Isle of Arran: Distillery Tour | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Isle of Arran: Distillery Tour

Set in a stunning valley just outside the small port town of Lochranza at the north point of the wonderful island of Arran, the still pretty youthful distillery of Arran sits. Since opening in 1995, the distillery has grown in capacity steadily, to the point where this year they will be producing 650,000 litres of spirit from their two stills. Yet still, this is the 6th smallest producer of whisky in Scotland.
The tour itself, which started from beside the impressive indoor waterfall in the centre of the award winning visitor centre, opened with an introduction from our charismatic bearded host Stewart, a pre-midday dram of the Arran 14 year old, and a short informative video to give a background to Arran's colourful distilling history - smugglers and household pot stills having been absolutely rife in the past! After the introduction, we moved on to the only production building in the distillery, housing everything from the grist mill right through to the spirit safe. 

As you can imagine, the smell in the building was intoxicating. Starting with 2.5 tonnes of malted barley in the mash, with 13,000 litres of water, it's undoubtedly a busy little place - continually mashing in sometimes up to 13 times a week to keep up with demand. Imported barley is used, as we learned that the proximity to the Gulf Stream means that barley grown on the island is not suitable for whisky production, as the warm climate leaves the grain low in the sugars needed for making the required alcohols. The six wash backs vary in age, again a reflection on the amount the distillery has grown over the past twenty years. The stills looked vaguely familiar to us, and we discovered that this is because they are modelled roughly on the shape of Bowmore's stills - the master distiller, James MacTaggart, having spent the first part of his whisky career there.

Back to the tasting bar, for a nip of Arran Gold - a whisky cream liqueur made with Arran 10. Not being quite Jim's thing, Laura enjoyed a duo of these! After the standard tour was finished, we stayed behind with our bewhiskered host and a couple of other visitors to taste a few more. With three choices each, we had the opportunity to taste some of the excellent finishes that the distillery has to offer...


Amarone Cask Finish - 50% 

Colour: Sparkling ruby

Nose: A wave of sugared almonds and oodles of honey gush forward initially, with lashings of sour fruits. The dry red wine cask is certainly apparent with a distinctive grape-iness that carries delicately with unsweetened cocoa.

Palate: A level of spice that was not apparent on the nose opens up on the tongue, with cinnamon and liquorice root, stewed dark fruits such as plums and cherries follow up with a prickle of spice. The cocoa from the nose evolves into a rich dark chocolate, with a little more sweetness.

Finish: The spice remains on the tongue for a good 15 seconds accompanied with a sweetness that engulfs the mouth.


Single Cask Bourbon 1999 - 58%

Colour: Polished copper

Nose: The American oak is a big part of the nose, as you would expect - the wood sings sweetly from the glass, with vanilla and an almost toffee sweetness along for the ride.

Palate: To drink it is almost creamy in texture from 15 years in the barrel, but maintains a zesty freshness reminiscent of citrus peel. Vanilla pod luxury marries beautifully with a nutty oak characteristic.

Finish: A full, fresh mouth for a short moment, that ebbs gradually away with a sweet creaminess.


Machrie Moor (Cask Strength edition) - 58.4%

Colour: Golden barley

Nose: A sweet smoke nose initially, with tropical fruits coming later. The blend is intoxicating, like chargrilled pineapple.

Palate:  Vanilla custard becomes a large part of the taste, with more BBQ'd fruit, this time bananas by the fireside. Unmistakably peat and as it's the only peated release from the distillery, this seems to be MacTaggart's homage to his Islay heritage. The ABV certainly helps to carry great waves of peat but does so beautifully, without becoming over powering.

Finish: Much like you can still smell the smoke from a BBQ days after, the peat lingers beautifully in the mouth, but with a sweet accompaniment of dark dried fruit.

Between us we also sampled the Sauternes cask finish and a Private Cask bottling for Glasgow's Whisky Club (both of which we bought bottles of, so reviews to follow!).

Afterward we were treated to a sneak peek in the warehouses, past warehouse six, the newest and last to be built on the site, to warehouse two and three which contained some of the more famous private casks, including a cask belonging to Ewan McGregor.

Finishing off with a delicious lunch at Cask cafe, a great afternoon was definitely had by all.

Cheers,

J&L