctly different styles of single malt, the addition of a third active distillery to Campbeltown would go a long way in raising the profile of the once mighty region.

On a side note, when researching such things there is a lot of conflicting information regarding Hedley G. Wright’s exact place in the Mitchell family lineage. I think much of the confusion comes from the fact that there were three Archibald Mitchells and many texts speak of Archibald Sr. and Jr., when they are actually talking about Jr. and the 3rd. Also, the name is often written without any corresponding suffix, adding to the ambiguity. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit researching this topic and am confident that I have it properly sorted out. Mr. Wright is the great-great-great-great grandson of Archibald Mitchell Sr., and the great-great-great grandson of Archibald Mitchell Jr. He is the great-great grandson of John Mitchell. That would also make him the great-great-great nephew of Glengyle founder William Mitchell (keep in mind, your grandfather’s brother would be your great uncle, so the number of “greats” is not the same when you go from father to uncle across the same generation). Even the information on the Springbank and Glengyle websites seems inaccurate, but what I’ve laid out here does work with their statement that Mr. Wright is the 5th generation of the Mitchell family to own and manage the Springbank distillery (Archibald Jr. should not be counted; there is only tangential evidence that he operated an illicit still on the site, and that was before Springbank was established).

The resurrection of Glengyle was significant on many levels. Campbeltown has long struggled economically and any new business is a blessing. Surely, part of the motivation behind the project was the shaping of Hedley G. Wright’s legacy, not to mention the family connection coming full circle. Having a third working distillery in town also helped in legitimizing Campbeltown as a recognized distilling region.

Managing this project was also the crowning jewel of the career of Frank McHardy, which ultimately spanned more then 50 years in the whisky industry. While there are many traditional aspects to the production of whisky at Glengyle, the distillery has an efficient layout, utilizing modern mezzanine flooring. Much of the equipment was purchased new, but the malt mill came from Craigellachie (surplus after an upgrade there) and the stills, condensers, spirit safe and receivers all came from Ben Wyvis. This was a malt distillery which was operated on the grounds of the Invergordon grain distillery from 1965 to 1977. Interestingly, Frank McHardy began his career at Invergordon, serving there from 1963 to 1966.

The barley used at Glengyle is all malted on the traditional floor maltings at Springbank (and to the same peating level) and the casks are stored in Springbank’s warehouses. The two distilleries are at the opposite ends of adjoining properties, and the company owns all of the real estate between them. Should future demand necessitate it, a complex of warehouses could be built between the two production facilities. The former floor maltings at Glengyle are still intact, though in need of restoration. This could easily be done if the two distilleries grow beyond the capacity of Springbank’s malting floors.

As noted in the timeline above, the Glengyle brand was sold to the company that owns Glen Scotia in 1940. They sold the buildings in 1957, but kept the brand and used the name on a blended Highland Malt in the 1990’s. That is why the new distillery could be named Glengyle, but the whisky had to have a different name. Kilkerran is a reference to the original settlement led by Saint Kieran and located where Campbeltown stands today.

There have been annual Kilkerran releases since 2009 under the WIP (work in progress) moniker. 2010’s WIP 2 consisted of 18,000 bottles, which seems out of place compared to the 9000 bottles released the year before and each of the two years after. Today we are patiently awaiting the official 12 year old release of Kilkerran, which is coming in August of 2016. But I did come across an interview of Frank McHardy from 2008 where he stated that Kilkerran would come out as an 8 year old in 2012. Perhaps that target was adjusted in 2010 and the size of following two WIP releases scaled back accordingly.

In 2013 the WIP 5 release was split in two; bourbon matured and sherry matured, with 9000 bottles of each produced. That output level was repeated for 2014’s WIP 6. In 2015 the bourbon matured bottling was at cask strength (all other WIP’s were at 46%) with 6000 bottles of it released alongside 12,000 bottles that were sherry cask matured. There was also a single cask (ex-Calvados) bottling of Kilkerran released in 2015 which had been distilled in May of 2006.

The WIP 7 sherry cask matured Kilkerran is the one which I selected for the Scotch dinner. None of the WIP bottles carry age statements, but the whole point of the series is that the bottlings get progressively older. My suspicion / best educated guess is that the whisky used for the WIP releases came from the first two years of Kilkerran’s production, so each subsequent release was older than the one before it, but not a full year older (probably closer to eight months). If I’m correct, that would make the bottle at hand roughly 9 years old, rather than the 11 years that is often assumed.

The nose is beautifully complex. Malty baked goods are the predominate note. Joining the fray are gentle floral aromas, baking spices, Oloroso sherry fruit, a touch of musty oak, and just enough peat smoke to be present and accounted for.
On the palate it is medium to full-bodied. An initial hit of sweetness up front is quickly knocked back by warming, dry spice notes. The sherry fruit is present but muted. Peat smoke, mint and botanical notes become more evident when exhaling through the nose after swallowing.
The flavors jump around a little on the palate and a touch of immaturity shows as it moves through the latter stages of the finish. Don’t get me wrong, this is damn good whisky but it will benefit from a few more years of aging. Now I’m really looking forward to tasting the 12 year old when it is released.

There was still some liquid left in my WIP 2 bottle, so I went back for a sample to compare to the latest release. The nose is less developed, but still has some interesting aromatics. Malty, spicy, grassy, gentle perfume and a touch of peat; all well integrated. It’s a little one dimensional on the palate. There are some nice flavors present, they just don’t evolve much; at least not until the spice notes emerge later on the finish. This is surprisingly well-composed for a less-than-6 year old whisky. That being said, the latest version just has so much more going on, both on the nose and on the palate. The Works in Progress have progressed nicely.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Whisky Road Trip, Florida Scotch dinner part 2

After briefly being distracted by a bottle of Glenfarclas 105 20 year, I’m getting back on track and continuing the coverage of this winter’s Florida Scotch dinner, which began here and should be read before continuing on with this post.

By the luck of coincidence, the order in which I wanted to taste through the evening’s whiskies happened to match the chronological order of the openings of their associated distilleries. So after starting with Monkey Shoulder to represent Kininvie (1990), we moved on to the Port Cask Finish bottling from the Arran distillery (1995).

The distillery is located on the eponymous Isle of Arran. This relatively large (167 square miles) island is situated in the Firth of Clyde (in Scotland a firth is coastal body of water that can range in size from a small inlet to a large bay), which is bound by the Scottish mainland to the east, the Cowal peninsula to the north and the Kintyre peninsula to the west.

In 1993 Harold Currie, a retired Chivas Regal executive, founded the new distillery. Construction began in 1994 and distillation commenced in the summer of 1995. To put the timing into context consider that the Scotch whisky industry suffered through a terrible decade in the 1980’s, with 18 malt distilleries permanently lost. Even though things started to turn around in the 1990’s, the fallout from the downturn wasn’t over and the first half of the decade saw the loss of four more distilleries; Lochside (1992), Pittyvaich (1993), Rosebank (1993) and Littmill (1994).

Yes, two new distilleries did open in 1990, but the Speyside distillery was somewhat of an anomaly having been under construction for nearly three decades and Kininvie had some mitigating circumstances. It was built in a way that utilized much of Balvenie’s existing infrastructure which would minimize investment, and its sole purpose was to supply whisky to existing blends so there was no need for the costly promotion and marketing of a new brand. When the Arran distillery opened it really was a pioneer, and it would be nearly a decade before another new malt distillery went online in Scotland.

The island hadn’t been home to an active distillery for a very long time, but it still had a rich distilling tradition, with more than 50 illicit distilleries having operated there at various times, primarily in the early 1800’s. The only licensed operation on the island ran from 1825 to 1837.

The question of where to locate a new distillery has always been important, although the considerations influencing that decision have changed with time. Historically, the remoteness of Scotland’s islands proved quite useful for hiding from the tax collectors. As the laws were reformed to make legal distilling a more profitable venture, other factors became more important. Local natural resources, transportation infrastructure and technology all played roles.

A combination of factors led to the explosive growth in the number of Campbeltown distilleries in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The list includes a local coal seam, plentiful peat and barley across the Kintyre peninsula, a reliable water source in Crosshill Loch, and a natural harbor which provided a commercial link to Glasgow and London. Another point that is often overlooked is the introduction of steam engines. This new technology allowed the establishment of many distilleries in a dense urban area, something that would not have been possible if they were all powered by waterwheel, as had been the previous tradition.

Distilling was long established on Islay and in Speyside based on their abundant resources, primarily peat on the former and water in the later, but large scale commercial distilling only became viable in these areas with improved transportation infrastructure. In the case of Islay this came in the form of steam powered, shallow draft “puffer” ships and for Speyside it was the penetration of railroads into the remote northern portion of the country. Both of these developments happened in the latter half of the 1800’s.

In the modern era truck transport is king. Any location with good road access (and reliable ferry service in the case of the islands) has commercial distilling potential. Of course a good water source on site is still essential, as well as a connection to the electric grid, but all other resources and finished product can be trucked in and out. Over the last five decades the percentage of malt whisky sold as single malt, rather than in bulk to blenders, has grown steadily. With this shift, the marketability of a distillery’s location has become ever more important.

Clearly the founder of the Arran distillery understood this. If a new distillery were to be located in Speyside, it would be incredibly difficult for it to stand out among the sea of neighboring facilities. By having an island all to itself, Arran immediately established an identity through its unique location. The ability to draw in whisky tourists so they can connect with the home of the brand has definitely become an important part of the equation.

According to the distillery’s web site, its location was chosen for three reasons; the exceptionally pure water source, the relatively warm microclimate that is beneficial to the aging process, and the island’s historical reputation for producing high quality whisky. Beyond that, it would be the only distillery on an island which has many other attributes with appeal to tourists.

Arran is often referred to as “Scotland in miniature”, with its varied geography showcasing many of the features that can be seen around the rest of the country. The island is also home to seven golf courses, three castles, and several prehistoric “standing stone” and “stone circle” sites.

The island can be reached from Glasgow in little more than two hours (one hour driving and one hour on a ferry). From there it’s less than a 30 minute drive to the distillery. The distillery itself is located on the northern end of the island at Lochranza, home to one of the one of the Arran’s golf courses as well as one of its castles. This is also the island’s other ferry access point, from which the Kintyre peninsula can be reached in just 30 minutes. From there the adventurous whisky tourist could head south to Campbeltown, north to Oban or just across the peninsula to Kennacraig, which has ferry service to Islay.

This picturesque distillery is in what I would consider to be the medium size range, with a production level of 750,000 LPA. Most of the distillate is unpeated, but they do produce whisky from barley peated to 20 ppm for four weeks and 50 ppm for two weeks each year.

As a new, independently owned distillery, some younger releases were inevitable in the early years. The first legal whisky was a limited 3 year old bottling in 1998. That was followed by a 4 year old the next year, and a Single Cask bottling vintage dated to 1995 was launched in 2002. A Calvados finished bottling was released in 2003 and a variety of vintage dated bottling and cask finished bottlings came out in the following years.

The official bottling of 10 year Arran was released in 2006, becoming the flagship offering of the distillery’s range. A cask strength 12 year old was added in 2008 as well as a 14 year old in 2010. There were limited releases of 16 and 17 year old in the two years leading up to the official 18 year old bottling being added to the lineup in 2015. That core lineup now includes three wine cask finished bottlings (Sauternes, Amarone and Port), Single Cask Sherry and Bourbon bottlings, and Machrie Moor; an expression made from Arran’s 20 ppm peated malt.

The Port Cask Finish bottling that I selected for the dinner is one that I’ve tasted before, but I was quite excited to revisit it more than three years later. It was recommended to me by a bartender at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon, which says a lot considering the volume of their collection. I recall enjoying it immensely, but that was at the end of a long night of sampling and my hand written tasting notes were barely legible.

The first thing I noticed on the nose was an earthy character (dunnage warehouse, the dirt floored cellar of an old house in New England). Complex stewed berry fruit follows and is joined by aromatics slightly reminiscent of shoe polish.
On the palate it’s full bodied and has a firm embrace. The malty character comes through up front. There’s a nicely balanced interplay of gingerbread cookies, subtle sweetness (somewhere between honey and agave nectar) and the fruit notes of a well-aged tawny port.
As it moves through the finish it becomes drier, with warming spice notes growing in intensity. Eventually the other flavors fade, leaving the pleasant spicy character to its own devices.